The rise of streaming platforms and the growth of the digital landscape has made it possible for musicians to release their work independently without the support of a music label. These days, it is common to see independent artists releasing singles. However, it is quite rare to see full-fledged non-film albums releasing. However, that’s exactly what Nihira Joshi-Deshpande has done.
The singer-composer, who is known for popular songs in numerous Hindi and Marathi films like ‘Salaam -E – Ishq’, ‘Kill Dil’, ‘Irada Pakka’, ‘What’s Up Lagna’, released an album titled ‘Trishna’ a couple of months. The album, which focuses on Radha, her love, longing with Lord Krishna.It has received glowing reviews for the critics and has been appreciated widely.
In this interview, Nihira talks about the long and rewarding journey of putting together the album, the challenges she faced during this process, getting back to performing live, upcoming projects and more.
Your album ‘Trishna’ has four tracks. Each of the four songs talks about the relationship between Lord Krishna and Radha. ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ was the first track to be recorded for the album.
The irony is that ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ is set in Raga Bhairavi. Performers mostly conclude a performance or mehfil with a Raga Bhairavi and here, it marked the beginning of my album. After I made ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’, I felt it should not end there. I thought of creating more songs in a similar zone. I asked Apoorva Kulkarni, who had written ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ to continue with the thought. She is responsible for bringing the Radha – Krishna angle to the album. This is how it turned into a Radha –Krishna centred album. I got Tejas Ranade to write ‘Trishna Bandhan Ki’ .‘Trishna Spandan Ki’ has been written by Shashi Sharma. We wanted to tell Radha’s story and convey her thoughts, feelings and longing through this album. ‘Trishna’ has been one of the most special projects for me as an artist.
‘Trishna’ was created during the lockdown situation and everybody was working from different locations. How was the process of putting together the album?
‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ was created during the lockdown alongwith Saurabh Bhalerao. ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’ was the next track that we worked on. It was a complete remote collaboration. Some of the musicians who worked on this track, like Carlos Cano Escribá and Hernán Milla, are the ones I have not met till date. They loved the composition and decided to create the soundscape for the song. I was introduced to Mayukh Sarkar through Amey Londhe, the recording and mixing engineer for Trishna. Mayukh dada arranged ‘Trishna Spandan Ki’ and ‘Trishna Bandhan Ki’. While creating these songs, all of us were in different countries. I recorded just one song, ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’, in my home studio in Germany. I recorded my vocals for the other songs in Audio Garage Studio in Mumbai. Even Dipesh Sharma Batalvi, the mixing engineer for Trishna Spandan Ki as well as Shashi Sharma reside in the USA.
The soundscape of the album is quite interesting. The compositions are steeped in Indian classical ragas and the orchestral arrangements comprise of western instruments and electronically created sounds.
The soundscape was decided by me, the arrangers and the musicians I collaborated with on this project. The process of creating one song was different from another. ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ was more of an improvisation-based song. It begins with a miniature version of how a bada khyaal goes. You expand on one note and sing phrases related to it. Then, the actual composition starts. I recorded my rough vocals on the iPad to which Saurabh Bhalerao decided to use strings, piano, dimdi and classical guitar to embellish the track. He decided to keep the arrangement minimal and put together a vocal-focused song.
As far as ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’ is concerned, I had this idea of using the Occidental flute instead of the Indian bansuri. I approached Carlos Cano Escribá and Hernán Millawho were introduced to me by Ronald Mente. The perspective they brought to the song was very fresh and unique. The kind of piano inversions and flute solos you hear in the song are very different from how I had imagined the arrangements to be like in a song that is based on Raga Hamsadhwani and Raga Yaman. I am really glad Carlos and Hernán brought their sensibilities and ideas to the song and made it sound so beautiful. There was no cultural bias in their mind as to how a Radha – Krishna song should sound.
The next song we cracked was ‘Trishna Bandhan Ki’. For this song, Mayukh created a soundscape that is very close to the kind of sound British rock bands like Porcupine Tree, U2 and Radiohead are known for. I have been a huge fan of these bands myself and therefore, was quite excited to see how this song had shaped up. It is a Rageshwari based song.
The last song to be recorded was ‘Trishna Spandan Ki’, which happens to be the second song to be featured on the album. It is based on ragas like Jog Kauns and Sampurna Malkauns. Mayukh dada created a meditative soundscape for this song. He used a lot of silence and hollowness to represent the void that Radha was feeling in her heart. I chose radically thinking minds to collaborate on this album. We were not sure what we should call the album. Tejas Ranade suggested ‘Trishna’ as a possible name for it as all the songs express longing of some form or the other and it rhymed with Krishna as well. Therefore, we thought it would be the most apt name for the album. The first song on the album is ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’ where Radha is longing for Krishna’s music. ‘Trishna Spandan Ki’ expresses her longing in a romantic manner. In ‘Trishna Bandhan Ki’, she is longing for answers. ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ represents Radha’s waiting for closure.
