Kavita & Kanish Seth: Bridging The Generation Gap

Kavita and Kanishk Seth come across as a regular fun-loving mother-son duo. But, as musicians, together fun-loving mother-son duo. But, as musicians, together they are a force to reckon with, especially in the Indian they are a force to reckon with, especially in the Indian indie space. After the stupendous success of their indie space. After the stupendous success of their collaborations in collaborations in JugJugg JeeyoJugJugg Jeeyo and and Double XLDouble XL, they , they are now all set to take on Bollywood as wellare now all set to take on Bollywood as well

Kavita Seth needs no introduction. The veteran sufi and ghazal singer’s Bollywood repertoire includes cult classics like Iktara from Wake Up Sid (2009) and Tumhi Ho Bandhufrom Cocktail (2012). She is also the woman behind one of the most stunning OTT soundtracks in recent years, having composed and sung Saeeda Bai’s (played by Tabu) songs in Mira Nair’s 2020 web series A Suitable Boy. But for Gen-Z, she is the voice of the indie chartbuster Rangi Saari — a traditional thumri composition put to contemporary electronic beats — which especially in its Jug Jugg Jeeyo avatar was on almost every party playlist last year. “Now I have people from five to 85 listening to my songs!” quips Kavita.

What makes the song such a hit with people from all generations is the seamless amalgamation of beautiful, traditional Indian melodies with the catchy beats of EDM. The 2020 song was the result of a unique collaboration between Kavita and Kanishk Seth — two musicians from two subsequent generations specialising in markedly different genres. The mother-son duo had previously come up with a Sufi-Electronic/Trance fusion album named Trance with Khusrow. “It was my first album with mom. She had sung the songs… some were traditional compositions and some were composed by her. I had produced it. It was an amalgamation of sufi and Electronic Trance music, something that was not done before,” says Kanishk. “I think it was a bit ahead of its time at that point. Its popularity has grown over the years,” adds Kavita.

Produced by Kanishk, the album had picked a nomination in the Best Music Debut Non-Film category at the Global Indian Music Academy Awards along the likes of Indian Ocean, Trilok Gurtu, Ram Sampath, and the legend himself, A. R. Rahman. “I was just 18 then. For me, to be nominated along with them was a big deal,” quips Kanishk. But how did this collaboration start? “Our collaborations are never really a planned affair. It just happens spontaneously. He was learning some new music software and would keep experimenting with different kinds of music. One day while he was practicing his skill, I sang a bandish and asked him to work on it. That’s how it all started,” reminisces Kavita. “I was making some beats, in fact, I was trying to create a bank of beats. She found one of those interesting, asked for a tweak and started singing to it. I recorded it. That’s how our first song, Aaj Rang Hai actually happened,” adds Kanishk.

Kavita, being an institution herself, provided the optimum environment for Kanishk’s inner musician to blossom while at home. However, it was his father who ensured that he acquired the right knowledge and skill set to back his talent. “My dad [the late K.K. Seth] was really passionate about all of our, mine, mom’s, and my brother’s [Kavish Seth] musical careers. At his behest, my brother and I started learning various instruments — he took to the tabla, and I started playing the violin from a very early age. He then came up with the idea that I should learn sound engineering. People usually get into something of that sort much later in life, but I started when I was about 13. So, as I grew up, I would keep trying my hands at different softwares,” he recollects.

An ardent A.R. Rahman fan, Kanishk’s playlist included a lot of trance music. “I was also listening to a lot of Asian underground music, a fusion music space that was popularised by the likes of Nitin Sawhney and Talvin Singh. I was listening to Karsh Kale and of course, MIDIval Punditz. But I felt that there was something lacking in the kind of fusion music that was happening at the time. Those tracks were music, but not songs… at the most, they would have one or two lines, or verses put on a loop, and I wanted to make songs,” explains Kanishk. And what better than starting the journey as a music producer with songs composed by your mother… the ones you have grown up listening to? Their collaboration brings together the best of both worlds and it helps that they both have a deep understanding of and respect for the each other’s works. “I have been collaborating with her for more than a decade now in various ways. We trust each other as musicians and understand where the other person is coming from,” says Kanishk.

