• Djinn

Catching up with Niraj Chag. Composition for TV & Film, Theatre and the Future of Music.

Djinn: So! Do you want to hear my provisional intro?

Niraj: Go on then...

Djinn: Ha-ha. Thanks to Jackie Khan at the Bug Bar in Brixton for believing in me, inviting me back to perform and calling talent scouts without telling me about it. As a result, I was introduced to Niraj, my producer turned mentor/lifelong friend. It’s been some time since we caught up in person but our conversations always continue where they left off. Niraj is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer of 5 albums and hundreds of other releases for TV, film and dance. I’ve always been grateful for his support when I’ve needed it. I figured it was time to catch up properly and talk about his work and his thoughts on the future of music. Enjoy!

Djinn: Question; what first brought you into music and when?

Niraj: I was brought into music at quite a young age, probably around 11, when my brother set up a band in Southampton.

Djinn: A.J?

Niraj: Yea, so, they were playing Bollywood and Bhangra music so I ended up kinda being the guy who did the least amount in the band. My job was to turn this drum machine from 1984-85 on and off. (Niraj turns and points at the machine)

Djinn: I was looking at that when I came in. What is that?

Niraj: That’s the Roland TR 707. So you’ve heard of the 808 and the 909. The 707 was the one that was basically the junior version of those which didn’t appreciate in value or status over the years sadly. My job was to press start and stop on the machine. That was my one job and it scared the hell out of me. I was so nervous being on stage!

Djinn: It’s live isn’t it!

Niraj: Yea, It’s crazy. Then probably around the age of 12 I set up a little hip-hop band with my cousin and a friend of mine where I was playing keys and bass at the time. Then at 15 I got into technology and then set up my own little studio in Southampton.

Djinn: Did you study music per se, or are you completely self-taught?

Niraj: All self-taught

Djinn: Well, what you have achieved as a result of self-education is evidence in itself of what people can achieve if they really want to do it.

Niraj: Absolutely, there are no barriers now. When I was starting out, the technology we have now didn’t exist so what you can do on a laptop now is what you could do in Abbey Road at that time really. So, when I started out, I had a keyboard hardware sequencer limited to a 16 track with a sequencer with 16 note polyphony and 20 thousand events within the composition. Now it’s unlimited. I don’t think there is any reason why anybody can’t do it.

Djinn: What would you say to someone who wants to make music but doesn’t pursue it due to lack of study within the field?

Niraj: Then you probably don’t really want to do it because I think if you really want to do it, it wouldn’t matter if you studied or not, you’d be compelled to do it.

Djinn: It reminds me of a time I was doing a gig, and someone approached me and said, ‘I’d give anything to be able to sing,’ and I said, ‘no you wouldn’t, otherwise you’d be singing already.’

Niraj: This is it, when people say that, it’s a little bit disingenuous because they’re saying I’d do it if I knew music theory, but what they’re really saying is I’d be compelled to do it if I can make money and become successful from it. Not that I want to do it for the sake of doing it. You’re treating music not as an end but as a means to an end, and that’s a very different system and you have to be honest with yourself as to why you’re doing it. Not to devalue that as an end result but you need to be honest with yourself. Are you doing this to make music or are you doing it to be famous or to have money?

Djinn: What’s your why!

Niraj: Once you know your why, then that dictates your how!

Djinn: I’m gonna steal that one, (Niraj Laughs) I’ll credit you.

Djinn: Speaking of your albums which we will talk about in detail. Who was your biggest influence growing up, who inspired you to become a musician? Not someone who has inspired your sound, but inspired you to become who you are as a musician.

Niraj: It’s an interesting question, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that because you’re not asking about music influences. It would probably be my brother for making me feel like I could do it, and my dad who bought me a synthesizer when I was 15. To have a synthesizer; which were not cheap things. It took me two years of nagging him every day. At 15 years old he bought me a synthesizer workstation, and at 17 I got a sampler and by 19-20 I had a record deal. So probably my brother and dad influenced me in that sense because dad supported me in regards to technology and my brother made me feel like maybe I could actually do this.

Djinn: Who better than your own family.

Niraj: Absolutely.

Djinn: Your first album New Breed, tell us about that.

Niraj: Outcast Records released a compilation launching three different artists, it was called Outcast Newbreed. Even before then I had a few vinyl’s out on a few labels. New Breed was my first ever involvement on an album. Outcast launched three artists packaged into one project called The New Breed of Artists. Like 3 E.P’s combined into one album. I had four tracks on there. That was the launch of my career as an album artist.

Djinn: After that you had: Along The Dusty Road, Lost Souls, Mud Doll and the Kathat E.P. With New Breed being your first foot into the album door.

Niraj: Yea, that was my foot in, then Along The Dusty Road was my first solo. Rafta Rafta was a soundtrack album for a show at the Royal National Theatre. Lost Souls was my second studio album and Mud Doll was the third studio album.

Djinn: Listening to your albums, obviously I have heard them all, ’Kanya,’ is my favourite track of them all. That flute! Originality has always been your companion and something really important to you since the beginning of each project you bring to fruition. You always take a unique approach to every new project you do. What do you think was the biggest contributing factor of you becoming a ‘new breed along the dusty road’ of the music business, and not finding yourself a ‘lost soul.’ What was your drive to always be original instead of following genres that people set?

Niraj: Lol great wordplay. I think it’s very simple actually. Your question is far more complicated than my answer and my answer might be a little bit underwhelming. See, for me, I don’t think of it in any of those terms. I think of it in terms of authenticity, so when I’m creating a work, I don’t want to be that person who’s trying to not sound like other people. I’m not trying to sound original. If I do something out of rebellion, I’ll fall into the trap of being non-genuine. I won’t be authentic and lose my authenticity to rebellion. That rebellion isn’t who I am, even that would be a contrived manifestation of me because I’m reacting to this and therefore that reaction is coming out in me ‘trying’ to be original. With an album, I have a concept and an idea that I want to create.

Djinn: Going into your sound created by you and fuelled by your own inspiration, are you able for the listeners who haven’t heard your albums, to give a one or two-sentence description of each of the albums you’ve released?