Three of a kind: Sandeep Chatterjee

SANDEEP Chatterjee's musical journey started at an early age.

The Singapore-based songwriter, lyricist and music composer remembers that his mother loved listening to Bollywood songs.

As he grew up in Bihar, he was constantly exposed to the voices of legendary singers Mukesh, Muhammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar.

Having been nurtured in such an environment, Sandeep had a natural affinity for music. Although he did not receive any classical training in music, he loved to sing different types of songs.

He recalled his school teachers imploring him to sing bhajans (devotional songs). His voice touched a chord in them as they felt it was soulful and full of feeling.

However, his father's early demise and other circumstances prevented Sandeep from receiving formal music training at the time.

Nevertheless, he continued to sing in his college days and was even recognised for his natural talent.

However, Sandeep considered music only as a hobby and never viewed it as a life-long career.

In 1994, Sandeep started learning classical music at the age of 25 while he was working. In 1996, he took part in a major musical contest that was held in Bengaluru and won it.

However, between the years of 1997 and 2005, he was unable to pursue his music due to work and family commitments.

Sandeep worked with several multinational companies. He was the HR manager at Tata IBM between 1997 and 1999.

He moved to Singapore in 1999 and worked with APAR Infotech as the associate director of human resources till 2002 when he started his own company, Flexione, which deals with onsite technical services in information technology, electronics and automation and process control.

Although he focused on building his company, he never gave up music as he had been receiving opportunities to sing at the Bengali Association of Singapore since 2005.

He shared: "Surprisingly, it's in Singapore that I really got in touch with the Bengalis and started pursuing Bengali music."

He emphasised how being in Singapore gave him an opportunity to reconnect with his Bengali culture and roots.

As a result, Sandeep began to explore the music of Kazi Nazrul Islam (Bengali poet, writer, musician and revolutionary) and Rabindranath Tagore (India's first Nobel Laureate).

These personal experiences fortified Sandeep's resolve to start learning classical music again in 2006; he learnt classical music under his guru Kalyani Puranik at the Temple of Fine Arts in Singapore.

He said: "I can comfortably sing in many languages - Bengali, Oriya, Punjabi and Bhojpuri, to name a few." In his albums, Birohi Papiya Bole and Samarpan, he sang both Nazrul and Tagore's songs to try to revive people's interest in old-world music.

As Sandeep places utmost importance on song lyrics, he is often inspired by these famous poets to pen his own lyrics. He feels that today's Bollywood songs lack good lyrics.

Sandeep has been the lead singer for musical productions like Taal Express, Water and Damaru organised by the Temple of Fine Arts. For Damaru, he wrote and composed the music for the song, Bum Bum Bole.

He said excitedly as he hummed the tune: "Bum Bum Bole is a very catchy tune. Wherever I performed the song, be it Singapore or Malaysia, people seemed to love it."

In 2011, Sandeep decided to compose and write his own lyrics. In creating his first album, Khwab, he juggled his work and music. He said: "My office still existed but I paid more attention to singing, composing music… it affected my business but I realised that I had a musician inside me and that I needed to bring that out and give it my attention."

For his second album, Haqeeqat, he took time off work to write the lyrics. It was released last year.

Sandeep's family, especially his wife Kakoli Chatterjee, has been his biggest support in his music endeavours. Kakoli is an assistant professor with Duke-NUS who specialises in cancer research. Like Sandeep, Kakoli is a talented singer who has received classical music training. She has sung a few songs on his albums.

He said: "She is a music lover and having a music lover at home definitely helps. For my second album, I wanted her to sing more songs. She is a very good classical singer."

Sandeep has released two albums and is creating the third one, Rhythm Rhapsody.

Each album explores the diverse genres of Indian music as Sandeep focuses on making every album unique. While the first one was Qawwali (an Islamic religious song) fusion, the second one predominantly consisted of Ghazals (lyrical poems usually about unrequited love).

Sandeep wants the third one to be different from the first two. He confided: "Now, based on the two albums, how people felt about it, I wanted to do something which will connect to people who are non-Indians." Like A.R. Rahman who creates music that is distinct and international, Sandeep wants his third album to appeal to a global audience.

He hopes to garner the support of the National Arts Council for the album and make it distinct by capitalising on the talent of Singaporean and Malaysian artistes.

