Musician Neil Mukherjee’s journey into the spotlight of world music

Neil Mukherjee has starred on countless hits in the Bollywood and Southern film industry, composed publicity jingles for top brands, won worldwide accolades for his film scores and performed across the India and beyond.

But the guitarist-songwriter, who also wrote the songs for Bangla’s founding rock album Poth Geche Beke, carries Kolkata with him wherever he goes.

“My formative years were here [Kolkata]”says Mukherjee, who lives in Mumbai and keeps coming back to Calcutta.

“As a Bengali who grew up in Kolkata in the 80s and 90s, much of my cultural background has shaped and shaped me. We Bengalis have a lot of musical, cultural and artistic heritage, which I find extremely deep and I try to relate it to my work.

He grew up in a house where records and cassettes still play, and his earliest memories are music and musicians.

“I was constantly experimenting with instruments on my own. While most grandmothers give clothes and toys to their grandchildren, mine gave me a guitar when I was 11, and since then the instrument has stayed with me, ”says Mukherjee .

Mukherjee, who is equally adept at playing everything from Western classic on nylon string to Carnatic ragas on his specially designed eight-string acoustic guitar to rock with an electric, had a diverse range of musical influences. .

“My parents came back from trips abroad with Perry Como and Harry Belafonte tapes. My older sister was deeply attached to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. My mother’s family had a group of musicians. My maternal uncle, Gautam Chattopadhyay [of Mohiner Ghoraguli fame], trained me in the basics of finger-style guitar and had a huge influence on my musical life, ”he says.

He later established milestones in Bengali music with Chattopadhyay.

Although Mukherjee began to indulge in music at school (South Point High School), it was at St. Xavier’s College that he made his mark, performing at several college festivals with his band, Grassroot, when he wasn’t relaxing on the green benches. or in Arun dathe cafeteria. Grassroot also had Bhoomi’s Surojit Chatterjee.

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Neil Mukherjee performs one of his compositions on his specially designed eight-string guitar.

By the age of 20, Mukherjee was a regular on the Kolkata concert scene. “My first paid gig was playing bass for Nondon da [Bagchi], he recalls. “Kolkata was extremely fascinating at the time and I got to see amazing artists like Richie Havens and Wishbone Ash, as well as local artists like Shiva, High and Airwave. These acts had a huge influence on what I did, especially for my next band, Krosswindz. The old Max Mueller Bhavan auditorium was my favorite place to play. The group had Dwight [Pattison] on bass, Tuki [Vikramjit Banerjee] on guitar with me, Robin [Lai] on bass, Chiro [Chiradeep Lahiri] on drums and Bonnie [Chakraborty] singing. We all grew up together. “

It was in Krosswindz that Mukherjee wrote and composed Poth Geche Beke, an album considered to be a great leap forward for Bengali rock.

“While I feel an immense sense of satisfaction every time I receive an award, nothing can replace the exhilaration of performing live,” said Mukherjee. “In 2007 I was playing this rainy concert at the University of Jadavpur and when I played Poth Geche Beke the crowd started singing. I was amazed at the time and felt like I could truly die in peace with no regrets.

“My grandmother gave me a guitar when I was 11 and since then the instrument has stayed with me”, says Mukherjee

Courtesy of: Neil Mukherjee

Among his other collaborations in Kolkata, he looks back on his work with Mohiner Ghoraguli with special affection as it allowed him to work with his mother, Gautam Chattopadhyay, and Mukherjee in turn provided them with their iconic sound.

Success didn’t stop Mukherjee from trying new things and he devoted his 20s to learning, completing an eighth grade in classical guitar and music theory at Trinity College of Music in London, while training in la veena with A. Anantharaman Iyer in Kolkata, before going deeper into carnatic music with Chitravina N. Ravikiran in Chennai.

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In 1998, Mukherjee bid farewell to Kolkata and moved to Chennai. Soon he was collaborating with the legendary AR Rahman. “There was a lot of uncertainty as I was in a new city and working on Tamil songs and background music with Rahman was a very educational experience for me,” said Mukherjee. “It is extremely difficult to find this kind of exposure early in your career.”

Since then, Mukherjee has come a long way, once again including cities on the move. Now he lives in Mumbai where he works with the biggest names in the industry. Part of his job is providing music for other composers and Mukherjee has worked as a featured guitarist on tracks such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s Senorita, Ala Barfi! From Barfi! and Kay Sera Sera from Pukar, to name a few.

Mukherjee’s own score for the film Meherjaan has won him numerous awards on the festival circuit. Film scores, he says, have a lot of nuances.

“For me, a score is about the film and it should be part of the narration. You need to understand what the movie is about, and the script should ideally include what the director hears. I need to understand what the music is trying to do in the movie because it is a tool to move your story forward, because words are not enough to say it all, ”Mukherjee said.

Juggling the hats of a guitarist, songwriter, and songwriter isn’t easy, but Mukherjee makes it appear.

“My thinking process is very different when I work with a composer in a studio and when I compose myself,” he laughs. “My job is mainly to realize their vision. Only a neuroscientist can tell you how songwriting works because it involves complex thought processes. I write songs, but I don’t know myself [laughs]. Personally, I just try to dictate what I want to do. Human life is a miracle in itself, and the way we make music on top of it is something beyond my comprehension. “

Bring it all home

In 2018, another concert at the University of Jadavpur brought Mukherjee back to his roots emotionally. What was initially supposed to be a team with young musicians just for the gig has turned into a new collaboration, NeilMukho. which features both new and unpublished music written and composed by Mukherjee.

The group manages to continue making music despite the pandemic, despite Mukherjee’s stay in Mumbai and the other members – Koustav Dey on guitar, Ritoban Das on drums and Shamik Chatterjee on bass – based in Kolkata.

“Despite the pandemic that hit months after our debut, we decided to make music using technology to bridge the gap,” Mukherjee said. “One of the songs, Dyakh, which we produced from a distance, is based on the same battles. We recorded our songs and sent them to mix. However, there is nothing quite like playing together.

Mukherjee recently completed background music for two films, in addition to recording and releasing solo guitar tracks.

“The distance is a challenge, but the idea is to keep delivering content,” he says. “We are fortunate to live with technology and we have to make the most of what we have. “

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