“I think many a time, artistes become too proud or egoistic and don’t give space to other artistes, especially the young blood, while collaborating. If being a senior musician, I start thinking that I know everything and I am not open to new ideas and I don’t respect the talent and artistry of the other artiste I am collaborating with, then it will never work out well,” adds Kavita. Knowing one’s space and what kind of music one wants to be associated with doesn’t mean shutting yourself up as an artiste and closing the doors to newer knowledge. “An artiste should always keep learning and update oneself so that the talent and the knowledge don’t gather rust. If you don’t experiment, you would not know the true scope of your work.”

She credits her two sons for introducing her to newer contemporary sounds and world music, which has helped her open up to the idea of reinventing her old composition with the help of new-age music producers. It is rare to see a veteran Indian classical musician embrace something as modern as EDM. “I was listening to traditional classical music, ghazals, sufi songs, and qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saab, Abida Parveenji, Jagjit Singh, Lataji, and the like. But when YouTube came, the kids slowly introduced me to music from different corners of the world. Then I realised that be it in any language or genre, if it is soulful music, then you will connect to it. I found beauty in that. I realised that if I keep the ruhaniyat of my songs intact, whether I dress it up in a modern outfit or choose traditional attire, it would still manage to create the same connection. That’s when I started experimenting with music producers,” says the songstress.

“We have released a lot of singles where mom was singing and I was composing and producing. She has a khazana of songs and I want to produce and package them well, and release them. Often, beautiful compositions get lost when they are not produced right. In my last EP, I used one of her decade-old compositions. There are so many of such that I want to work on,” says Kanishk. To this, Kavita laughs and retorts, “I have so many beautiful compositions that I want him to work on, but if I give him 10 such, he will maybe pick one, that too on a good day.”

The duo is also open to collaborating with other music producers. In 2019, their work with EDM duo, Lost Stories, got released through Spinnin’ Records and Dharma Worldwide. Now, after the stupendous success of Rangi Saari, there are offers pouring in from Bollywood as well. Their latest release Ki Jaana from the movie Double XLis already climbing the charts. “It is composed by him and I am part of the chorus,” smiles Kavita, who is every bit the proud mom. “There are three/four songs that we have almost ready and we will be pitching those for the movies,” reveals Kanishk. “These days, many filmmakers look for unreleased readymade songs, which fit the scenes perfectly. They pick those and use them in their movies. But my stock of songs is still limited. So, mostly I go.. to her and ask, ‘Mummy this is the situation for the song, would you have anything that fits?’ and she would bring out her diary and flip through the pages, and would almost magically find a perfect song for the situation,” chuckles Kanishk.

Although the mother and son share a great equation and understanding and are immensely receptive to each other’s feedback and inputs, Kavita points out that their mother-son relationship takes a backseat when they are working together. “He is a very hard taskmaster,” she laughs adding that she wouldn’t have it any other way either. Despite this, they are cautious about possible burnout or losing their originality, and are discerning about the projects they take up. “It is a valid concern. It happens a lot that either one becomes repetitive and the audience gets tired of the artiste or the artiste gets tired of doing similar work. But it is also a tricky space to navigate. There are so many factors involved. It is not just music. There is a financial aspect to it also. It is about building your portfolio. Also, it is very difficult to say no. But then, there is no point doing a lousy job. I take inspiration from mom for this as well. She has refused so many big projects because she was always sure about the kind of work she wants to be associated with. Both my brother and I are very aware of the stuff we want to do, more so what we don’t want to do,” says Kanishk.

“You need to know what is good for you as an artiste. You need to be able to refuse work. I have refused songs that have gone and become huge hits, but I don’t regret it. You need to know what you want to do — no point taking up whatever comes your way. If you start doing everything, then two might go really well and three might not, but people will also remember the ones that didn’t work, maybe more than the ones that had worked. It becomes part of your oeuvre, your legacy, and you can’t undo it,” says Kavita who even after having some huge hits, never completely switched over to Bollywood. She chose to create her own path as an independent artiste instead. “You have to feel each song with your soul. It is not about just singing a song as per the notation and recording it. It is your soul that you put into those notations and lyrics that imbues life in a song. It is the duty of the artiste to bring his/her work of art to life. You will not live forever, but your works will. So, one needs to be conscious of the legacy one is creating.”

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