“Hum hain Angrez, lekin hamara dil hai Hindustani – maybe one day I’ll be an honorary citizen. I love Mumbai or Bombay as I call it. If it’s not London, then it’s Bombay; if it’s not UK, then it’s India.”

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London based Andrew T. Mackay, composer, producer, orchestrator, director, social activist, with his heart in Mumbai, describes himself as ‘quite chilled’, but who gets moved by injustice. He concedes that despite man’s strange penchant for darkness, there is a lot of light in the world. A. Radhakrishnan in conversation with the composer.

How do you manage your various personas?
Composing music is my passion, and you can in tandem be scoring music for films as a paid job, and writing orchestral music as a hobby. The term ‘music director’ seems to be of Indian origin. While theatre always had a music director, for films, the Western term is the ‘composer’. A typical Bollywood setup constitutes of this one person who writes the songs, and another who does the score. Thankfully, of late, a great deal of films emerging from India are not song-based, giving the composer or music director much more scope, and the score does play a more important role, supporting the story.

The secret is to, though difficult, not to wear all hats at the same time. I am doing much less orchestrating these days, apart from my own projects. I am scoring more films myself as opposed to assisting others on some of the bigger films. Producing is very much part of the composition process, although on the flip side, I produced a music-based short film, titled La Lune Folle (Crazy Moon), directed by Meneka Das in the UK, which got an award for Best Short at The Rajasthan International Film Festival in Jaipur in 2017.

What about today’s music?
Negative comments abound, but music is continually evolving and always in a state of transition, sometimes regressing, and sometimes getting completely lost. Certain types of music have a longer shelf life, whilst some pass through in a constant state of development and vanish without a trace. With technology, anyone with a computer and the ability to switch it on can make music. How good it is, is really up to the listener to decide!

What do you consider your achievements?
I still believe I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. I am happy to have had hits across the globe with Bombay Dub Orchestra, a project I started with composer/producer Garry Hughes. It all began after doing a recording session in 1998 in South Bombay, which was engineered by the legendary Daman Sood ji.

I realised that Garry and I had a great connection with the musicians there and really wanted to do a more long term project that would feature the musicians and orchestra in India. Our last album was recorded in Bombay, Delhi, London, Los Angeles, Kingston – Jamaica, and Istanbul. Bringing musicians from different backgrounds together is when magic can happen!

I feel blessed to have had my work screened at some of the top film festivals worldwide, one of my favourites being the feature documentary Monsoon, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, which won the People’s Choice award for best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Further, I have worked on some great projects recently including A.R. Rahman’s orchestral composition Flying Lotus, which premiered in May 2017 with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. I also re-worked the music for Sandokan for its 40th anniversary celebration with Kabir Bedi, who became a European star, thanks to the Italian TV series. It was a surprise performance of the music at the River to River Indian Film Festival in Florence where it was amazing to see what a star Kabir is, and how impeccable his Italian is.

Another notable recording experience was the score for our short film La Lune Folle recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London with a Piano Quartet (Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello). I’ve also been writing the music for fashion shows in London, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona over the last few years, and feel it is always good to diversify.

I also try to do a certain amount of gratis projects. I have scored a host of documentary films on subjects ranging from Women and the Taliban, Ex Child Solders in Nepal, The Kumari, Homelessness and other subjects.

Music has also taken me around the world to record. One of my favourite moments was recording a Zulu choir, mixing Zulu with Hindi, in South Africa for a film which featured an Indian family living in Durban, South Africa.

I started the first ever Composers Lab in India in 2013, the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema, as part of the Mumbai Film Festival. It’s an initiative bringing together young up and coming Indian composers and mentoring them over several days with a composer from the UK or US and a team of music industry specialists.

My UK-based company Bohemia Junction Limited represents the Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra for India, bringing one of the best European orchestras to Indian films. We also represent the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. Our client list is far reaching with a lot of the work coming from South India where I see a resurgence of the use of the orchestra and some great music scores.

We regularly work with the likes of A.R. Rahman, Santhosh Narayanan, Sean Roldan and many more.

Tell us about your process of composing music?
In a nutshell, I compose at the piano or the computer, but before embarking on writing a note, I let thematic ideas and arrangements manifest themselves in my head for a week or two. Often we are restricted by what we can physically play; so it is good to get the ideas first before committing it to paper or ‘tape’!