The albums boasts of some brilliant lyrics.
There are three lyricists that I have collaborated with on the album. Apoorva is not a professional lyricist. She is a student of Indian classical music. We learn from the same guru and therefore, she is my guru bhagini. She composes and writes her own bandishes. I knew she had a flair for the braj language. She did a brilliant job with writing the songs. No one would be able to guess that she is a first-time lyricist. She has written ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’ and ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’. Tejas Ranade has written ‘Trishna Bandhan Ki’. He brought out a very radical angle to the story by showing Radha asking for answers to quench several questions in her mind, her insecurities. He also wrote the opening poem for the album which was recited by Girija Oak Godbole, a renowned Marathi actress.
‘Trishna Spandan Ki’ has been written by Shashi Sharma ji who is a student of mine. He is a very good poet and would often send me verses written by him. I liked this particular verse written by him, “kare piya piya sor papiharva….”. I composed a tune around it. He sent me another verse, “albeli tori preet baalam….”. I composed an antara out of it. In order to stay true to emotions in a single song, we just had to change one line. We replaced “mann mein umang laaye sajanwa” with “sudh chain chin gayo…”. All the songs were written first and composed later.
Which instrument do you use to compose music?
My voice is my instrument. Many a times, I end up composing something while cooking or doing my household chores. ‘Trishna Samarpan Ki’ happened when Apoorva sent the verse to me while I was doing my riyaaz. ‘Trishna Antarman Ki’ happened when I was cooking something in my kitchen. I have recently started learning the piano. So, I use the instrument sometimes to compose music. However, I convey most of my thoughts through my voice.
You have released ‘Trishna’ independently, without a record label. Is it challenging to release music on your own?
It is definitely quite challenging. As of now I do not have my own label but I plan to have one soon. Thankfully, there are many music distribution companies today which are helping out independent artists. I have distributed through ‘Trishna’ through Ok Listen! I have been releasing my music through them for a while now. When you release your music on your own, you retain all the rights to it. Approaching a music label and getting your music approved the way you want it to be is quite difficult. You get more exposure but lose the rights over your own work. I will have complete control over how my music is used .So there are pros and cons of both the paths.
Being an independent artist also means you are free from market trends. Instead of thinking what will work, you do what you believe in. The reaction or response of the audience is not in your hands. However, doing things with conviction is in your hands.
How long did the process of putting together this album take?
Two and a half years. The first song was created towards the end of 2019 and we released the first single in October 2022. The full album was launched in December 2022.
It has been a couple of months since the album launched. What are the kind of plans you have to market it?
I am trying a lot of things from my end. The biggest struggle for an independent musician is to market their work properly. Thankfully, the album has been written about by a lot of publications. We will keep trying to create more awareness around the album.
You got back to doing live shows recently.
Yes! I used to perform a lot when I was based in India. The number of performances went down after I moved to Germany. I delivered a baby a few years back and motherhood kept me busy. I have started performing again and enjoying it a lot. I had a few concerts in London recently. There was a concert in which we performed to devotional music. In another concert, I paid a tribute to Lata Mangeshkar ji and Asha Bhosle ji by singing some of their songs. I recently performed a set that had ghazals, devotional music as well as my originals. While I like performing to all kinds of songs, I love it when I get to sing original songs.
Technology has made it very easy for singers to record a song remotely. Do you plan to get back to singing for Hindi films?
I have been taking up a lot of recordings in India. I recorded two ghazals composed by Yogesh Rairikar.Technology has made things a lot easier. However, the joy of going to a studio and recording a song there, jamming with the musicians is completely different. I get to have those experiences when I travel to India.
Your maternal grandfather Mr. Madhav Aphale, whom you used to call Ajoba, a Marathi word used for referring to one’s grandfather, passed away a couple of months ago. He used to narrate stories to you and encouraged you a lot as an artist.
Ajoba was ninety-three when he passed away. He was fit and fine and lived a happy life. He made a huge contribution to my life. He was not a part of my musical journey but it was through him that I discovered the joy of reading books and watching films. He has played an important role in making me the person I am today. He was an avid reader and film buff.
What are you doing next?
I have a few ideas in my mind. I am working on a Marathi single. I also want to sing something in Bengali as I have always loved the sound of that language. I am working on a couple of Hindi songs. I have a few concepts in mind for an album as well.