He heard a song. The voice behind the mic, the soulful, the delectable penetrated the most intimate areas of his psyche, but the symphony in the background, stole his heart. He didn’t want to be that voice, he wanted to be that symphony.
Bonny Abraham forayed into music at the age of eight. His mother, who is still an active member of the Choir, introduced him and his elder brother Benjy to Church music. Together they would participate in the choir and sing hymns and carols, but little did he know that this experience would change his life forever. Remembering the time, he says, “In one of the melodies there was an orchestra. For the first time, I heard someone playing the drums. The entire spectacle was so powerful and unique that it mesmerized me. I developed an urge to play an instrument.” In 6th standard, Bonny’s father, a hotelier by profession, gifted him a guitar and he took his first leap into playing music. Then, every subsequent risk became easier. He loved the freedom the instrument gave him but repelled sticking to notes and rules. “I was bored with the academic way of learning music. I feel when you explore and experiment, you get a good understanding of different genres.” Soon, he moved to YouTube for lessons and self-practised for hours. “I think that sharpened the talent I have today,” he beams.
Born in Goa, and migrated to Kerala in his initial years, this 27-year-old recording artist grew up listening to some of the best ballads of all time. Thanks to his father, who holds a great taste in music. Every night, he and his brother would play Elton John, Aqua, West Life, Yanni, Backstreet Boys, and sleep in them. Next morning, the taste would still linger on. He did his schooling from St. Thomas, Trivandrum and pursued Commerce after 12th. A part of him yearned to perform, express his emotions through music, but another part of him knew this is possible only once he completes his education. “I didn’t want to deviate from ‘that creative space’. So, my brother suggested me to take up Visual Communications in graduation. But despite the chosen field I was in, people knew me for my music.” Marching to the beat of his drum, Bonny got more confident in his endeavours after he got into Audio Engineering in KM Music Conservatory, Chennai. Around this time, A.R. Rahman noticed his work, and Rahman’s longtime companion, Indian Film Score Composer Ranjit Barot scouted him for MTV Unplugged.
“Every month, there are student concerts at KM for which we have to give auditions. We did a piece on Anushka Shankar’s Land of Gold on Oud instead of Sitar. Somewhere in the audience, Rahman Sir noticed the little experiment we did. After the performance was over, he said to me, “It was good.” That moment was celebratory, so much that it remains vivid in the deep corners of my heart even today. And then just before I was nearing the end of my tenure at KM, our Principal, Adam Greig, asked me to play the Oud for a performance. It was there, Ranjit Barot saw my work and asked me to join them for MTV Unplugged,” reminiscences the versatile multi-string instrumentalist.
For people who are unversed with the origins of Oud – there are several theories around it. Some believe that it is the ancestor of the Pharaonic Egyptian Nefer, whereas, some others say that this instrument is the forebear of the ancient Persian barbat. In the Middle Eastern music tradition, it is considered to be the oldest, yet one of the central instruments. In India, however, one gets to hear it very little in the mainstream cinema. “You can hear Oud in the background score of Jodha Akbar. Rahman sir has used it several times, but it’s all up to what you get, the song, the mood. The composition should respect the instrument”, he avers. Speaking of compositions, Bonny recently launched his first independent album ‘Dune’. Composed, arranged and produced by himself in association with singer Yadu Krishnan, the project entail five songs, each of which has an eclectic taste. The beauty of his music also lies in his attempt to experiment with every score. “I am particular about the sounds, or the tone I choose. And, for this album, I wanted to tie each song to a different genre. If the first one is a Hip-Hop, I wanted the second to be more ambient in flavour.”
Being an artist is like walking along a tightrope; one must try to keep a balance. For Bonny, who wants to familiarize people with different Arabic instruments and music, that balance comes from his inner sense of judgement. And, it’s evident to anyone who has seen him perform. While on stage, this eccentric composer plays his emotions to communicate with all ease and charm. Offstage, Bonny prefers to be just another human co-existing with all the others. “I don’t let things get into my head. With time and experience, I have learnt to draw a line, a clear boundary between the two lives I am living.”