A decade ago, we heard a voice that felt less like a person and more like a warm, comforting blanket on a cold, rainy afternoon. Singer/songwriter Nikhil D’Souza warmed our hearts with ‘Sham’ and went on to deliver some of the decade’s most loved songs both commercially and independently. Basking in the success and the gracious reception of his latest EP, ‘Waqt’, the reticent but excited musician spills the beans about what went behind making this lovely 4-track wonder, in an exclusive chat with me for Radio City Freedom.
Pop culture and music have always portrayed the influence of love in the lives of artists, almost having turned it into a cliché. Without sounding intrusive if I could ask, how has love defined your work?
ND: We write and sing about things that vex us the most and I'm no exception to that. I haven't experienced a picture perfect, two-way relationship till now and the fantasy and elusiveness of it is something that will probably feature in my expressions, until I do. Maybe after that I'll talk about politics and toasted bread.
Much of the EP’s success can be largely credited to Pinky Poonawala’s verses, who also penned the Hindi reprise of ‘People’. How did this beautiful collaboration come through?
ND: Pinky’s been my friend longer than our professional relationship. It was sometime last year when I told her I was considering bridging the gap between my (Hindi) bolly playback and my English compositions, that she offered to fill in the lyrical void that I lacked, since I think and write in English. We started with Sitaare – I composed the melody and found the phrase “Sitaaron ki..” that I wanted the song to resolve into. Over numerous coffees at Blue Tokai in Versova, we talked about the thematic approach and then she went about writing the actual lyric. Being old friends, it’s easier to share thoughts and feelings that are private and personal and I think this is reflected in the verses she’s written throughout all my songs. That’s usually the way we’ve worked from Sitaare, through People and now Waqt.
The EP was mostly recorded at home due to the imposed lockdown. How much did you miss being in the professional confines of a studio?
ND: I really did miss the convenience of a studio since it's much faster doing multiple takes, having the best microphones and knowing that you're sorted on the technical aspects of recording - one major factor being external noise, which ruins many home recordings. Having said that, my mix engineer Chinmay Harshe did a fabulous job taking my home recordings and making them sound pro studio grade. (I’d recommend any artist to keep a good budget aside for the mix process and hire a good mix engineer – it makes a huge difference to your final song). Given a choice, I would still pick a professional studio over my home setup.
How self-reliant as a musician has the lockdown made you?
ND: I didn't think I could record and produce release-worthy tracks from home. The lockdown necessitated that I do, and now I know it's possible - 2 songs from Waqt were completely produced by me. Of course I'm also glad for my team - from the audio/video production to the marketing/PR - who are mostly doing this as a passion project. I couldn't have managed it without them, like the Beatles song "With a little help from my friends".
It’s been a decade since you sung ‘Sham’ for the movie ‘Aisha’, a song that has acquired a cult of its own over the years. Surely, fans must be inundating your social media timelines everyday with cover versions and tributes to it. What is the fondest memory about working on that song that you look back to?
ND: Absolutely – I get sent at least 4 to 5 Sham covers every day. I remember being in the vocal booth, singing the song and Rhea Kapoor started taking photos of me. When I got out of the booth, she asked me if I was free to audition for the role of the guy with the guitar at the campfire, who the song is picturised on. Unfortunately I wasn’t free on the shoot dates and missed it.
What’s next in store for fans?
ND: A 3-song English EP with songs I'd written and produced during my time in the UK. I'm particularly excited for fans to hear this one. It’s got a super production and melodies I think they will love.
‘Waqt’ is now streaming on Radio City Freedom