POWERFUL PEOPLE: AN EXCLUSIVE CONVERSATION ABOUT HARMONISING CREATIVITYby Vinta Nanda February 10 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins, 40 secs
Working with Dhruv Ghanekar on the background score for my film White Noise (2005), produced by Mozez Singh and Sevy Ali, was a powerful experience. That was 20 years ago, and the songwriter, composer and musician has grown way beyond that now, writes Vinta Nanda
Dhruv Ghanekar is a prominent figure in the Indian music industry, known for his versatility and innovation as a songwriter, composer, and musician. With a career spanning over two decades, he has made significant contributions to various genres including film music, fusion, jazz, rock, and electronic music.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Ghanekar began his musical journey at a young age, learning the guitar and exploring different styles. His early exposure to a diverse range of influences laid the foundation for his eclectic and experimental approach to composition.
Ghanekar gained recognition for his work as a composer in the Indian film industry, creating music for independent cinema. His compositions are characterized by the blend of traditional Indian melodies with contemporary sounds, showcasing his ability to seamlessly fuse different elements.
In addition to his film work, Ghanekar has released several albums as a solo artist, showcasing his prowess as a guitarist and composer. He has also collaborated with renowned musicians from around the world, further pushing the boundaries of traditional Indian music.
Wah Wah Records, an independent record label, known for promoting and releasing diverse music from India and around the world, was recently established by Dhruv Ghanekar. It serves as a platform for both established and emerging artists expanding musical expression. The label's catalog, in consonance with Dhruv’s range, encompasses multiple genres, including jazz, fusion, electronic, rock, and traditional Indian music. Through its various initiatives, the label aims to grow an inclusive music community and promote cultural exchange and dialogue. Dhruv’s innovative approach has cemented his reputation as one of India's most influential songwriters and composers.
I got into a conversation with him about his journey and the way that alternative music has taken center stage along the way. Over to him then…
Let's begin from the end - the new phase of Wah Wah Records. What's happening presently, and where is it all coming from?
Wah Wah Records (WWR) is an extension of Wah Wah Music - the production company that I founded 11 years ago. It is an independent label that aims to showcase my various music projects that I am working on and eventually we will open it to other artists as well. The label is genre agnostic.
I have a 12-month runaway during which time I intend to release lots of new music that I have been working on and some new and interesting collaborations that are under development. I have spent so much of my time over the past 2 decades creating music for other artists, I feel indebted to giving back to myself now - WWR will be the channel, which will funnel all my unfinished musical ideas that have been under development for the past few years.
I truly believe it’s a great time to be an independent artist in India. Digital Distribution has democratized the music business that was once only available to an elite group of record label backed artists. The flip side is you have to invest (time and money) heavily promoting your music 24/7. Promotion and marketing are a relentless job and can get quite exhausting for an artist.
Do tell me a bit about your coming into music - you were a child actor and pursued music. How did it come about?
My gosh, the child actor part was really something that happened due to our family’s long association with Shyam Benegal. My grandfather and Mr. Benegal were partners and started their careers together. I come from a film family, but I was a shy kid and never really enjoyed the attention. At the same time I was kind of obsessed with the mechanics of filmmaking from a very young age. I was also simultaneously studying Hindustani classical music during my acting years. Music haunted me from a young age and I dreamed of playing music, which eventually led me to forming my first band Chakraview that got a lot of traction in a very short time. Eventually after I graduated, I gave my folks an ultimatum, “give me a year to figure out my life in music and if it doesn’t work out, I will do whatever you want me to (which would’ve entailed me joining the film business). That’s when Ashu and I partnered, and the rest is history…Bombay Boys happened and my career just took off!
You came to music in quite a big way after university and then left to qualify some more in LA. Do elaborate on that phase of your life and what were the things triggering your decisions?
I had actually finished composing for Bombay Boys when I left to study for the first time in Los Angeles. I always believed that having a good foundation is instrumental in having a long career. It was a phenomenal phase even though I was quite broke, and I went hungry for many days on end living off 30 cent burgers ;-). That time in my life was incredibly enriching despite all the hardship. I would wake up and be practicing for 8 hours a day. It was a period of deep learning and assimilation. Those months really served me well throughout my career.
