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Anuj Rastogi: Staying True

Posted on 20 November 2013 by admin

The biggest barrier to the success of minorities in Canada, like our community, is not color, but our own self-imposed barriers and hesitation to expect more, or different from ourselves.

This is a big world, and there will always be artists who make music for different purposes. For me, it’s about informing, entertaining, engaging and elevating all at once. Even without heavy spoken word lyrics, or haunting messages, if a piece of music engages you, AND challenges you to think a little differently, that’s a great place to be.

Anuj Rastogi holds a BComm in Marketing, and an MBA, yet he is an accomplished musician with some powerful and honest words of critique for today’s music world. He has been drawn to music and always fascinated with the idea of creating original music and trying different sounds. While he did learn and play various instruments throughout junior high school and high school (keyboards, piano, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, tuba, etc), Anuj has no formal music training.

Among his many accomplishments as an artist, he has scored original background music and title tracks for feature films (“Surkhaab”, and “Under The Same Sun”), as well as a number of short films, media/interactive projects, television and radio ads. Most recently, he wrote pieces about the 26/11 Mumbai victims and the terrible Delhi gang-rape situation. Describing himself as ‘a spoken word artist’, Anuj has also released studio albums, several tracks on compilations, performed extensively. He was featured as a judge in a vocalists competition, alongside Hindi-film Composer Anu Malik here in Toronto. His solo studio album project, and a Ghazal-Electronica EP is in the works, along with other short, and feature film projects on the horizon.

Generation Next asked him some hard questions and Anuj responded graciously and honestly:

Many of today’s songs seem like a meaningless noise with no real sense of lyrics. How do you distinguish yourself?

Sadly, most of our society places more value on an easily earned dollar (“quick buck”) than on intelligence. We may well romanticize the past, but I think most would agree that mainstream music has been getting dumber, *more meaningless and more socially destructive for decades. Most mainstream hip hop is just about violence, glamour, empty sex and illusion, while even Pop, Rock and other forms of music have become musically simplified.

Incredible vocalists dumb-down their recorded performances just so others can sing-along, and even established artists fear experimenting in the way that made them successful.

Even a lot of Hindi film / Bollywood music has become so cheap and watered down, with little regard for lyrics or real musicality. Though India has among the world’s richest musical traditions to draw from, many songs sound like they were written with no regard for nothing but cheap thrills.

Producers, labels and publishers the world over have come to underestimate the intelligence of audiences, and find it easier to sell mediocre music than to push quality. However, every so often, and incredible and intelligent artist like ­­­­Adele comes along and reminds us that good music can also sell.

However, beyond the mainstream nonsense, there is more incredible music than ever before, spanning all sorts of styles. Some may call it independent or underground music, but it’s out there and more accessible than ever before.

You hear the cliché “stay true to yourself” a lot; for me, this is all it’s about. I find intelligent, and evolving music styles interesting and engaging, and am constantly seeking to tell a story that is human and honest in my work. Some music may be hard dubstep or electronica, while others can have very organic classical or jazz elements, but it’s all about being honest. I don’t think like anyone else, and if I stay true to that, I don’t make music like anyone else. I hope that my music resonates with people from all walks of life.

Do you believe music is for entertainment or for social awareness? One can argue that with so much disturbance in life, people would like to listen to music for relaxation purpose only.

I think music and art in general play many different roles. Not every song or piece of music needs to have a heavy sociopolitical message and deliver people out of ignorance.

Yet if the only thing we ever did was move mindlessly to a beat, without regard for how destructive or pointless the message was, we would do ourselves a disservice.

This is a big world, and there will always be artists who make music for different purposes. For me, it’s about informing, entertaining, engaging and elevating all at once. Even without heavy spoken word lyrics, or haunting messages, if a piece of music engages you, AND challenges you to think a little differently, that’s a great place to be.

Have you gone through the periods like we hear in interviews of celebrities like Amitabh that in the beginning no one was willing to give them work but they persisted and are legends now?

