When nature forced us to be locked up inside our homes during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, many of us sought solace in music, which helped us heal emotionally. As our lives switched to digital, it led to many connecting in the online world to discuss and share music, and form online music clubs, small and big. So, when two Mumbai-based friends — Kalpana Swamy, a communications professional, who is trained in Hindustani classical music and Kunal Desai, an IT and telecom professional, who is a trained Western classical musician – got an opportunity to create a musical venture, they grabbed it. After two months of intensive research came into being Nostalgiaana Jukebox. Their endeavour is to unearth the forgotten melodies from the 1980s and beyond that evoke the feeling of nostalgia. The USP of their venture is guided listening. In this interview, Swamy and Desai, co-founders of Nostalgiaana Jukebox, tell The Good Story Project’s Swati Subhedar how, through their musical venture, they are striving to spread the goodness of music.
Music is therapy. During the lockdowns, music helped many deal with their emotions. Tell us about the importance of music in the present anxiety-ridden times.
Swamy: Music has always been an integral part of our culture. Whether classical bandishes or western tunes, everyone has their individual liking and seek solace in their preferred genre. Film music binds everyone alike. During the lockdown, while living within the four walls of our homes, digital connectivity helped us stay connected to the outside world. Online music groups and art communities helped in a big way by channelizing peoples’ creativity.
Tell us about the thought behind launching Nostalgiaana Jukebox.
Swamy: Jukebox is an offshoot of the Nostalgiaana group (earlier known as Rewind), which, during the lockdown, came up with the idea of starting a radio-style online music listening show focusing mainly on the retro film music. This show, known as R4 (Radio Retro Revival), was an instant success, and the audience loved their sessions.
Desai: When Nostalgiaana approached us for a series on the music of the 1980s and beyond, it seemed like a natural progression. However, before we agreed to take up the show, we started working on the song list. We wanted to make sure that we had a pool of songs to choose from because we had long-term sustenance in mind. After almost two months of background work and research, we hosted our first show on November 16 (2021). I still remember how nervous we were before the show! And, after the show, we behaved like teenagers who had taken their 12th board exam and were cross-checking the answers!
People usually associate soothing Hindi melodies with the decades of the 1960s and 70s. It’s interesting that you chose the decades of the 1980s and beyond.
Desai: The general perception is that melodies faded out in the 80s and 90s. On the contrary, some beautiful melodies were composed and sung in this period. Even in the post-millennium years, thanks to the advancement of digital technology, good music was created. However, in the pursuit of commercial success and publicity, good music lagged.
Swamy: Both Kunal and I have grown up listening to the music of the 80s and 90s. There is a great repertoire of melodious music in terms of film songs, non-film albums, and regional music that seldom comes to the surface. Our endeavour is to unearth these lost gems and the forgotten popular numbers and give them their due respect. Through our show, we also highlight the regional and non-film songs that have remained unnoticed by the audience at large.
Tell us more about the concept of guided music sessions.
Swamy: Imagine a studio or a Jam room where before performing a song, the musicians narrate to us the back story of the song to make us understand the nuances and the soul of the song. This way, the audience is able to connect with the song and it enhances their listening experience. This is known as guided listening, which is our focus. It happens many times that we like a song but are not able to decipher what makes it so melodious or why do we yearn to listen to it again and again. We don’t know what raaga the song is based on, what the arrangement of music is or who the arrangers are. Unfortunately, many talented but unknown musicians and songwriters are not known to most people.
Desai: At Nostalgiaana, we highlight the nuances of the songs we play. We believe in “Art before Artiste” and strongly follow what we believe in. This format of ours is loved by our members. They are able to enjoy the songs from a multi-dimensional point of view, which adds value to their listening experience.
What is the USP of Nostalgiaana Jukebox?
Swamy: We feel film music is much more than just entertainment. It’s a perfect amalgamation of music (composition), literature (lyrics) and art (singing/emotions/picturization). What makes our show unique is that each song is preceded with an elaborate narrative through which we tell our audience about all the nuances of the song. So, it’s the narrative which guides them to listen to a particular song or a portion that’s played. Our other USP is the quality of audio that we play. We invest long hours in editing the songs before we present the playlist to our listeners.
The highlight of the show is the trivia that you pepper the show with. What’s the process behind gathering this trivia?
Swamy: Our source of information is not just what’s there in the public domain. For every song, we try and highlight elements which we are personally sure about. Kunal is a trained Western classical musician and I have taken formal training in Hindustani classical. So, both of us analyze the songs mostly for their musical relevance. We rely on multiple sources to crosscheck facts and we present them to our audience only when we are 100% confident.
Share with us some interesting songs and trivia that you came across while researching.
Desai: We stumbled upon a forgotten gem yeh barfani raatein from the 2017 film Babumoshai Bandookbaaz and loved it. Interestingly, we found its roots in classical raags as well as the blues. Then we came across this beautiful fusion song from a film Blue Mountains called bheeni bheeni bhor, which was loved by our audience. Very recently we played a song chaha hai tujhe chanhenge from the film Jeena Marna Tere Sang which was released in the early 90s. While researching on it we traced that the mukhda of the song is inspired by an unreleased song of RD Burman. In fact, we have a small segment on our social media pages called #JukeboxConnect, where we co-relate some known tunes and their counter new songs. This helps the audience relate to the old tunes which inspire new melodies.
How do you make sure that each episode is unique?
Swamy: We have always believed that the narrative should be complemented by songs and not the other way round. So, for every episode, our challenge is how to make the song presentation intriguing and interesting. Then comes the playlist curation, which is the most difficult, but also the most interesting, element of our work. For each episode, we include a few unique elements like an artist’s birthday or achievement showcase and one farmaish song by our members. While we try and balance out the mood of the songs, we try to retain the element of nostalgia in all the songs. We think from the perspective of our audience while selecting the songs. Both Kunal and I have different tastes in music and many a times we end up having differences of opinion, but it’s our great partnership that has shaped Nostalgiaana Jukebox.
How do you ensure that the non-connoisseurs of music are as invested in the show as those who understand music and melodies?
Swamy: Every member is important to us. While a few patrons are musically trained and understand the nuances, most of the members are new to this concept of guided listening. So, instead of making our show information-heavy, we try to keep the flow very easy and conversational. Whether a member is musically inclined or a casual listener, we make sure each member enjoys the playlist that we curate. We also have a live chat going on throughout the show which makes the interaction lively and engaging.
What have been the biggest milestones so far? How has the response been?
Desai: Our 50th episode was our biggest milestone. We were overwhelmed with the love and appreciation we received from our audience. We have been fortunate to receive some great reviews from our friends from the entertainment industry. We did one on-ground show in Mumbai which was very well received. Recently we hosted our 60th episode.
Swamy: We thrive on comments and feedbacks. We have many senior members in our group and it’s very encouraging to see them enjoy the music of 90s and beyond. The way they engage in conversations is very overwhelming. Once a member wrote to us saying that when he was feeling low after his mother’s untimely demise, our show helped him rebound. This was precious to us. Another member, who is a singer, said he was surprised to find that there are so many incredible songs from the 90s and beyond that he can now add to his playlist. We are glad that we are able to enrich the lives of our members in many ways.
What’s your vision for your venture in the years to come?
Desai: At Nostalgiaana Jukebox, we are committed to providing wholesome entertainment to our members with our unique playlist and narrations. We want to make Jukebox the biggest platform where contemporary music is appreciated. We also want to bridge the divide between music lovers from yesteryears and the current generation.
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