Tajdar Junaid: remember this name if you haven’t heard of him yet. Junaid’s name, fame and music make steady way to a quickly increasing global audience ever since some of his songs featured in a number of award-winning film productions. But there’s potential in the folk and pop scene, too.
Tajdar Junaid (33), nicknamed Taj, is an Indian multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer and producer born and based in Kolkata aka Calcutta, Bengal’s capital in the east of India.
Taj’s star rose fast after his music featured in a number of award-winning films, to which more below. He made name in Kolkata as a musician as versatile in rock, pop-rock, jazz and blues as in the spirited, syncretic Bengali folk music of the Baul tradition, which incorporates elements of both Sufi Islam and Hinduism and often contains age-old mystic poetry. Taj currently focuses on the folk ensemble Ruhaniyat and his solo career after much soul searching and contemplating his heart’s desire. The music of the legendary Ustad (Master) Ali Akbar Khan, who excelled on the Indian string instrument sarod, played a significant role in the latter quest, which led Taj to quit the commercial scene. It resulted in a fresh approach to and appreciation of his own sound and musical preferences. Offering four vocal tracks and six instrumental pieces, Taj plays the guitar, charango, mandolin and ukulele whereas 18 other musicians joined him on his kaleidoscopic, self-funded debut album What Colour Is Your Raindrop (2013).
A close Indian friend of mine who lives in the UK introduced me to Taj’s music when he sent me his song ‘Prelude to Poland’ as a birthday present. A musical encounter of the best kind, as I instantly found myself head over heels with this tribute to Chopin´s roots and the other tracks of What Colour is your Raindrop. Sound-smitten, I contacted Taj to learn more about his musical journey.
I understood the title of your album to be an invitation to others, an offer to engage in conversation without questioning. So, what colour is your raindrop?
“Everything that has shaped me. All the sights, sounds and touches over the years. It’s me asking you your story. Here are ten songs, say stories of mine and I’d like to hear yours! I wrote some stories for children some years back which are centred around a village in India. Maybe someday I will share them.”
Taj is highly appreciative of the piano music of the eccentric French composer Erik Satie. Moreover, he’s inspired by the music of the French multi-instrumentalist and composer Yann Tiersen (Le Fabuleux Destin de Amélie Poulain and Goodbye, Lenin!) and the Argentinian composer/ producer Gustavo Santaolalla (21 grams, Babel, Into the Wild, 24). Due to Santaolalla’s music Taj fell in love with the South American charango, a particular string instrument.
Your music is characterised by so many influences. If you think of your youth, what memories, sounds, smells or thoughts come up first?
“The tangy smell from the kitchen of my mother cooking beef roast, Sundays and Wednesdays at my guitar teacher Amyt Datta’s house, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and then discovering Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. The latter is one of my musical childhood heroes, together with Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and Chopin. My father used to love listening to ghazals (recited or sung worldy or mystical poetry) and there was a tape of Mongo Santamaria, the late Cuban percussionist.”
By any chance any musical favourites from the Middle East or Muslim world?
“Of course my ears are always open to newer music. I love Tinariwen for that matter. The Malinese kora player Toumani Diabate is also a favourite.”
What Colour is your Raindrop contains scarce hints of classical Indian music despite the use of characteristic Indian instruments. Some instrumental tracks delve deep into the contemplative realm, stringing the soul, like the lullaby Taj wrote for his little niece Aamna. In other songs Taj flirts with folk, rock and laidback pop music. What that sounds like? Though Taj definitely has a style of his own it must be due to the ukulele that the catchy ‘Though I know’ seems slightly reminiscent of the sound of Train or Jason Mraz –albeit with a tinge of The Beatles and The Doors.
Fans of the popular Dutch act Chef’s Special will certainly like ‘My Mockingbird’ sung by New Zealand musician Greg Johnson. It reminds me in a way of an easygoing Jack Johnson song fused with some Procol Harum. The haunting sound of the Indian string instrument sarangi gives it an intriguing, enchanting feel and atmosphere of bittersweet nostalgia. Urdu poetry recited by Taj’s father Junaid Ahmed opens the unexpectedly rocking ‘Yadon Ki Pari’.
If we keep ourselves open, magic happens.
Could you please tell a bit more about your upcoming album? Influences, sound?
“I wish I knew them myself! That’s the beauty of this universe. We don’t know what tomorrow will be like. But if we keep ourselves open, magic happens. My parents taught me to be real and live my life honestly. Luckily I always rely on my inner anchor. If I stray I know I have to pause and think of my goal which is to become a better musician.”
An ardent lover of especially Iranian films yourself, it must be wonderful to see, well, hear your music feature in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s recently released film The President. Is it likely that you will score another film production soon?
“There are talks on. Let’s hope they work out well in the near future.”
Tajdar Junaid scored the music for Tubelight ka Chand aka The boy who fell in love with the moon, a short film which won film festival awards in Germany and the USA for best short Indian film in 2011. This year, two of Taj’s songs featured in the impressive child trafficking feature film Sold (2014) starring the young Niyar Saikia, David Arquette and Gillian Anderson. Sold was directed by Academy Award-winning director Jeffrey Brown and executive-produced by actress Emma Thompson. The film opened various international (Indian) film festivals like Los Angeles, Seattle and London whilst receiving wide acclaim. Moreover, Junaid’s beautiful track ‘Dastaan‘ (‘Story’ or ‘Legend’) made it to The President (2014) a film by the renowned Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar, The Gardener). The President opened the 71st Venice Film Festival, that took place from 27 August to 6 September 2014.