Don’t know why Bollywood doesn’t pick songs from music business: Leslee Lewis

Kavya Jones has been training under Leslee Lewis for years. Photo | Instagram

Indian composer and singer Leslee Lewis, renowned for his fusion compositions and Bollywood remixes, has unveiled his latest creation, 'Oo Oo Mere Dil Mein Tu,' in collaboration with emerging singer Kavya Jones. This marks their fourth collaboration after 'Aaja Meri Baahon Mein,' 'Tu Hai Mera,' and 'Lag Je Gale,' with 'Oo Oo Mere Dil Mein Tu' currently reigning atop the music charts. In an exclusive interview with Onmanorama, the duo delves into the current trends in the movie industry, their latest song, and the independent music business.

Q. Can you speak a bit about your collaboration with Leslee Lewis?

Kavya: I don’t relate to the word collaboration. It is more like a musical journey for me. I have been training under sir for the past five years. He decided to launch me during Covid as an independent artist through his band ‘Global Hindi’. If you see the trajectory of my work under him – starting from ‘Aaja Meri Baahon Mein’ to ‘Oo Oo Mere Dil Mein Tu’ – you can see it is brimming with versatility. He has tapped the vocalist inside me.

Leslee: Just to add to what Kavya said, everything is a collaboration today. There are a lot of people collaborating on various projects. In the past, there were only compositions by a lyric writer and a singer. I have tried to continue that tradition with Kavya – where the singer sings the composer’s songs. Collaboration is easy. If you come up with two good lines and can’t think of anything better, then someone else joins and adds their two lines and makes it interesting. It works from a social media perspective too, but how many of these collaborations work like magic? Only a few do.

Q. Leslee Lewis is a brand known for his experimental music. It must have been a huge learning experience...

Kavya: To be honest, I was very Bollywood-oriented. Till then, my immediate exposure was only to Lathaji and Ashaji, but my horizons opened working with him. I learnt that you don’t have to sound a certain way all the time.

Leslee: I ended up composing songs for the singers, In 'Pari Hoon Mein,' I composed the song for Suneeta Rao to make her sound fantastic. I did the same for KK in 'Yaron Dosti.' The songs for Band of Boys were composed to make them sound fantastic. When I see an artist like Kavya and know she can deliver, I compose songs for her to sound fantastic.

Q. On working in Bollywood and doing independent projects...

Leslee: As a music director in films, you need to create music for the script, while catering to the tastes of the actors, directors, and producers, as opposed to the creative freedom you get when working on independent projects. There are fantastic, original songs out there. However, I don’t understand why Bollywood filmmakers don’t pick those independent songs and place them in movies. For the film ‘Rockford,’ they picked KK’s song 'Yaro Dosti,' which was composed by me independently. The rest is history. The song became the anthem of friendship in the country when the movie was released. Hollywood functions like this. Whenever they need a song, they pick it from the music business. In India, it is all mixed up because the same music guys are also making movies.

Kavya: In films, everything is laid out for you and you need to emote accordingly. You have to become the actor and ensure that your voice sounds right for the actor. In independent projects, there is a lot of creative freedom.

Q. A little on your process

Kavya: Training under him has been like going to school every day. In the first three years, I sat in the studio observing how singers like Shilpa Rao came and sang for him. I was not familiar with studio singing. There is a lot to consider and I learned that from him. But I had to wait for some years as the fly in the wall to finally sing. This can be frustrating and irritating, but great.

Kavya says she was very Bollywood-oriented before she met Leslee Lewis. Photo | Instagram

Leslee: Kavya’s strength is her ability to learn lyrics fast in any language. In a way, you can say she is a mini version of Shreya Ghoshal. I remember when we went to Singapore, the crowd there wanted us to sing a few Malayalam songs. Kavya, though unfamiliar with the language, learned two songs in Malayalam in just four days. In the end, everyone was shocked that she didn’t speak the language.q

Q. Oo Oo Mere Dil Mein Tu' is a mix of pop and jazz...

Kavya: You are right.

Leslee: The song is like Bubble Gum Pop meeting Jazz and at some point, you don’t realize there has been a switch.

Q. Any plans to work in the South?

Kavya: I am hoping people will start recognizing my voice and cast me in movies based on my voice. I feel the right song will find me.

Leslee: I believe Kavya needs to start singing with different music directors. There is a lot of talent in the South, especially in Tamil and Malayalam. Since she does not have any language barriers, I am sure she will do well.

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