Ranjit Barot hardly needs an introduction. Internationally acclaimed as a drummer and musician, he has played with some of top most jazz musicians in the world including John McLaughlin, Don Cherry, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Louiz Banks and A. R. Rahman, to name just a few. His work with John McLaughlin on the 2008 album Floating Point received a Grammy nomination in the best Contemporary Jazz Album category.
Drums and percussion has been in his blood from a very young age and he was greatly influenced by such greats as Ustad Alla Rakha, Ustad Zakir Hussain, jazz legend Billy Cobham, Elvin Jones, Carnatic legend Palghat Raghu and friend and teacher Sridhar Parthasarthy among many others.
A multifaceted musical talent, Ranjit Barot is an established music composer- director, producer, arranger and lyricist with numerous feature films and sound tracks to his credit and a great singer to boot. He has been a fixture on most of A. R. Rahman’s projects and live tours.
Here he talks to Raga to Rock about his life and musical journey through the years.
You are rated among the Top 100 Jazz drummers in the world....How did you make it?
I don’t know about top 100, but yes, through my work with John McLaughlin I’m now visible in the highest of jazz circles worldwide. This happened through a certain amount of serendipity. My elder brother and mentor, the great Zakir Hussain, made the connection and the rest unfolded like it should’ve. It involved deep introspection, hard work and a commitment to maintaining the highest standards of drumming and musicianship.
What do you think of the Drum machine and electronic music?
I love them both. They have a valid place in modern music production and one must not look at them as ‘replacements’ for the real thing. They’re another entity altogether, bringing with them their strengths as well as their inability to be human.
You have been making Music in various capacities from being a Musician, Lyricist, Composer, Sound designer, Singer, Curator, etc. Who is the real Ranjit Barot?
There is only the one Ranjit Barot, who is involved in all facets of music creation. I see no boundaries nor barriers. One must flow like water. Cliché but true. This is important for one’s growth as a musician as well as a human being. Also, very necessary for survival.
Also could you share Artists/People who played a part in your Musical journey?
There may be too many to mention here but I’ll try. Firstly, my mother and my first guru, the legendary dancer Sitara Devi. Without her being a major part of my life, I might not have amounted to anything. Then I’d have to say Ustaad Allarakha, my first rhythm guru and spiritual guide. Then a little known, but a giant of a musician and composer, Soli Dastoor. Louiz Banks was a big part of my growth too. Last but in no way the least, the amazing AR Rahman. He exposed me to so much magic as well. As I mentioned, there are too many to mention here. I owe so much to so many people.
Favorite 5 songs each Hindi & English?
That would be impossible to list. So much incredible music has happened.
Can the son of the legendary Sitara Devi dance?
Not at all. I saved my family from that embarrassment a long time ago. In fact, one of the things I told my wife before (or maybe after, I can’t remember) is that I’d be happy to do anything except dance. That’s something she shouldn’t expect from me and I’ve been true to my word.
Tell us of your projects in the pipeline?
I have an indie project entitled Musafir, a culmination of my musical journey thus far. I have an upcoming tour with John McLaughlin this October and I’ve formed a new band called UnCommon with my two brothers from Paris, Etienne Mbappé and Christophe Cravero m. And lastly, my band with my daughter Mallika Barot, which is called Superphonic. We’ll have an EP our later this year.
Any specific plans for the future in terms of collaborations, festivals, teaching music, grooming young artists...
This is an ongoing process. Empowering students and other musicians, curating festivals, trying to unearth the vast musical heritage that our beloved country possesses.
RANJIT BAROT-GURU GYAN
You presented your daughter as an Artist at a Music Trade show, what would you like her to achieve in the Music world?
Firstly, I’d like her to be happy, as a person and human being. Which I’m happy to say she is. Then you channel all the blessings you’ve received into a positive sound and a positive attitude towards life. Be of service to others and society at large. I’m happy to say that she is on her way to being all of this.
How difficult was it for you to succeed in the Music business? what would be your advice o budding musicians?
Difficulties are only difficulties if you acknowledge them as such. It’s a journey....you do work which convinces some people and not others. Don’t take rejection to heart but look at it as trying to find new words to say the same thing. Some people respond to a different kind of language and one has just find the right things to say to the right people.
Any piece of advice for upcoming Drummers today? Your secret for success?
Stop looking at how many likes you have on YouTube/ FB, whatever. Play for the joy of playing. It’ll add years to your life. That doesn’t mean you don’t stay relevant, don’t practice, etc. You have to be at the top of your game to survive these days. But eventually you have to be you. Not an imitation.
The future of music across genres Classical, Film, Jazz, Rock in India... Your thoughts and views
Music is alive and strong. It’s not going anywhere. I’m not filled with gloom or despair. All sorts of music is happening. You have to find your place on this merry go round and make sure you don’t fall off the horse.
RANJIT BAROT- RETRO JOURNEY
How did drums happen to you at a young age?
Drums found me at the age of 14. There was a talent show in school and they needed a drummer. I volunteered and have never looked back.
You have been a part of Pt. Ravi Shankar's ensemble, could you share an experience?
T was sublime to share the stage with Panditji. His aura, his smile, I remember it to this day. I became a part of this ensemble as part of the 1980 Jazz Yatra.
'Floating Point' with John Mc Laughlin made you a Grammy nominee, how did that come about?
I got to ‘jam’ with him at the Abbaji concert held on every February the 3rd. This is hosted by Ustaad Zakir Hussain and in the evening, after we had played together, Johnji asked me to collaborate with him.
You have worked with music Directors from Kalyanji Anandj, Lakshmikant Pyeralal, RD Burman, Ismail Durbar to AR Rehman could you share what it was working with each one.
It was exciting to be in the presence of such stalwarts. Again, all the time I spent doing these recordings with these greats was a huge learning experience. Like for instance, even as far back as the 70s-early 80s, RD recognised the value of spontaneity that comes out of a ‘jam’. At every sitting at his house, where singers and arrangers met to break down a tune, I noticed he had mics placed all around the room so the discussions were recorded into his nifty cassette player for review and gathering ideas later. No one else at the time had that foresight.
But not just musically, also the humanity that these masters possessed had a deep impact on me. Especially Pyarelalji. He walked into the studio everyday and made sure he greeted all of us before getting to the business at hand. That’s 100 musicians on some days, between the rhythm, string, electronic and brass sections. Amazing! Other times, when I would get to his recording late at night after my long day working for the advertising industry, the entire orchestra and singers would have done their parts and left. But he would go home and come back no matter how late and sit alone while I tracked, because that was the way he showed value for my time.
You have been Curating and Composing for huge events like the Commonwealth Games, Serendipity Arts Festival, etc how do you manage it?
I don’t even think the thought of being ‘spread too thin’ crosses my mind for a minute. I live and breathe music, life and humanity. What else is there to do?