Oscar-winning Indian music composer, A R Rahman, introduced singer Leon de Souza through the film Ek Deewana Tha that released last year. Since then, Leon has continued his journey with the maestro who described this Goan lad’s voice as the voice that has universal appeal. Below is the unedited interview with the 27-year-old singer.
Tell us about your association with A R Rahman. How did it all come to you? Do mention some of the popular projects.
AR Rahman is always on the look-out of fresh voices and sounds. When he is not working on commercial projects, he spends time experimenting with different sounds, projects, and I think it is this exercise that worked for me. I got a call from my friend Suzanne D’ Mello who sings regularly with him. You may have heard the beautiful female voice in the Slumdog Millionaire theme? She told me that AR wants to try out my voice for a project. That night, was one of the longest nights I had ever seen. I remember doing several voice and breathing exercises to ensure that everything goes on well. It is not always that someone gets to meet an Oscar winning maestro!
I have worked with him on a few Bollywood tracks and commercials. Hosanna was my first playback song with the maestro and it was also the first time I had sung for a Bollywood movie. I have also worked on other smaller projects for him, some of them are lending my voice for the background choral score of the movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan. I have also lent backing vocals for his international album Superheavy that features one of my favourite artistes, Joss Stone.
Share with us your experiences with AR.
Whenever I have met AR (sir, that’s how I address him), I have always been a nervous wreck. But he has this ability of putting you at ease. It’s how he is. Peaceful. Anyone who has met him will talk about the aura surrounding him. So the first time I met him, and that day we worked through the night. At one time he asked me, so, Leon, are you going to college in the morning? And I was like Sir, I am 24, I am way past college. He couldn’t believe me when I told him my age.
You write songs. Do describe the themes your songs revolve around.
My friends point out to me that my songs are typical “torch-bearer” types. I have always been fascinated with the topic of love and unrequited love, so they are reflected in my lyrics. I haven’t promoted my songs yet, as I feel there is a lot of work to do in terms of production. You will hear them when the time is right.
What’s the process you follow to write a song?
Song-writing is not an easy process for me. My mind is always in a cut-edit mode, so it takes me time to freeze on lines. It’s easy to get a thought, but it really requires me to be in a certain mood to make justice to the words. I also compose the vocal lines, and am finicky about the chords too.
What are the other activities you’re involved with?
I love this question. I am learning the piano from a very gifted musician. When I am not working or singing, I am on the keyboard trying out new combinations of chords, or singing along with it. I am a travel freak, so I read a lot about places to visit, and when I have saved enough, I take off.
You are a publicist, singer and songwriter. How do you manage your time?
I have learnt that doing things to stay healthy is the best way to do the stuff that I do. Time management is very important. I take up projects toward the evening, so I am able to justify both. I also believe in utilizing time efficiently, so I try doing my best in very little time possible. I learnt this from a certain colleague of mine from a previous organization. I think this trait is very important for individuals who multitask careers.
You’re also working with music composer Andrew Ferrao on his new spiritual album project. Tell us about your experience.
Andrew is a very gifted musician. I think it is his ode to the Almighty about his life and the many graces he has received. The melodies and music is very fresh. I am sure that the album will strike a chord with gospel music lovers.
Did you always want to become a singer? What did you find most fascinating about singing?
I always wanted to be someone who sang well. I used to listen to artists across several genres and mimicked the way they sang. While doing so, I developed a style of my own. When I sing, I feel powerful. I feel like I have been teleported to a place of my own, and it is this feeling that is most fascinating.
Do you have any family member/s who’ve been in this field?
My maternal grandfather was a violinist and he was very well known in his locality in Goa. He was invited to play in Church and at all the local religious meetings.
Do you play any instrument? If yes, name it and tell us how you came about learning the instrument.
I had learnt to play the recorder (a wind instrument), although I don’t play it anymore. I am learning the piano for the past one year. I have always wanted to learn the piano, as it is one of my favourites to listen to. My mother gifted me a keyboard for my birthday and that motivated me to take lessons.
How important is it for a singer to be well-versed with at least one instrument?
When you learn an instrument, it helps you broaden your musical mind. As a singer, you must be a technician too, and knowing an instrument helps you learn that.
What’s your take on the music industry in Goa?
I love the music there. It’s amazing to hear stories of Lorna and Remo and how they are globally renowned. Also, it is very inspiring to know of the fan base they have managed to create over these years. I would love to be part of a music festival in Goa and experience the extravaganza first hand.
How easy/ difficult is it to carve a niche in a city like Mumbai that’s overflowing with talent?
It is not easy living in a country of so many people. Every day, there are hundreds who enter the city with the hope of having their work acknowledged. I think what works in the industry today is the ability to adapt to the changing musical scene. Since movies are going international, directors want singers to bring a contemporary feel. It is very important for singers to see this change and trend and work towards expanding their repertoire, if that’s the correct word to use.
Where do you see yourself 5 years down the line?
I’m not sure about where I will be or what I will achieve. Only time can tell. But, having said that, I am working hard on my craft to ensure that I always manage to lead my niche and deliver to music-directors I work with.