First introduced to the world of music at the age of 14 by mother Sitara Devi — also a legendary Kathak dancer — Ranjit Barot has created a niche in both mainstream popular Indian / World music and Jazz Fusion. He has been on a long and illustrious road as primarily a drummer, but also a much sought after musician, music producer and composer
He is the Musical Director for Oscar winning composer AR Rahman’s live concerts and holds the coveted throne as drummer for legendary guitarist John Mclaughlin and 4th Dimension band.
His early career saw performances with Louis Banks and the Jazz Yatra Sextet, Pandit Ravi Shankar, (late) Don Cherry and (late) Charlie Mariano. His performances with the Western greats have included unique collaborations with Bill Evans, Scott Kinsey, Jonas Helborg, Ayden Esen, and Tim Garland.
His recognition as a music composer and arranger for album projects and feature films has earned him the Filmfare Award for his score in Aks (2001) and more recently in Shaitan swept three major Indian awards in 2011.
Even as he currently works on his own vocal album, and holds down privileged roles, Barot finds great joy in his unique collaboration with daughter Mallika. She is a part of her father’s electronic pop/R&B/soul band Superphonic along with Gulraj Singh.
They recently had a great performance at the Yamaha Arena, Palm Expo 2019. Excerpts:
Q) How would you analyse your long career as film score composer, music director, drummer and singer?
I think the fact that I recognised my calling very early in my life plays a big role in how my life turned out to be. Music chose me as early as I was 14, and it is not the other way around. Since then, I pursued associations with the finest musicians in the country. I approached this as my primary contribution as a human being, the reason that I have been given this life. I imposed on myself a strict practice regime to meet the standards that were expected of me in all the musical situations I was a part of.
Q) Is it true that Bruce Swedien has had a special influence on your musical life?
First of all, this pioneer and still the reigning giant in the music recording industry has had an impact on the way musicians approached sound for an entire generation, and even those coming after. His work on MJ’s albums still is a big influence on how I imagine songs and mixes even today. On a personal level, I first met Bruce in 1996-97 through a colleague of mine, Ashish Manchanda, who is also his student and one of the finest sound engineers in this country. Bruce and I hit it off instantly and we spent some time in his studio mixing some tunes I had written. Being in the studio with him informed me of the spatial aspect of sound and this in turn had a huge impact on my arranging and production skills. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He is a friend and mentor.
Q) You started your career as a drummer in the 80s and worked for big names like RD Burman and Lakmikant-Pyarelal.Share your experiences.
It was exciting to be in the presence of such stalwarts. All the time I spent doing these recordings with these greats was a huge learning experience. Even during the 70s and early 80s, RD recognised the value of spontaneity that comes out of a jam. At every sitting at his house, where singers and arrangers met to break down a tune, I noticed he had mics placed all around the room so the discussions were recorded into his nifty cassette player for review and gathering ideas later. No one else at the time had that foresight.
But not just musically, also the humanity that these masters possessed had a deep impact on me. Especially Pyarelalji. He walked into the studio everyday and made sure he greeted all of us before getting to the business at hand. That’s 100 musicians on some days, between the rhythm, string, electronic and brass sections. Other times, when I would get to his recording late at night after my long day working for the advertising industry, the entire orchestra and singers would have done their parts and left. But he would go home and come back no matter how late and sit alone while I tracked, because that was the way he showed value for my time.
Q) You have been a long-time associate of AR Rahman too. How has been your experience working with him?
ARR is an incredible human being and musician. I’ve been friends with him for about 30 years now. We first met while doing music for advertising. He then did Roja and the rest is history. Our collaborations stem from us being in simpatico on the subject of life, love and humanity. The music we make together has traces of our ideologies. He’s the only person here that I connect with so strongly on a myriad of subjects.
Q) How did your mother motivate you to join this profession?
She was, and continues to be, an inspiration and she provided the very core of my being that would propel me into the world of the arts. She was my first guru and I wouldn’t be the person nor the artist I am today without having had her presence in my life.
Can we get a sneak-peak into the amazing father-daughter bond you and Mallika share?
I decided, even before she was born, to spend all my time with her during her formative years. We built a studio inside our two bedroom apartment so that I would be able to work from home while looking after her. Till she was seven we were together 24×7. I then moved my studio to a bigger place, but by then our bond had been established. Holidays together are the happiest times in the year for me. And now we also work and perform together as a band, where her voice has this unique quality which brings so much to my compositions, I could not ask for more. We are friends, musical collaborators and I am blessed that she chose me as her father.
Q) What’s the idea behind the name of your band Superphonic?
It’s just a cool sounding name that encompasses unique song writing and a cutting edge sonic space.
Q) What are your future plans with the band?
We’re in the process of writing some new songs and plan a release of our music by the end of this year.