I would not feel comfortable ever sharing a sentence with a legend like Amitabh-ji, but yes there are always struggles. In music, film and other such fields, it does take a while to establish your name and reputation. Some people think that a few people are just “lucky” and break in, but for most people, it’s taken years’ of hard work and sleepless nights to create that one lucky moment. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to land feature film scores and many other opportunities and feel very fortunate for it. As for someone being a legend, for most, only time and a body of exceptional work will tell.

What’s your family’s reaction to your profession choice?

Music and the arts are a tough thing for most South Asian and immigrant families to understand. My family has come around as I’ve grown and accomplished more, and are very proud and supportive. In fact, I just received a sweet email from an uncle the other day, saying that no one in our family has ever pursued music or film, and that he was very proud.

Is it a profession where you can make money? 

I dislike this question, but understand you’re asking because it’s a safe question for parents. One can make money doing pretty much anything in today’s world. But if the only thing you’re chasing is money, happiness, fulfillment and a passion for life will likely never join you on the way. Do what you’re passionate about, work hard at it and be the best you can be. As Amir Khan’s character says in ‘3 Idiots’, success (and money) follows excellence.

Is there a fair representation of visible minorities in today’s Canada?

Canada is an incredible place. In some cities like Toronto, you’d be hard-pressed to turn on the TV or Radio without seeing visible minorities all over the media, the news, in the press, and of course in all other fields. The biggest barrier to the success of minorities in Canada, like our community, is not color, but our own self-imposed barriers and hesitation to expect more, or different from ourselves.

What in your opinions are issues of young South Asian professionals?

Many of our issues are the same as anyone else: self esteem, acceptance, belonging, career, what we want to do in life, challenges with sexual orientation, and the generally terrible example of our world’s leaders.

Beyond that, South Asians do have some amplified issues with identity, gender roles and expectations, family expectations around career, sex, and success. This may be a sweeping statement, but having grown up in Canada, I believe that few South Asians in my generation are in a profession or field they chose based on interest or passion. My parents’ generation and many new immigrants may not have the luxury of options I’ve had because they’re just trying to survive and give their kids a better life. But when those kids have the better life and options, few feel (or think about) what they really want to do with their lives, and bend to convention, family pressure and typical notions of career success.

How do you feel about Toronto’s night life? 

Toronto’s nightlife on a main-stream club sense is quite solid. There are a lot of clubs playing mainstream/top 40 and house music, and some really good South Asian focused club nights. However, our city is very “safe” and cookie-cutter in many respects in it’s perception of entertainment. People listen to the same Rihanna song 10 times a day, then drive Downtown on a Friday night listening to the same song, and then expect the DJ to play that song that night at the club. We haven’t really evolved to look at DJ’s as tastemakers. There are really good events off the beaten path, but they aren’t yet regular enough to build momentum or community.

In spite of growing number of South Asian artists, very very few have really made a mark. What’s the reason in your opinion? 

I suppose this depends on how you define “making a mark”. Living here, we typically only consider artists who are known in North America as the standard, and of the nearly 360 million people in North America, less than 3 million are South Asian. That said, there are artists, actors, writers in all walks of life with South Asian background who are known and successful musically and/or in the conventional material sense (i.e. fame, money, etc). Names like Ravi Shankar and Zakhir Hussain (Classical), A.R. Rahman (film), Jay Sean and Raghav (soul / R&B), MIA (Urban), M Night Shamyalan, Kal Penn, Deepa Mehta, Mindy Kalling (TV/Film) and many others are household names the world over. There are so many incredible artists out there.

What and who do you turn to when depressed?

Fortunately, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt depressed. However, when feeling down, music and family are my solace.

What would you like to change in the world. Do you associate yourself with any charity?

I’ve associated with a number of causes and organizations over the years, and have often brought an awareness and fundraising component into my live concert productions. However, my greatest charity is having a positive impact in compelling and inspiring people to think critically. You may not like my music, but if you hear it and challenge even one notion, or consider opening your mind a little, then my job is done.

The best places to keep up-to-date on Anuj’s work are www.omnesia.com, and in Social Media (www.youtube.com/omnesia, www.facebook.com/omnesia, www.twitter.com/omnesia.

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