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By Meet Mohini Dey — the 17-year-old bong girl — who has floored a.r. rahman to ranjit barot with her bass playing Mohua Das What’s your message for Mohini? Tell
  • Published 30.08.13

We’ve seen you on Coke Studio @ MTV Season 3 performing on all the sessions with A.R. Rahman. How did you connect with him?

I was a part of MTV Unplugged Seasons 1 and 2, and the last Coke Studio. It so happened that Ranjit (Barot) uncle, who was the one to introduce me to the world of music, called up my father (Sujoy Dey) one day and said A.R. Rahman was working on a Bollywood film song and wanted me to play bass lines on it. This was before Coke Studio. Ranjit uncle had told Rahman that he must try me. The next day I went to Ranjit uncle’s studio and recorded my bass on the track and the same day he sent it to Rahman. Two days later, I received a call from AR’s manager that he wanted to book me for all the Coke Studio episodes.

How was your first meeting with A.R. Rahman?

The first day I went for rehearsals, I saw Sivamani, Prasanna and some musicians from AR’s school but AR wasn’t there. He came on the second day and gave me a tiny smile. At first I thought I’d call him Rahman uncle because I was the youngest there, but since everyone was calling him AR I went with that. In between the practice sessions he came up to me and said, ‘Mohini, you’re just incredible. I love your bass playing. I was trying to get Tal Wilkenfeld from the UK for this but after I heard you, I wanted only you.’ It was a huge compliment for me because I knew how big Tal was! I went blank and blushed. I really enjoyed jamming with AR! I saw how every second there was something creative brewing on his mind. With him, there were no restrictions. He gave me complete freedom to arrange, compose or ideate a feel that would complement the songs. After the Coke Studio sessions got over, I got another call from his assistant that he’s about to start work on a Telegu film and would like me to play.

Girls either sing, or play the piano or guitar. How did you happen to pick up the bass?

I was born in Bombay and grew up listening to my father play the bass. He was from Calcutta and used to play with bands. He moved to Bombay after marriage and then he started playing in Bollywood and the jazz music circuit. I started learning from my father at three. The low and warm sound of the bass guitar, I just fell in love with it. I don’t know whether I picked up the bass or the bass chose me. My father would make me listen to different bass players, jazz music. At five, I started picking up scales and notes and played my first major scale. In school I was the only one who played an instrument. My friends would play badminton. For me my bass guitar was my badminton.

Tell us about your Calcutta connection...

I’ve never lived in Calcutta but my first ever stage performance was in Calcutta when I was 10, Rangana hall. It’s been five years since I last came to Calcutta. I have all my relatives there and we still have our house in Hatibagan. I love Calcutta’s phuchkas.

How did Ranjit Barot happen to take you under his wing?

When I was 11, Baba took me to Ranjit uncle’s studio one day to show my bass-playing skills. Ranjit uncle was blown by the manner in which my finger moved on the fret- board, he said. Right after that he booked me for some of his shows and from then on, I’ve been playing with him. Now I’m a part of his band and recently played on his album Bada Boom. Playing on his time signatures I find most tricky and challenging.

And you’ve already performed with Zakir Hussain, Taufiq Qureshi, Louiz Banks, Shreya Ghoshal…

It’s all because of Ranjit uncle. He’s like my second father, my second god. He opened so many doors for me. I got to play with Zakir Hussain when I was 13, with Selvaganesh, George Brooks. Uncle Louiz, I’ve been playing with since I was 15 and he’s now made me a part of his band Ganga Shakti that he formed last year.

What do you feel makes you such a talented bass player at this age?

Since I always wanted to be a versatile musician who can complement any genre of music, I can experiment with finger styles and techniques like slaps, triplets and thumbwork. I practise for four-five hours every day and that helps because bass playing requires a lot of stamina and energy.

Do you still train under anyone?

Not anymore. Music was more of a hobby for me but now it’s turned into a career. It feels strange that I haven’t finished my studies but I already have a professional career.

Yes, you’re already performing, travelling, recording…. How do you find time for studies?

It’s very hard to manage both. Sometimes I get so freaked out that I feel like tearing all the pages of my books and sitting quietly in a corner! But an inner energy tells me that studies are also important. I’m not the best of students but I usually score above an 80. Now I’m in Class XII of M J Pancholia College, studying Commerce but I’m doing it through correspondence. Commerce seemed to me the easiest subject to do.

Which model of the bass guitar do you play?

I have 12 guitars and personally play two of them when I’m performing. One, a Warwick fretless bass and the other, a fretted Ibanez SDGR.

Which bassists do you idolise?

I’m a big admirer of Jaco Pastorius, Victor Wooten and Abraham Laboriel. Among Indian bassists, I really like Karl Peters.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I love funk, Black music, reggae, the fusion of funk and jazz. But I don’t restrict myself. I am currently listening to a lot of drummers... Dennis Chambers and Dave Weckl because they help bassists with the grooves. Also, Tom Kennedy and Louis Johnson.

What do you dream to be?

My ambition is to be big and successful. I would love to be a music composer. I recently formed a band called Generation where we play some of my compositions. It also has my sister Esani who plays Carnatic and raga-based stuff on the lead guitar. We’ve only had one or two gigs. I also sing sometimes when it requires husky-voiced mid-range jazz singing. For voice techniques and creative melody ideas, I listen to Chaka Khan, Maria Muldaur.

What’s the next big thing on Mohini’s platter?

I’ve just recorded my second film song for a Telegu project and a song for Raghu Dixit for a Yash Raj film.

Then I’m playing with Prasanna on October 2 in Coimbatore. Prasanna is the most incredible guitarist we have and he’s played with Victor Wooten. I’ve been following Victor Wooten for many years. Since my dream is to perform with Victor Wooten someday, this is the closest I can get right now!