His parting shot for aspiring musicians: "It is important to start early. One needs to have solid skills to connect with the masses. You need to have a feel for the song. That comes when you are passionately involved with the song. I feel that when I write the lyrics, I feel so confident that those who listen will understand that I have put my heart and soul into it."

Three of a kind: Sam Bedi

SAM Bedi became interested in music as a teenager in Melbourne, Australia. Fortunately for him, his parents, who were both doctors and music enthusiasts, encouraged him.

Said Sam: "My earliest memory is that of my mother sitting with my brother and me at the piano learning together. She learnt with us to encourage us."

Later on, his mother found him another teacher, who taught him for

10 years. "He sensed I had an ability to play, and spent more time than necessary to help develop my ability. Often classes would run well over the allotted time."

This teacher gave Sam the confidence to pursue music more diligently. He said: "At school, I played in school concerts and music productions. At college, I performed at various events and locations, as well as performing on stage with a group known as Milan (an Indian-Western fusion group based in Australia)."

During his 10-year stint with Milan, Sam was the music director and regularly participated in many performances.

Sam continued learning music at the Victoria College of The Arts in Melbourne while pursuing his economics degree at university. The backing he received from his parents motivated him to play to different Indian communities in Melbourne.

To make his music different and entertaining, Sam started to experiment. He shared: "I started to play a lot of Bollywood numbers, especially from the '60s and '70s, as that is what my parents were particularly fond of. I would then mix these numbers with English songs I knew, both classical and contemporary, when performing."

Sam moved to Singapore in 2004 as the director of strategy and corporate development at Kraft Foods. With his professional commitments and needing time to settle into a new country, "my playing died down a little", he said.

He added: "I actively started playing again in 2006 or so, a few years after coming to Singapore, to encourage and support my two children. At the same time, I found a new appreciation for music. I found it a terrific 'switch off' from work. Coming home after a day of work, playing the piano for an hour just put you in a very relaxed and positive frame of mind."

Having rediscovered his passion for music, Sam invested his time in learning popular Bollywood and English songs again. At dinners, friends would ask him to play the piano.

This allowed him to perform different Bollywood numbers fused with popular English numbers. The positive vibes inspired him. He revealed: "This was when the idea of Bollywood Redefined (his first CD) came to me."

He realised that this unique blend of both old and new popular Bollywood songs and popular English songs was well-appreciated, and was enthusiastic about pursuing it.

He continued to play regularly at friends' gatherings which made him consider the idea of having his first CD and concert.

He finally held his first concert at the Esplanade in February 2011. The show's success reaffirmed his belief.

He shared: "Fortunately the show went well. That's when I felt there was something in the concept, as well as just the sheer enjoyment and satisfaction that I felt I wanted to make performing a permanent part of my life."

Since then, there has been no turning back. On Oct 1 this year, Sam had his third concert.

In his concerts, he tries to introduce new artistes from around the world and is always on the lookout for new talent. He also experiments with different genres of classical music like the opera and likes to use different musical instruments.

He said: "The other way I incorporate composition is deciding which instruments to use in which songs, and at what times.

For example, incorporating the tabla with flute, or sitar with violin, but centred around the piano. I also like to look at fusing East and West by incorporating instruments traditionally associated with either the East or West."

Through the years, Sam has successfully been able to devote time equally to both his work and music.

He said: "Even now, I perform but continue in my role as the regional director for Glanbia Performance Nutrition, which is the largest consumer goods company selling sports nutrition in the world.

For me, it is more of a balancing act rather than about choosing. I intend to keep continuing with both."

As he realised the universal appeal of Bollywood music, he was inspired to create an e-learning platform for both children and adults to learn music virtually and enjoy the musical process.

He shared: "I thought, what if we could develop a platform which provided structured learning of songs online, and is so convenient, which used a step by step guide, including animation and illustrations, and audio tracks to guide learning. To maximise its relevance, different standards of playing have been created to cater for complete beginners or advanced musicians."

With the support of the Ministry of Information and Communication, Sam was able to see his dream materialise into reality and clickSANGEET was born.

clickSANGEET is a part of Samana Music, the parent company founded by Sam in 2012.

Said Sam: "My combined corporate work, clickSANGEET, and performing is something I am proud of for a few reasons.

I feel a greater sense of achievement given I am able to do all, and hopefully encourage people, especially younger people, to achieve both a career and passion simultaneously. It does not have to be a choice."

His wife, Sharn, who works in advertising, has been a constant source of support for him through the years.

