Making Musical Waves

A Conversation with Ambarish Nag

Singer-songwriter Ambarish Nag from Tura has been making waves in the world of music with his new single ‘City Lights’ in collaboration with musicians in Los Angeles and London. Currently based out of Mumbai, he has studied music in LA from 2017-19. Ambarish plans to release his other compositions this year.

The single has been released on all major digital platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. Following are excerpts from an interview with him.

 Sunday Shillong: Tell us something about yourself?

Ambarish Nag: I am primarily a guitar player, but I also sing and compose my own songs. As a musician, I don’t restrict myself to any genre but blues and Indian classical music have been my biggest influences.

 SS: What made you choose music as a full-time career?

AN: My stint with music began at the age of six when I started learning the tabla. My mother, a trained Hindustani classical singer, made me learn it against my will. But I started to love the instrument. I continued learning it for a couple of years before moving to the guitar which I fell in love with instantly, and that became my primary instrument.

Before becoming a full-time musician, I worked in the corporate sector in Bangalore for a year after completing my Master’s degree from Pune. But no matter where I was, playing music has always been a huge part of my life.

 SS: How has Los Angeles shaped your understanding of and approach towards music?

AN: Los Angeles gave me a whole new perspective about music and life in general. From understanding the guitar fretboard and how the voice works to understanding music theory and music production, it was a great learning experience. Making friends with people from different countries, understanding their culture and their perspective on life and playing music with them has helped me develop myself as a musician and shape myself as an artist.

All of these things have helped me take a more informed approach towards the compositions and songs that I work on along with the collaborations that I do.

 SS: How did ‘City Lights’ happen?

AN: ‘City Lights’ started off as a straight up rock ballad with my very first band in Pune while I was an undergraduate student. The band lasted only for a couple of months and the song was half written. So, when we would perform it live, we’d play the second verse in Persian because our vocalist was an Iranian singer called Hadi who is still a good friend. After we disbanded, our drummer told me that I could release it as a single. Fast forward to a couple of years, and here we are with the song out as a single. I completed the lyrics and changed the vibe of the song to reggae to make it a bit more chilled and easier going.

It’s a song about going through so many things in our day-to-day life, to the point where it knocks us down and yet we still wake up the next day with a new hope.

On the song, I’ve collaborated with LA-based Brazilian guitarist Gustavo Chaise, London-based Indian bassist Harry Mathew and LA-based drummer Blair Shotts and keyboardist Jeffrey Alan while rhythm guitars and vocals were done by me. The instruments were recorded in LA, the vocals in Mumbai.

 SS: Which artists have influenced your musical sensibilities?

AN: My biggest influences are BB King, Eric Clapton, Kishore Kumar and Shankar Mahadevan to name a few, but I listen to everything that I like.

 SS: How challenging is it to blend blues and Indian classical music?

AN: Indian classical music fits nicely with jazz. But for blues, it is challenging. It has always been about blending the genres and creating something new for me, which I experiment with from time to time. These experiments help me with getting different ideas.

 SS: You have a cover version of Bombay Rain and your own rendition of Jana Gana Mana. How do you shift gears from one genre to the other?

AN: As I mentioned earlier, I don’t restrict myself to any particular genre. That helps me make these shifts with ease.

 SS: Do you see yourself organising a concert here?

AN: Maybe.

 SS: Is there any such thing as the musician’s block? How do you deal with it?

AN: Oh yes, that is a thing for sure! I’ve faced it time and again. Over time, I’ve come to realise that the best way to deal with a creative block for me is to let go of all efforts and rather than chasing it, let the music or lyric come to me.

 SS: What is your message for the north-eastern youth who want to pursue music professionally?

AN: Believe in yourself and chase your dreams!

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