I will always ask to read the script or watch the film if it’s already made, and then sit with the filmmaker and hear his or her take on the story. I have to like the story and believe in the characters in order to take on projects. We all have to pay our bills, but ultimately I am inspired to work on a project if the film excites me.

How would you compare the Indian music scene and the Western/Indian classical?
I have a preference for Indian classical and semi-classical, but there is huge influence of Western music in India. Bands like F-16s in Chennai, Advaita in Delhi, artistes like Sandunes, Achint Thakur, Roshni Baptist in Mumbai, Soulmate from Shillong – the list goes on! I prefer films to stage and TV. Of course, English is great, but of the last four projects I have scored for, one was in Marathi and three in Hindi.

Are film and alternative music different?
Film music has always been a far cry from alternative music, but there are filmmakers who have actively included music in their film that bridge that gap, like Anuraag Kashyap. Also, I do see, with some of the newer filmmakers, a tendency to use styles and genres outside of what was typically Bollywood, which still dominates the airwaves. Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of some really good music from across India on the ‘alternative’ non-Bollywood scene.

Many new music festivals and musical venues popping up have given new and established artistes the opportunity to showcase their music. Whereas in the past, it would usually stay in the musician’s bedroom!

What are your views on jugalbandi?
When I first started my love affair with Indian music, I found it quite extraordinary that two musicians, who, in some cases had never met, were able to go on stage, decide which raag they’d be performing, and off they went. I then started to understand more about the connectivity and the way the musicians would equally be soloists. The closest reference in Western music would be Jazz, where musicians jam on a chord sequence or a melody or an idea that may not have been pre conceived. Indian classical performances are unique. At its heart is a strong sense of musicianship, storytelling, and this can really impart a feeling that is hard to explain.

Are you in favour of fusion music?
Well, my own music by Bombay Dub Orchestra is often described as fusion. What is fusion? It’s varying types of regional or global music brought together. I don’t like the name really, and it’s more of a label for the purpose of the music listening public. Music in a way needs to have some sort of description to set it apart from other styles.

What do you think of remixes?
I am not a great fan, though there are some really good interpretations, but personally the original songs are the best, although I have also indulged in this crime. I have remixed or done reworks of songs by the likes of R.D. Burman and other older film composers, particularly as a DJ playing at Indian film festivals around the globe.

Andrew with Kabir Bedi and director Katherine Kingsland

Is silence music? What do you think?
Without silence, there would be no music. It is like a gentle breath before the next note. The gaps or spaces in between music, particularly in a film, are more important than most people realise. It gives you time to take in what you are watching or listening to. Even a notes’ rest or a pause in a piece of music, is so important. So often films have music relentlessly cascading out of the speakers, and much of contemporary music leaves little time for space and that all important breath or rest.

Does music help in maintaining good health?
Not if I. am. working till 5 am every day! But seriously, good music can help balance your mind and help you to feel good. What happens in the brain manifests in the rest of the body. There’s music to dance to, to get fit to, to do all sorts of things to. So the right music can certainly keep you healthy, positive and blessed.

Who are your favourite English and Indian composers?
Among Western composers I like Debussy, Vaughn Williams, Ravel, Fauré, Holst, Delius, Scriabin, Shostokovich, Sibelius and many more. As for Indian composers, I like the work that some of the new breed like Aloka Dasgupta and Anjo John (both of whom came through our composers lab), and also Narendra Chandavarkar. The music coming from the South seems to have more freedom. Rahman is a genius of new wave music, and has introduced that simplistic electronic feel with space and beautiful moods, but retained the earthy Indian folk element often missing in music today. It’s all about being adventurous for composers, directors and producers.

How important are awards?
Certainly, some sort of industry recognition is good and helps your career, and lets you know that maybe you are doing the right thing, and doing it well.

You are London-based. How often do you visit Mumbai?
London will always be home, but these days I find myself staying in India for longer and longer durations, even staying right through the monsoon, which has been an achievement in itself!

Hum hain Angrez, lekin hamara dil hai Hindustani – maybe one day I’ll be an honorary citizen. I love Mumbai or Bombay as I call it. If it’s not London, then it’s Bombay; if it’s not UK, then it’s India. There is so much to love. Negativity exists in all countries and I never talk about it. Here, I would say the littering is excessive and done by everyone, they all feel someone else will clean it for them.

What are your hobbies?
I love cricket, and earlier used to cruise around London in classic cars and motorcycles, without knowing how to fix them, enticed by its design and style.


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A.Radhakrishnan

A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, short story writer, poet who is gregarious and loves making the world a better place.

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