College life is a bubble and I was lucky to have a career to walk back into. I was able to apply everything that I learned laterally into my music in the coming years. However, my trip ended rather unfortunately as I met with an accident. I got hit by a car and had to return home with my hand in a cast. When I came back, Bombay Boys released and things just exploded for Ashu and me.
Your collaboration with Ashutosh Pathak was a long one, Smoke Music was a great period of time in your life as a composer, singer, guitarist. Tell us all about it?
Ashu and I had an incredible run, for over a decade in which time we produced over 3000+ commercials, scored half a dozen films, created music for every television network, produced music for indie artists and finished off by setting up Blue Frog.
We had diametrically opposite styles, a bit like Yin and Yang, and we were able to complement each other really. We also had radically different styles of composing and writing. Ashu is a superb songwriter and terrific ideas man. I learnt a great deal in the time that we spent making music together. It was a time of unhinged experiments and lots and lots of work. It was towards the end of that period that we also worked on your film White Noise.
The thing that really set us apart is that we were fearless and were always looking for opportunities to write songs even when there wasn't one supposed to be there in a film. White Noise is a classic example. If you recall, Mozez Singh and you approached us to compose the background score but instead we wrote these songs for the film that we completely produced ourselves and also shot these videos on our own dime. This was unheard of and probably still is a radical idea. The sheer volume of work we were doing at that stage also helped us grow and develop our own styles. Eventually I began to find my own voice as a songwriter and producer and broke out on my own by the end of that period, at the time we set up Blue Frog.
Blue Frog was a revolution. Indie Music broke the barriers and became unstoppable thereafter. I think that's a story, which needs to be told.
There are tons of stories about Blue Frog - how we went about setting it up and how it eventually metamorphosed into this beautiful beast. Someday we will tell that tale.
The genesis was our (Ashu & mine) deep desire to set up a world class music production house. We found this incredible space, but it was too huge for what we needed. We also had several conversations with Mahesh Mathai and Srila about the lack of any live music venues in the city. These two ideas eventually merged. As the conversation evolved, we began to draw up plans and then raise the money to set up a nightclub and four kickass world class studios. It was a bold, audacious move and we fed off each other’s energy.
The most important thing for us was the music, and that reflected in every aspect; from the acoustics, to where the main mixing engineers were positioned in the club. Music programming was the foundation upon which the entire operation rested and we invested heavily into importing incredible international artists throughout the run of the club. We also began giving local artists the same stage to showcase their talent and this symbiotic relationship between the venue and the artists began to grow and bloom over time that you could credit to the development of the indie music scene. We had a phenomenal run of 9 years, in which time we set up 3 more outposts in Delhi, Bangalore and Pune - all of which were beautiful venues.
Where does your heart lie? In composing, singing or as an instrumentalist? Or, as all three? Take us through your thoughts.
I would like to break down composing into two parts: Commissioned work and my own passion projects. These are two very different endeavors that require slightly different preparation methods. Each one requires preparation and oodles of patience.
Even though I started out as a performer, I enjoy composing film scores and songwriting the most. The early stages of preparing for a new film project can be daunting. It starts out at what seems like a giant mountain in front of you but you focus on the small steps, remain humble and eventually you assemble a small team that takes you to the finish line. In the early stages I like to spend time researching melodies and rhythms of the geography where the project is based. This can take months and continues well through the project. When I’m composing for myself - the gestation period is even longer as ideas have to simmer in my consciousness before I can start executing them. I usually like hearing the frame of the song or idea before I begin working on it.
Commissioned work always takes precedence over one’s own work and I am continuously wrestling with finding a balance.
Performing is a whole different beast, that requires you to be more present in the moment in order to perform optimally. It’s far more gratifying as you get instant feedback, and when you are ‘in the zone’ the feeling is unmatched!
What are your dreams for Wah Wah Records now? What's next?
This is an important year for WWR, I have a couple of new projects that I will release in the coming months, one of which is Voyage 2, a continuation of Dhruv Voyage - this has been a long time in the making and I intend to get back on tour soon after.
There’s another fun electro-pop project in the pipeline that I will reveal mid-year. Apart from this, there is also a very interesting feature film that I am working on.