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Understanding Samar Mehdi: Through His Lyrics

features Apr 23, 03:59pm

Bhopal's singer-songwriter Samar Mehdi will release his ambitious and debut EP Urooj on 26 April. This is an attempt to understand this recent phenomenon and the meaning of Reinterpretations. 

Samar Mehdi is his own emboldener. The practice to self-motivate began within the four walls that defined most of Mehdi’s childhood’s creative playground. The Bhopal-born-and-raised musician created world(s) of his own in the room, and often found ways to adapt to the growing age spent with extremely limited engagements. “I started to feel good about it,” the now 29-year-old will often remind. Mehdi came to public attention with zero marketing or PR-driven strategies, and yet, every single video put on Facebook attracted at least 20000 views and shared over a hundred times – on an average. That was only the beginning of a quest for everyone mesmerised by his music to learn more than what the supporting text suggested. Mehdi’s videos usually accompany with detailed text to describe the emotions that constructed the song, but when the text failed, the lyrics came to the rescue. So how did someone so weirdly comfortable inside a room manage to find himself in the middle of a social media stardom (of sorts)?

 

Kisi kachhe raste par,

nikal pakke aangan se parey

bandishon ki ghutan se parey

khud se, sab se parey…

Dekh! Wo kaaynaat rakhhi tere liye!

           (Parey)

 

 

The vocalist would pen down the probable line-ups of cricket teams on blank sheets of paper or scribble thoughts like a personal diary. This dominated his pre-teen years. That was his version of outdoor sports activity on several days. His eventual knack for song-writing did not birth from this approach, but obsession for writing sure did, or as Mehdi puts it – “translating thoughts to effective words.” Drama is the effect here, and Mehdi acknowledges its conscious presence throughout his discography. “When I am writing, I am not a musician. So, it’s never an attempt to write something so that I can make a song out of it,” educates Mehdi.

 

PC: Vaibhav Kakde Photography

 

Writing was this young introvert’s escape from that room, a few years ago, and the restrictions that it fostered. The above lines from the track ‘Parey’ not only symbolise the eminent struggles and experiences that arrived for the then pre-teenage introvert (and his younger sister), but also carry a literal meaning too. The saga continued through his formative years as Mehdi was quite literally held back in a rather progressive and liberal household. wrote these lyrics (and the song) to describe that moment, ‘the tipping point’, when he realized he had to let go: the room, the world(s) he created, the cricket team line-ups he had imagined and the illusion of comfort.

 

 Jab dil se dil ka taar juda ho,

koi rok sake hai kya?

Par is baat pe main tay hoon,

tu hai to main hoon

tu hai to main hoon

   (Safa)

 

Mehdi was prospering, academically. Not entirely driven by the romanisation with grades and knowing not pursuing academics further will be considered as an act of rebellion, Mehdi compromised, yet again, and joined St. Xavier’s in Mumbai. The program sent him to Ranchi, and thus began another brief chapter with no friends and minimum social engagements. However, by now, Mehdi knew this game very well. The singer’s desire to communicate continued to reduce, and the phase was becoming toxic.

 

In retrospect, Mehdi does wish the situation could have been different, but he isn’t losing sleep over it. Furthermore, he acknowledges the fact that his parents were positively responsible for the early and consistent exposure to one music form or another, beginning with ghazal (and therefore, the eventual result of it). Mehdi’s family tree has branches extending to literature and arts and admiration for ghazal music is another mutual factor. His grandfather, a writer, sowed the seeds of lyrical curiosity. Mehdi picked up his knowledge of music – vocals, how to compose, how to not complicate compositions, and how to connect – primarily from listening to diverse genres and eras of music. It is quite natural of Mehdi to pen down thoughts and ‘Safa’ birthed out of a realisation that there’s “something incredible within the power of writing music.”

 

The guitarist does not shy away from calling music his ‘saviour’ and does not depend on dramatic adjectives to explain why. “When I was 22, I questioned everything. The tendency to carry air of sadnesss grew. There were fifty reasons to feel bad about myself,” exclaimed Mehdi, who was convinced that completing graduation will finally lead to the freedom from conforming to parents’ idea of happiness. But a tipping point for this endless cycle arrived too. “Make music on our dead bodies,” replied Mehdi’s parents when the then 24-year-old first suggested that music would define and dominate his life henceforth. “It was not easy. I had recently scored 99 percentiles in the IIM entrance test, and naturally they were shocked with my decision to not join one of those big business schools. It was also difficult because both (the parents) went on an indefinite strike to convince me. This time, however, I did not budge. And now when I look back, I realise the importance of that decision,” informed Mehdi. 

 

Dhoondh na, duniya bhar dhoondh na

Dhoondhey na, khud mei.n hi, dhoondhey na,

dhoondhey na

 

Poochh na, duniya se, poochh na

Poochhey na, khud se hi, poochhey na,

poochhey na

 

Khud mei.n paa ley,

khud ko paa ley

khud se paa ley

khud ko paa ley

(Yahee.n)

 

Acrimony and Ferrylock Yarns unlocked two new phases in Mehdi’s life. The two bands, where Mehdi managed to express his guitar prowess, acted as the necessary motivational catalysts to his teenage angst that had overstayed its welcome. Associations with bands convinced Mehdi further that music was his saviour. But that also convinced the songwriter that he was “skilled enough to aspire more.” While negativity continued to be Mehdi’s ally, and his roommate, the thoughts were often populated with aspirations too. He’d often find himself at a crossroad where he’d continue to fail to pick a side.

