No introduction needed at all! For he is the guitarist who has paved the Bollywood way for many a musicians from the region.
Before I get to know the guitarist, Kalyan Baruah, I would like to know ‘the man’ behind the guitar.
I’m a very simple-minded person who likes to follow his dreams. I also like to be thorough in whatever I do, sometimes to the point of being a pain in the neck. I am extremely sensitive and caring. Though I might not come across like that. I love my home and family.
Okay, now to the music. When and how did your guitar journey begin?
My brother-in-law (bhindow) Indra Bania, who’s also my biggest inspiration, bought me my first guitar sometime around 1981-82. He bought me this beautiful acoustic guitar from Shillong. And it cost Rs 150 then. My elder brother, Biraj, gave me the money to buy the guitar and Bhupen Uzir selected the guitar.
So with that I landed up at a certain music school in Guwahati for a class one Sunday morning but that school would only teach Hawaiian guitar, which I didn’t want to learn at that point of time. So I tried the guitar at home and figured out things all by myself. Then my bhindow enrolled me at the Aikytan Music School. I got to learn the basics of guitar playing out there and that’s how the journey started.
When did you get your first break, both in Assam and also in Bollywood?
I was in Cotton College and I was quite a sought after guitar player for all the college
festivals. It was then that Dadul Deka, the ex-bass player of the band Friends spotted me and asked me to join their band. That’s where I started playing the guitar really seriously and was very attracted to the world of western music. I toured with the band extensively. I even played with bands like Great Society from Shillong, Moonwinds and Crystal Palace!
That’s about the same time when the recording industry in Guwahati had started blossoming. And I was very busy playing for lots of Assamese artistes like Dr Bhupen Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta, Zubin Garg, Jitul Sonowal et al. I even played live with a whole list of noted artistes.
In the year 1993-94, I came to Mumbai to work for an Assamese film project by Bijoy Duwarah. That project was programmed by Salim (now the well known music composer), Toufi que Qureshi (brother of Zakir Hussain) and composer Piyush. They encouraged me to come to Mumbai permanently. That’s how I shifted base and I got quite busy playing for lots of ad films and albums and I played live with a few bands like Blue Genes with Collin D’cruz and Sound Advice with Merlyn and Vivian Pocha and Karl Peters in the Channel V Band.
I was playing in lots of clubs like Not Just Jazz by the Bay, Razzberry Rhinoceros, etc. I also came in contact with artistes like Lucky Ali, KK around the same time and I started touring live with Lucky and also co-produced his album Aks and produced his famous songs from the film Kaho Na Pyaar Hain and with KK I recorded his first album Pal.
I started getting calls for Hindi film recordings sometime around 1998 and since then, I have played for hundreds of songs. And also produced many hit songs. I guess that’s how it all started in Bollywood. And the journey continues!
Right now you are one of the most sought after guitarists in the country. Are you content with what you have achieved or is there anything else left to get?
It’s always overwhelming to know that someone somewhere thinks that you can contribute something to their music! I feel wonderful when people tell me that I have created a unique guitar sound in mainstream Bollywood film industry. If you have noticed the guitar players before me had a completely different sound and approach. Of course, they were great too. Now I can also hear lot of young players trying to play like me. That’s cool!
I cannot be content ever as far as the music goes. I always dream of doing something more and different. I’m not happy about not being able to complete my solo album due to the lack of time.
Assamese music is slowly gaining some kind of a mainstream popularity through some of the Bollywood composers. What’s your take?
It’s definitely a great thing. Bhupen da did that way back in the 1950s and 60s. We have no dearth of talent in the Northeast. It’s just that artistes have to be willing to come out of their comfort zone and face something new! The guys who have dared to come out of their shell have always been successful and you can see it all around us today.
Whom would you give the credit for that?
Well the credit goes to the immense talent that our region has produced… the credit goes to our culture. The land the people…our up-bringing!
Of all the singers, bands you have worked with, any special bonds that you have developed over the years?
I have to say KK first. As we have been friends for 15 years now. I played his first album Pal live, formed the band with him which has set the standard for so called ‘Hindi Pop’ in India with consistent electrifying performances night after night! Now I see lots of other bands and musicians doing the same thing we have been doing for the last so many years.
Of late many musicians from the region are popping up in the Bollywood music scene but are there any new local guitarists creating ripples in B-town?
I have interacted with Pawan, Krishna, Manas, Akash, Dibya and a few other musicians. They are really good and are hard workers.
How important is ‘reyaj’ for a guitarist? Are there any special techniques for enhancing guitar skills?
I don’t follow any rules of enhancing the techniques! I just play to exercise my fingers and hands and to keep them fit. Usually my left hand is under a lot of stress. But whatever you practice, however you do your reyaj, always remember to practice with a metronome on.
What are your upcoming projects?
Recently I did the unplugged version of the popular song Haale Dil from Murder 2. I did the design for the song Saibo in Shor in the City, Faltu etc. And I’m currently producing a few songs for different film productions like Vishesh Films’ upcoming movie, music for which has been composed by Jeet Ganguly and a few projects by the young talented duo Sachin-Jigar as well as for Ismail Darbar.
Who are your favourite Indian and international guitarists?
Of the Indian scene, I like a friend of mine called Floyd. He is an awesome guitar player. I like Dhruv Ghanekar and Sumit Ramachandran, Rudy Wallang and Arjun Sen too.
In the international circuit I like Scott Henderson. These days I listen to him more frequently than some of my other favourites like Larry Carlton and Jeff Beck. I like the simplicity of Richard Bona’s music. I like John Mayer as well.
Apart from guitars, what else do you play or do?
I play a lot of instruments. I learnt tabla when I was young, in fact, that was my first instrument. I play keyboards, blues harp as well. Recently I started playing an instrument called Melodica. You will hear that in the film score of a new film starring Salman Khan.
My other passions are photography and painting. I love lazying around and doing nothing. I love to play the fool too. I enjoyed bugging my younger sister Enu when I was young… and now my wife Banashree is going through it. Yeah!
(An exclusive interview done in 2011 for now defunct Eclectic Vibes. Zero editing has been made to the original story that was published then)