He’s performed for some of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters and was handpicked by legend A R Rahman, but guitarist, singer and composer Sanjeev Thomas is looking to take his latest passion, a music school, to the next level with a new location in Chennai and online classes for a digital audience.
Like many young musicians, Sanjeev started his career as an independent musician while taking yearlong break after college to pursue music professionally. “The rest is history. The break never ended," Sanjeev said, with a smile. The indie scene in India is often challenging for new musicians, but the advantage is that the genre has few restrictions and there is a large scope for original content. It’s one of the reasons he set up “Rainbow Bridge School & Studio” in Bengaluru. "There are so many problems for musicians to survive in the industry. There is a need for the importance of education and the audience also needs to understand music more to appreciate it. This is like an evolution from what I did before, the setting up of this school," he told The News Minute.
There are currently 65 students enrolled at the music school, where there are courses on vocals, guitar, piano, drums and advanced sessions like music production. Sanjeev said he is focussed on creating an atmosphere where a creative education is given equal importance to an academic one. Though he thinks everyone is an artist, he said people lose their art over time due to lack of practice.
His recent Tedx talk in Ulsoor was also on the importance of creativity. "It is all about making mistakes and failing constantly. Our system is not really supporting mistakes. Creativity is all about embracing mistakes and thinking out of the box and figuring out a new way to do things," he said.
Growing up in Kuwait, he started learning how to play the guitar at the age of 8, but his love for music took a backseat because of schoolwork. In college, a new-found independence helped rekindle his passion for music. "I was alone and could take decisions for myself. So I attended all kinds of college music competitions and saw musicians being fearless on stage. That inspired me and I kind of gelled into that type of system," he said.
So how did this independent musician go on to become a guitarist for A R Rahman, one of the greatest musicians in India? "To tell you the truth, I was still an independent musician then and I was more into English and international music then. Weirdly, it just came to me. One day I just got a call from A R's office and his manager said that AR Rahman wants to talk to you. Then A R spoke and asked if I played both electric and acoustic. He asked me to come to the studio for try outs the following afternoon. When this actually happened, I was so excited and didn't even sleep that night," he recalled.
The first song he played for A R Rahman was “Vote for the Taj',” and he described working with the musical genius as "a once in a lifetime experience." The gig led to massive exposure and even world tours with Indian and international players.
When he is not teaching music, Sanjeev is usually producing music or working on performances with other musicians. His latest project in music production was for the Malayalam film Vilakkumaram, which is expected to release later this year.
When asked about how he survived in such a competitive industry, he credits his skill as a multi-taster. “Even though I started out as a guitarist, then a singer, then a studio musician and now a teacher, I think an artist has to constantly evolve to survive. I survived because I constantly evolved. That's what all artists have to do."