Composer-singer Vishal Mishra talks to Megh Rao about making his own feelings come alive with his voice and his musical instruments ….
Aye zindagi, sung by six legendary playback singers, is a Vishal Mishra composition. And you can watch him play his favourite instrument, the piano, in his version of the Race 3 song Selfish, written by Salman Khan.
When we watched Vishal playing his guitar and humming along, we asked him about the other instruments he played. He talked to us about his musical journey and his love for making his instruments sing.
Vishal (VM): I play 23 instruments…
Q: So how did that happen?
VM: I don’t know how music happened to me. It’s been a process that I have been a part of since my childhood. Whatever is happening to me today is just happening; it’s not as if I am expecting it. Whatever comes to me, I take it. I think music and instruments are an exploration of my expression that is not said through my natural behaviour. I speak by playing different instruments and composing different notes. I think it will be this way as long as I am alive.
Q: Do you have childhood memories of playing musical instruments?
VM: I started with the piano, then tabla, drums, congo, bongo, dholak, harmonium, then guitar, accordion, harmonica, pianica, hand drums and whatever else. Language through instruments is what excites me. When I listen to these but am not able to play them, I have an urge to go ahead and explore. That is why I play 23 instruments.
Q: Did you look up to any pianist or musician? Did you have an idol?
VM: IN the city that I grew up in, we did not have the options of having idols and playing piano. The most we could think of was Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Usse zyada aaya hi nahi kabhi dimag main. We were not given an option to listen to Yanni, Beethoven or Mozart. That happened later in my life, but piano came to me naturally – I remember I got one as a gift. It was a Casio piano, a very small one on which I would play Nadeem–Shravan tunes - that is how the journey started. Those were my idols, so that is why even today, my geometry of playing is very personal. It’s not very western or classical or even Indian in nature, but it’s my own geometry, the way that I used the instruments when I was a child. My idols are Nadeem–Shravan, RD Burman, Salil Chowdhury… not Yanni and Beethoven. (laughs)
Q: What’s the difference between the music of your idols and yours?
VM: While putting on jeans, you can start with your left leg or the right, it doesn’t matter, it’s the same thing. As long as it’s going well, whether you learn western classical or folk or piano doesn’t make a difference. What’s important is learning. You should do it as much as you can. Bahut zaroori hai mehnat karna, there’s substitute for hard work. If you work hard on anything, woh riyaaz se chizen sahi ho jati hai, who tarika kya hai who zaruri nahi hai. I think it should be more result oriented than the process.
Q: Do you have any formal training in music?
VM: No, I have never trained formally in music, but fortunately, I can write down my music myself and I dub my musicians. I play all these instruments and can write down ragas. It’s a miracle that I am extremely grateful for. God has given me an opportunity to explore my expressions in this manner, so I am doing it and I just hope that as long as I have energy and fire in me, I can explore it to its maximum.
Q: You have composed all the songs you have sung…
VM: I have only sung songs that I have composed. Nobody else makes me sing. (laughs)
I am a composer; I compose because I sing and I sing because I compose. It is very natural to me. I love composing and then giving it an expression. So what I play on the piano, is what I would sing in my voice. It’s like an instrument that I use to convey my own composition and I am grateful I have met and worked with people who have loved my voice. The producers have been great to give me an opportunity to sing my own songs and to have others sing them too. I believe when a composer makes a song, it is his natural ability to convey it to everyone else. That is why when I did Pyaar ho or the recorded version Selfish or Veere, or for that matter whatever songs I have sung till now, people have liked it. I enjoy composing more than anything else, it’s the most peaceful.