He said: "I think we feed off each other by acting as a source of encouragement, motivation, and are understanding of each other's challenges in managing diverse interests, while having the usual challenges everyone faces around children, their safety, education and well-being, parents, and broader family."

Sam feels that the young should follow their passions and learn to manage their time between their work and interests.

He said: "My advice to children (and their parents) is not to be limited by either one option or another. You will learn to prioritise and balance your time, and eliminate things which are more time wasting than anything, whether people, TV or other things."

Three of a kind: Druv Kent

FOR Druv Kent, it was only after he left his job as managing director at Deutsche Bank in May 2013 that he found he had an urge to compose music and sing songs.

This came as a surprise to him. After all, he had worked as a banker for more than a decade.

He confessed: "I wrote my first song in two days and said, 'Oh my God'. The music drove me. It was not a calculated decision. I literally just sat back from my piano and said that was amazing."

A week later, he composed the song, A Little Bit Of God. And even though Druv received many lucrative job offers, he was resolute in his decision to pursue music instead.

In the process of becoming an artiste, he tried to assess who he was as a singer and what kind of identity he wished to project.

In November last year, he contacted the people who produced music for Ronan Keating and John Mayer as he felt that his music conveyed similar maturity and feelings. He confessed: "The first big event was writing a song.The second was when John Mayer's keyboardist Tim Bradshaw got on a plane and came to Singapore for a week just for my music."

Since then, there has been no turning back. Although people questioned his decision, Druv believed he was capable of making world class music.

He described his transition as "dramatic".

He said: "I have just embraced it… That is what you need to do if you are starting at the bottom of a pile. Now at least, I'm in stage 1.0 where I have released an album and have been heard on BBC."

Druv's love for music can be traced back to his childhood years as he grew up in Kolkata. He was exposed to a wide variety of songs (Greek, Sufi, classical, Western and Indian) that his mother often listened to.

He said: "What inspired me to get into music - my mother, John Lennon and Phil Collins. My mother is one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

She used to sing to me at night. Never discount the power of the subconscious mind."

Druv moved to Singapore in 2010. Two years later, Druv started his musical journey with the Agni band in India under his full name of Dhruv Shrikent for a movie titled Aalaap.

It made him realise that he could be a singer. He also played with a Singapore band in October 2013 called Bandwidth.

The classic rock band is made up of Indian musicians who hold professional jobs but dedicate a day annually to playing rock music.

His interest in singing pop-rock and folk-rock music attracted him to like-minded individuals in the same field. He continues to play in different places like Blujaz Cafe, Timbre and Gardens by the Bay with various music bands.

Between March and July last year, Druv recorded two short albums, four and six songs respectively, with his producers.

By November, the album cover was created.

Only after shooting the video for his song did Druv become certain of his musical identity. He recalled: "That was when I knew what I sounded like and what I looked like."

He held his first concert in January this year in the Esplanade Recital Studio. He revealed: "All the tickets were sold out in three days. It went very well. I played a lot of original stuff from my album."

He released his first single A Little Bit Of God in January. The second single, I'm Still Riding, was released in June. He dedicated this number to the memory of his father whom he lost in 2013, assuring him that he is still okay.

He was excited about his third single Glitter And Dynamite that is releasing this month.

He disclosed: "The video is coming out… probably just before Diwali in the first week of November. That is important. I am working hard towards it."

In his journey of creating music, Druv's staunchest supporters have been his wife Sneha Sanghvi, who works in a bank, children, mother and siblings.

He shared: "Each song is signed off by my wife and kids before it goes anywhere else. They are not music experts but if they say it is not working or you need to keep working on it... so it is very much a combined effort… They don't know this but there is a lot of emphasis and trust that I place on their judgment."

His album, About Time, which is a compilation of pop-rock and folk-rock music, will be digitally released in the first quarter of next year. Said Druv:

"Each song has a different emotion and a different feel. Each song has its own direction. I don't want to be the guy who is a fusion artist. It is more universal. I am trying to make music that is relatable to someone sitting in Colorado, or someone sitting in Hong Kong, or someone sitting in Mumbai. It is not geographic at all."

In March next year, he will hold a concert at Victoria Theatre. Before that, he plans to hold a "battle of the bands" in which students from the international and local schools in Singapore will compete for a chance to perform live at his show.

Druv said he is doing this to give youngsters a platform to explore their creativity.

He observed: "In Singapore, there are not enough platforms for youngsters to nurture their creativity."

tabla@sph.com.sg


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