Sawan Dutta is a composer, music producer, songwriter, vocalist and vlogger. Her song vlogs, Metronome, featuring the typical tastes, culture and practices of Bengal is full of wit and humour, and they have taken the digital world by storm not only invoking nostalgia within the Bengalis but also entertaining masses across all communities. Simple lyrics and uncomplicated music is the charm of Sawan’s vlogs which is neither derogatory nor sarcastic, but they beautifully remind those little choices, customs, philosophy and lifestyle, which a Bengali is known for and can be identified with.
#TellMeYourStory spoke to Sawan Dutta about her vision and understanding of entertainment, as an individual and as an artist.
Only 14 of my 22 songs feature Bengali Aunty – the rest of them are all fairly global topics, ranging from the use of Autotune in the music industry, to Hitler, to the Versova Beach clean-up, to Vienna, Singapore and its street musicians, the Dachau Concentration Camp and Demonetization.
When I started the song blog, it was primarily meant to be like a personal journey through songs – of whatever I experienced in my life, around me. There was no aim or intention of recreating nostalgia or dwelling on Bengali cultural aspects at all. The Ode to Boroline started it all, with a massive influx of audiences who wanted more of Bengali Aunty and her activities. So it’s been a slow organic decision to do more and more with that character, to explore what all she can do which can be featured on my vlogs. It’s been a purely analytics based decision – to try and give my audiences more of what they want – since I owe the tremendous success of the song blog entirely to my audience.
There is – or ought to be – a personal history that EVERY musician has with that word. A Metronome is a device that helps musicians keep time, to play on time, to record on time. It’s a part of every musician and audio professional’s life. It’s used for practising and for recordings in studios. It’s meant to denote regularity, periodicity, and dependability.
Well, I really wouldn’t know where to start. My Song Blog has been peppered with many funny stories. It begins with the very first Vlog post where I decided to shoot with a donkey who wants to become a singing star. And I guess the funniest incidents were all around the shooting of Amsterdam Girl, where I went around Amsterdam and its most notorious “coffee shops” in my monkey cap, glasses and big bindi, scaring and alarming people who were not used to seeing someone dressed like that. One coffee shop actually denied me entry and started asking for my passport. I had to come back looking like a regular person the next day, with my Bengali Aunty costume hidden in my rucksack, and change into it right inside the coffee shop.
I’m actually neither. What I am, is a musician who sometimes writes about food and cooking, along with other subjects.
I’m too much of a health and fitness freak to ever be a serious foodie. I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. So I’m way more likely to spend hours in my studio getting the nuances of my music right, and eat whatever my cook makes, than spend time in my kitchen cooking. I do cook once in a while, as a stress buster. But I like keeping it simple, healthy and hassle free. I’m also the kind of person who’d rather catch up with friends over a hike or a trek or a brisk walk, than over heavy meals or eating binges.
I have so many. But most of my nicest memories revolve around nature and quietness. Like driving with my husband in our gypsy, from Delhi to Leh, Lahaul, Spiti, all over the Himalayas, through those majestic mountain ranges. Getting stuck in a swelling stream near Baralacha Pass, and having to get rescued by an army Shaktiman truck. My first glimpse of the underwater world. The magic of Fall in Vondelpark, Amsterdam. Hiking through the Austrian Alps. Walks through the green paddy fields in my husband’s home town in Kerala. Listening to the rain falling on the tiled roofs of our 200 year old ancestral house in Kerala and watching an army of peacocks marching through our ground. Camping trips with my parents deep inside the forests of Madhya Pradesh, with no electricity or people for miles around. Bathing in the Narmada flowing swiftly through the forest. Staying with my grandmother at the Viceregal Lodge in Shimla where she was doing her fellowship, and imagining the place full of ghosts from the past.
My Bapi, definitely. He used to make up original stories about this brother and sister duo and their adventures, as bedtime stories for us. Although my Ma is a Children’s Writer and much published author – so it could have been her too. I’ve never thought about it consciously but I’m sure it’s genetically ingrained in me somewhere.
If you mean the journey since I started The Metronome – it’s been very exciting of course. It’s thrilling to be at the beginning of a new trend and to be doing something that not everyone else is doing, to know that mine is possibly the first and only Recipe Song collection in the world as of now. To have some really cool brands and products wanting to come on board as brand partners on my blogs, and to create content that is mutually beneficial. All of it is super exciting.
As for the journey BEFORE the song blog – all of it – the film, TV, ad, soundtrack, album work provided me with invaluable experience which forms the basis for the work that I do at my song blog.
At The Metronome, we are a core team of two – my husband C. B. Arun Kumar and me. We do everything between the two of us. CB’s a filmmaker, national award winning animator, international award winning VR photographer and is the academic director of FX school, one of India’s premier Digital Media academies.
On certain projects I collaborate with musician friends – like in “A Song For My Friends” – my last year’s Year End blog post – I created the song and video with three of my musician friends – Liza, Hrishi and Ayan. In the “Ode to Calcutta” blog post also, I had Ganesh Dutta playing the violin and Hrishi Giridhar playing the guitar. “Harmonica Man” – the post itself was about an eighty something year old street musician I came across in Singapore – so there’s him playing in half the song. Similarly, “Hitler’s Haunts” and “Vienna” have street musicians playing in them.
But the core team in all my posts remains CB and me.
I did not! You do not pick your interest in music! Music picks you!!! Or doesn’t.
My grandfather gave me a wonderful gift at the age of three – a mini harmonium with multi-coloured keys. On it I learnt to play my first tunes from memory, by co-relating notes to colours. As an early teenager I discovered my mum’s hawaiian guitar and got proficient enough on it to audition at the All India Radio and get myself recruited as a regular paid live performer. My performance fee, each time I was summoned for a broadcast, was roughly equal to my NTSE monthly scholarship stipend in school!
With the School of Planning and Architecture came my college rock band, “The Architypes.” I joined as keyboardist, discovered a world of rock and metal and the joys of belting out the soprano screams in Deep Purple’s Child in Time! Then followed an invitation to join the newly formed band, “Indian Ocean”, now considered one of the pioneers of fusion rock in India, as a keyboardist.
A few gigs later I was faced with the choice of dropping out of architecture school, packing my bags, leaving with Indian Ocean to record their first album in Calcutta, or finishing my final year thesis and graduating as an architect. I opted for the latter.
I eventually studied operatic vocal performance under India’s best known soprano, Situ Singh Buehler, and with Korean tenor Mr. Hur Chull Young. I also studied the piano under Mr. John Raphael, a brilliant jazz pianist.
I owe my proficiency in sequencing and programming and my knowledge of the science and the technical aspects of sound and audio to my partner CB, a genius, polymath and tech wiz, the solid rock in my life, my work, my music.
I don’t really operate with too much of a future plan. I roll with the game. I do things I feel good about doing. I analyse audience response, and decide what the next step should be. So my vision at any point of time is unlikely to extend beyond the next blog post or two. The world, the nature of entertainment, the platforms available to us and how they work – everything is in a state of flux and changing constantly, so it’s best to stay adaptable and flexible and within one’s personal comfort zone at the same time. I think we’re headed for exciting times! I’d like to believe that the future will belong to the intelligent and the mentally flexible, and to multitaskers who are willing to learn any number of new skills and adapt rapidly.