 

 

The guitarist eventually chose ‘filmmaking’ as the next academic step, and the decision brought him down to Mumbai once again. Two years after Mehdi first visited the city to study in St. Xavier’s, Mehdi’s 2016 Mumbai visit introduced him to, possibly, his toughest phase so far. These lines from ‘Yaheen’ reflect the exact moment in Mehdi’s life when going solo with his ideas and compositions turned out to be the only path for sheer creative freedom. The adult finally picked a choice that brought him back to his room with no barriers for creativity, alone.

 

Ab na roko ke mai.n chal chuka hoo.n

Ke girte-girte sambhal chuka hoo.n

Ae! Mushkilo.n, suno!

Mai.n aazaad hoo.n

Haan, mai.n aazaad hoo.n

(Azaad)

 

Mumbai 2.0 dictated Mehdi’s first professional exercise as a filmmaker, and the profession steered his attention away from music for a while. The guitarist was still a member of Ferrylock Yarns but no significant developments emerged from moving the band to the metropolitan city. “The guitars started to rust, there was absolute no attention paid to our instruments. We lived in an apartment that allowed us to jam even at 3 a.m.. How rare is that in Mumbai! Yet, we (the drummer and Mehdi) failed to create much music out of staying and sharing room together. That was quite unfortunate and ironic,” lamented Mehdi. He added, “I was receiving good pay cheques. One project after another, I was witnessing impressive rise in the quality of work I was putting in, and the amount of money I was receiving. Every night I’d come back home to see our instruments wrapped in sheets with little to no activity with it whatsoever. The desire kept on reducing.”

 

It is only understandable why a songwriter who moved to Mumbai felt suffocated despite leaving that room in Bhopal and the family that emotionally held him back. However, unlike before, Mehdi had no intentions to find comfort in this phase. He fought against it. On a hiatus, the band duties do not feature in Mehdi's jam schedule anymore. “Ferrylock Yarns elevated my songs but I saw the obvious lack of equal contribution,” complained Mehdi. However, Mehdi had, albeit briefly, walked into their shoes. So he continued to be empathetic. The crime, he believes, is the rare display of courage from the emerging acts these days. “Most musicians lack balls,” emphasised the songwriter a couple of times. “It is easier to find commercial projects. But I do not want to sell my soul. I did not pick a guitar with a dream to make commercial music. I don’t think most of us did.” But he understands why some of his ex-bandmates took the decisions that hampered not only the band’s growth but his desire to be associated to a band anymore. “I understand why some musicians lack balls. One of my ex-bandmates called me to inform that his name was on a poster. Yet, he didn’t sound content. He didn’t sound happy. That had always been my fear. What if I chose music and it didn’t make me happy? All the rage and the angst and the acts of rebellion would have been futile, but moreover, I’d lost my only saviour,” elaborated the musician.

 

Lyrically and sonically, the single Azaad has emotions of triumphant and celebration, and that’s exactly how quitting the filmmaking projects (and effectively, Mumbai) felt for Mehdi. The song, composed and written in 2016, acts as the ideal end to the temporary struggles that Mehdi rewrote and repackaged as ‘Reinterpretations.

 

'Jawani ki andheri raat hai zulmat ka toofaa.n hai

Meri raaho.n se noor-e-maah-o-anjum tak gureza.n hai

Khuda soya hua hai ahrman mehshar-ba-daamaa.n hai

Magar mai.n apni manzil ki taraf badhta hi jaata hoo.n'

(Urooj)

 

This excerpt from his latest composition 'Urooj' is written by one of his influences - poet Majaz. The decision to perform solo defintely provided the emotional stability and reduced creative struggles, but carried some unbelievably surprising results. Mehdi, in his last 12 months, has performed on the same stage as several stalwarts of the scene who depended heavily on PR and conscious packaging to reach wider audiences. "I still am amazed whenever I receive phone-calls to perform in music festivals or established gig formats," addressed Mehdi on the sudden spike in live music engagements. The singer-songwriter has opened for Aswekeepsearching and Parvaaz, among several other established independent music acts, but the direct responses to some of the songs has been the most surprising outcome of the entire journey. He recollects an incident where the musician asked the audience, "Now what does 'Urooj' signify, and a member of the audience yelled back, "That you will be more relevant to the Indian music scene henceforth." And that is not all. Mehdi added, "Ever since I have uploaded songs, I receive messages in my inbox where people have felt comfortable sharing their stories to me, rather than their closest friends. And some of these stories have put my struggles into perspective. Before Azaad released, I only had negative feelings about people."

 

Life has come full circle for Mehdi. The teenager who stormed out of the room that held him back in a way, returned to the spot once again. However, this time, the comfort was no more an illusion. For what it's worth, Mehdi will never have to write an autobiography, his lyrics do the job quite effectively for him.

 

(Samar Mehdi will perform in Mumbai to kick off his debut EP tour Urooj at Todi Mills Social. His debut EP will release on the same day, 25% proceedings of which will go to Bengaluru-based NGO for childrens' needs called Tamahar. Pre-order the EP here.)

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