On the sets with Clinton Cerejo

Singer Clinton Cerejo,at the juncture of his transition from an arranger to a composer,speaks about giving shapes to sounds.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: May 10, 2013 9:51:23 pm

While explaining a music arranger’s contribution to a song,Clinton Cerejo picks up Kaali Kaali from his latest film Ek Thi Daayan and deconstructs it,layer by layer. The pleasant prelude,displayed as digital images in his music production system,is stripped to its bare minimum,which in this case is a solitary electronic piano piece that forms the basic map of the song. Subsequent tracks of hi-hat,guitars,and several other instruments are added — it eventually sums up to 115 – and the song is ready.

“Sometimes the scratch reaches me with only the tune sung in Vishal’s (Bhardwaj) voice. We discuss ideas over the phone,he tells me where he wants the song to go,and my job is to take it there,” says Cerejo,sitting inside his small air-conditioned studio in Juhu Church Road. Here,he has held many brainstorming sessions with Bhardwaj. One of them gave birth to the waltz-like hook to Dil toh Bachcha hai jee,he recollects. Cerejo arguably has been one of Bollywood’s most prolific music arrangers in the last decade,working with the best,from AR Rahman to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

Gradual Transition

Currently,however,he is making his transition to a full-fledged composer. And the past year has been particularly significant. Not only did Cerejo score the background music for films like Ek Thi Daayan, Kahaani and Ek Main aur Ek Tu,he proved his mettle as a composer on the Coke Studio @ MTV stage,which provided a canvas to display his composing abilities.

“It is time to move on,” he says,“I have cut down arranging for other people.” While Madari,his hit single from last year’s Coke Studio revealed an unexpected folksy element of Cerejo’s music,one can expect more diversity from his set of six songs for the show’s new season in July. Apart from that,Cerejo is composing the background score for another Vishal Bhardwaj production,the Madhuri Dixit-Huma Qureishi-Naseeruddin Shah-Arshad Warsi starrer Dedh Ishqiya,and composing for a “small,English independent film”.

First Note

Cerejo’s music career,however,started as a singer – the breezy,anglicised voice behind songs like Kya Karoon from Wake Up Sid,Hey Ya from Karthik Calling Karthik,or Yaaram and Kaali Kaali from Ek Thi Daayan — that graduated from the casual jamming sessions in college to backing vocals for ad jingles. Growing up listening to Western music with no interest in Bollywood,he entered the industry when musicians like him were getting space. 

“There were no cool composers in Bollywood before,apart from Rahman. My doors to Bollywood opened only with people like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal,” he says. As he got interested in the internal workings of a song,he made his foray into arranging,for Rahman,Ranjit Barot,Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy,to Vishal Shekhar and Salim Sulaiman. “The demarcation between Bollywood and other music is not as much prominent as before. It is getting influenced by other kinds of independent music,” he says.

His understanding of Indian melodies deepened while working with Rajat Dholakia (an established composer in the advertising circles). “I realised that there is an ethos to how an Indian composer thinks; that there is a raga behind every melody,and an emotion behind every raga,” says the 36-year old.

Method in Music

There has been little scope so far to spot traits in Cerejo’s music,but his background scores,and his arrangement in Bhardwaj’s songs (along with Hitesh Sonik,till Saat Khoon Maaf) reveal a deft use of subtle,intricate sounds. These sounds,conceived inside Cerejo’s head,are often achieved by digitally tweaking common musical samples. Like the blunt sound of glass is rendered through a guitar-like effect to produce a comforting vibe in Kaali Kaali,and the oars of a boat splashing water become the greeting ambient sounds of Laakad from Omkara.

While working on the background music of a film,he follows a simple philosophy: how much does a scene engage him in silence? “If the performances are arresting,you don’t need music,” he says.  

It’s all about language of sound.

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