Musical Genius Ranjit Barot unplugged! We caught up with him for an exclusive interview!

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Meet Ranjit Barot, the musical genius we all love. No wonder, we just can’t keep calm as he is playing at AntiSOCIAL on January 25, 2023. The Musical Director for all of the Oscar-winning composer, A.R.Rahman’s Live Concerts, he also holds the coveted ‘throne’ as Drummer for world-renowned Guitar legend John Mclaughlin & The 4th Dimension band.
Son of the great Sitar devi, his early career saw performances with Louis Banks & the Jazz Yatra Sextet, the great Pandit Ravi Shankar, the maestros, (late) Don Cherry & (late) Charlie Mariano. His unique approach to drumming has seen collaborations with Maestro Zakir Hussain, including a ‘Masters of Percussion’ US Tour in 2004., Carnatic classical legends, Maestro U. Srinivas and Guru L. Subramaniam, Hindustani slide guitar master exponent, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, sarangi legend Ustad Sultan Khan Sahab, ghattam maestro Pandit ‘Vikku’ Vinayakaram, Khanjira exponent Selva Ganesh, among many other noted artists. His work/performances with the Western greats have included unique collaborations with renowned artists such as Bill Evans, Scott Kinsey, Jonas Helborg, Ayden Esen, and Tim Garland.
His career spans projects over the last almost 4 decades as a featured drummer and arranger for Indian Film Industry erstwhile giants such as R.D. Burman, Lakshmikant – Pyaarelal right up to A.R. Rahman’s greatest work through the years, including the Grammy & Oscar nominated ‘127 Hours’ and continues to bring his unique personality to this genre of music. His recognition as a Music Composer and Arranger for Album Projects and Feature Films has earned him the Filmfare Award for his score in ‘Aks’ (2001) and his work in ‘Shaitan’ swept all 3 major Indian awards, in the year 2011.

Ranjit was also the music Composer and Sound Designer for the entire Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the mega event, the Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010, Hockey World Cup 2019 Opening, Music Producer for MTV Unplugged (Season 1 & 2), Jammin’ (Season 2).

Here, in an exclusive interview, musical genius Ranjit Barot talks to Sumita Chakraborty about his musical career, playing with A R Rahman, being the drummer for the great John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension band, Hindi films and playing at AntiSocial on January 25, 2023.

Ranjit, you have a musical career super packed with some huge milestones, that too for more than three decades, if you look back, how has the journey been?

It’s been a fantastic ride. And it’s actually a career spanning more than 4 decades…..I started playing drums professionally for bands by the time I was 15 and my first film recording was for Kalyanji Anandji and the film Professor Pyarelal.

I am sure there have been some challenges and setbacks too, how did you overcome them to become the man and the musician that you are?

You keep your foot on the pedal and keep going. Doesn’t matter the ups and downs. Everything is to be enjoyed, the struggles and successes. Plus, it’s all this life experience that gives you a perspective, shapes both you and your music. I’m grateful for everything I’ve been blessed with and everything that’s happened to me. I wouldn’t change a thing.

You hold the coveted position of being the musical director for all A R Rahman’s live concerts – two musical geniuses working together… How has the collaboration been with A R Rahman? Are there any anecdotes you can share with us about working with him?

He’s such a dear friend, first and foremost. We met way back when we were both doing music for advertising. This is before his breakout film Roja. We’ve been friends since then and we naturally gravitated towards each other since we shared such similar ideas about music and life. About the wonderful gift of the betterment of oneself through the pursuit of the highest order of music. I remember the first time we recorded together was when I was producing the rhythm section for his massive hit Humma. We met in his studio in Chennai and started talking, listening to the song and then next thing you knew, it was 4 am and we hadn’t recorded a single note. It was just two friends catching up and wanting to know everything about the other person. I’m very fortunate to call him a friend and collaborator.

You hold the mantle of being the drummer of the great John Mclaughlin and the 4th Dimension band, how was it working with John and the 4thDimension?

It’s the greatest feeling on the planet. Not only to play with John ji, but to share the stage with my brothers Gary Husband and Etienne Mbappé. We pursue such deep levels of improvisation, night after night. It’s a transcendental experience.

As a drummer, how was it working with the great Zakir Hussain too?

Zakir bhai is my older brother and one of my mentors. He and his family believed in me even when I had stopped playing drums live for a long period. I was doing so much production and recording work when live shows had kind of dried up. Taufiq bhai and he pulled me out and back onto the stage. I’m eternally grateful to both of them.

You are the son of the great Sitara Devi, could you tell us a bit about her from your eyes?

I think we’ll need a whole other interview for that:) She’s my first guru and everything I am today wouldn’t have been possible without her belief in me. Her love and blessings are the wings on which I have flown my whole life.

You haven’t done too many Hindi films – Main Hoon Na, Shaitan, Aks… and though each of these films had a unique sound thanks to you, why haven’t you done more Hindi films?

I think it’s hard finding the right director and producer that share your artistic vision. There just aren’t too many around. I’m not interested in being a part of some massive machinery that drives me into nothingness.

Though you are one of the best and the finest musicians in India, you are a bit understated, why?

It’s just how things have panned out I guess. …Having said that, I’ve been busy for the last 15 years internationally and have some great associations with giants of music abroad. I’ve been musical director for AR Rahman for over 10 years now. That’s not really understated. I think what you mean is why am I not a big film music director. Well, that question has been answered earlier. As for being understated, if more people like you in the press took an interest in what I’m doing, not just before a show, but generally, then maybe I’d be a little more visible to people. But I’m really happy where I am, I just want to keep creating meaningful music for as long as I can.

You are playing at AntiSocial, what do you like about this place?

It’s a brave venue. They have no boundaries really on the music they feature. It’s a place where you can listen to any genre and they provide a platform for both upcoming and established artist. I’m looking forward to the 25th and I hope to see you all there.

What’s next for you in 2023?

There are live shows with AR Rahman plus an autumn tour with John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. There are a couple of things brewing at other local venues where I’ll be featuring Contraband in a more interactive setting. I’ve got some recording projects for films. So, all in all… a pretty busy year that I’m looking forward to.

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