Flamenco from an isolated lane

By  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya | Posted  11-Mar-2017

Guitarist Neil Mukherjee talks his new EP, early days as a session player and the urge to perform at live concerts

Guitarist Neil Mukherjee at his residence in Kalina. Pic/Sayed Sameer AbediGuitarist Neil Mukherjee at his residence in Kalina. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Yogiraj Ashram Lane, on the fringes of Kalina in Santacruz, is a meandering stretch that leads to a dead end. The only clamour in the area is that of people talking, or haggling with the vegetable vendors, along with chants from the nearby gurdwara. In fact, when an auto rickshaw enters the narrow lane, it turns heads. Neil Mukherjee - the guitarist behind songs like Senorita (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) and Que Sera Sera (Pukar) - lives in one of the buildings here, away from the pandemonium. The 46-year-old, who has worked with the best music directors in the industry, prefers to keep a low profile. But after years of confining his work to the studios, he is all set to come out of the shell and play more on stage. He took the first step by releasing an EP, Local Guitar, recently. It has eight tracks where six of them are available in the video format, shot by Tenny Thomas.

Notes from the past
The guitar virtuoso started his career with the Rock band, Krosswindz, in Kolkata in the early ’90s. Their debut album, Poth Gechhe Benke (The Road Has Taken A Turn) released in 1996, is still a best seller. Mukherjee sharpened his musical skills at an early age holding his uncle’s hand. The late Gautam Chattopadhyay, a musician and an ethnographer, introduced him to the various genres. Within a few years, he decided to widen his gamut through Carnatic music. “I wanted to use Indian melodies and rhythms in my music, whatever vocabulary I had before came from the West. So, I decided to take lessons in veena from Anantha Raman in Kolkata,” he says. To explore the genre further, he moved to Chennai in 1998 and started learning from Chitravina N Ravikiran, the renowned chitravina player.

While in Chennai, Mukherjee received a call from AR Rahman to play in one of his projects. He was so thrilled that he forgot to take his guitar along to the studio. “I landed up at the studio and he asked me if I was ready for the take. I said yes and as soon as I opened the case, there was no guitar inside. Rahman was kind enough to not throw me out. I went back home and got the guitar,” shares Mukherjee, whose finger-style effort in Jumbalika (Thakshak) earned him accolades.

In 2002, he also released a Hindi album with his vocalist friend, Bonnie Chakraborty, who is currently a playback singer. They called themselves Kashti, but the boat couldn’t reach the shore despite melodious compositions. “The album was not made available to the extent it should have been. We even shot a video of the song, Parchhaiyyan (starring Kay Kay Menon),” recalls Mukherjee, who later found a foothold in the ad jingle industry.

New tunes
Drummer Yadhunandan Nagaraj has handled the rhythm section in Local Guitar. “I met Yadhu while we were working with Rasika Shekar, the flautist. Listeners have not heard me in quite some time although I have been working a lot. I needed online presence to keep up with the world,” he reasons.

The EP personifies his guitar catalogue. Through The Sands, one of his first tunes, provides a middle-eastern touch. “It is a desert tune. There are traces of Flamenco,” explains Mukherjee. Kolkata Theke Constantinople is a piece he wrote after reading a travelogue by the same name, written by Deepak Majumdar. All the videos are live takes and there was no margin for error. “Musicians are always at a constant negotiation with themselves but for somebody who is making music, his stuff will remain important to him,” he signs off.

Log on to: soundcloud.com/neil-mukherjee-1

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