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The Sound of Mixing

The coolest go-to musician for heady versions of old Hindi numbers,Mikey McCleary gets his first exclusive Bollywood album with Nautanki Saala.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh |
February 25, 2013 3:44:20 am

Mikey McCleary invests a certain kind of artistic approach while “reworking” old Hindi film songs. “It’s not remix. Remix is when you borrow the original audio track from the old song. I take the basic skeleton of the tune and create the rest from scratch,” explains the 44-year old New Zealander,who burst into Hindi film music two years ago with Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan.

Though the recognition came through the heady spin-off of Khoya khoya chaand from Shaitan,McCleary had made his first brief impression with the commercial for a soft drink directed by Dibakar Banerjee. His jazz-influenced,saucy versions of revered Hindi numbers,rendered in smouldering female voices,have become an unmistakable signature stamp of McCleary. It has enabled him to earn an expanding niche in Bollywood and also helped him bag projects with directors such as Nambiar,Rohan Sippy,Dibakar Banerjee and Shonali Bose.

“I stress on the character in the singer’s voice quality and voices that stand out,which I tend to find mostly in women,” he says. This explains his inclination towards female singers,which includes Indie-rockers Suman Shridhar and Shalmali Kholgade to old timers such as Rekha Bhardwaj. His flirtation with their vocal sensuality will continue in his upcoming big album Nautanki Sala — which McCleary calls his “most Bollywood album till date” — where the peppy ’90s Madhuri Dixit-hit Dhak dhak karne laga gets a new spin. He has scored eight songs for the film,one of which is a reworked version of Tezaab’s So gaya yeh jahaan. “The album has a lot of Jamaican Ska influences with a Mediterranean vibe set in an Indian context,” he says.

Apart from Nautanki Saala,his album on Amitabh Bachchan hits,B70,will release in the next few weeks. Interestingly,all the songs sung originally by male singers have been rendered in female voices.

What stands out in McCleary’s work as a refreshing contrast to the generic sound of Hindi film songs,is its clutter-free quality. It owes to McCleary’s core attachment to acoustic instruments,a lot of brass,string,and percussions — which are never overpowered by electronic instruments. “Much of the problem with today’s mediocre music all over the world is that they are overdone and overproduced,” he says.

McCleary’s repertoire is vast — from Caribbean percussions to two-stringed Indian instrument dotara — and he uses these innovatively,blending styles. He plays Western instruments in Indian styles and vice versa,like with David’s Dama dam mast kalandar,where he wanted to infuse Indian folk and reggae elements in the guitar. Even as a full-fledged composer — where he writes his own tunes unlike the remixes where he was supported by a melody line — McCleary has simple things drawn out for himself.

While new-age Hindi film music often struggles to balance between old world melody and the technology-enabled sound,McCleary benefits from having an outsider’s perspective. He understands the key to good Indian music lies in the hummable quality of its songs,the heart of which lies in its core melody.

“It has to work as a standalone tune. Indians look to latch onto catchy melodies unlike in Western music where structure and chords also play a big part. This works great with my own pop music sensibilities,” says the musician who was born in Chennai,where his father ran a theological organisation. He left India for New Zealand at the age of six.

His initiation into Indian music scene happened when he turned a music arranger for brother-in-law Lucky Ali’s songs such as O Sanam and Sunoh.

Now that he has found his foothold in India,McCleary wants to take his music beyond “reworking” old songs and compose for movies more often. However,working with like-minded people will be the deciding factor while choosing projects.

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