He’s been making music for over two decades now. He’s made Baba Sehgal, Daler Mehndi, Shubha Mudgal, Shweta Shetty household names. And for his efforts, Jawahar Wattal, the star maker as he is commonly referred to, has been conferred the Padma Shri this year. Otherwise an MBA and a martial arts enthusiast, Wattal has been, by his own admission, “out of circulation due to personal reasons” for the last couple of years. Priya Kanungo tries to tune into what’s on the musician’s mind these days. Some excerpts:
What are the projects that are keeping you busy now?
I’m working on an album of devotional songs that are based on ragas, are Indian at heart, but have an international feel. I’m also in the process of setting up a new record label that will focus on non-film music. And talent for this will not be judged depending on what a panel of judges says or what the TRP ratings say or what the person looks like. Pure music will be the criteria. Apart from this, my work on experimenting with different forms of foIk music continues.
How do you compare non-film music today with what it was 10 years ago?
Today music is seen rather than heard...the video is more important than the audio. When I started making music, I did so out of Delhi, not Mumbai. And I made music that had nothing to do with Bollywood. People used to laugh at me then. After all, anyone who wanted to make a mark as a singer then had to sound like Kishore Kumar if a male or Lata Mangeshkar if a female. And here was I trying to project people with original voices, with totally different timbres. But these people started doing their own thing, and succeeding. What matters is the song. And I think a good song remains for ever. That’s why Ali More Angana by Shubha Mudgal still gets to be heard today, even though it is more than 10 years old.
When you set out to compose a song, what do you keep in mind?
It depends on one, the subject — whether it is meant to charge up or relax the listener. Two, what the voice quality is like, and the level of training. You have to make the voice do the talking after all. And three, the tune should appeal to the common man, should be simple, have recall value