At the age of 10, as Samar Mehdi pounded on the snare drum in the school's marching band, he felt the beat of the instrument flow in synch with his heart. Small-town Bhopal, however, is not exactly given to such epiphanies of artistic sentiment and a career as a musician meant a tough ride for young Samar. "I would sneak out to practice, hide some instrument in my cupboard or practice very, very softly. That sums up my childhood. Acceptance from my family was a very long time coming," says the 29-year-old, who is now on his way up as a singer-songwriter.
He got together with a few members of his school band to co-found Acrimony at the age of 16. "I was constantly switching between instruments, trying to learn them all," he says. He would spend hours watching videos and listening to music, which was the closest thing he had to professional training, or even experience with an instrument, at that time.
Samar moved to Mumbai to explore his opportunities with music. "I was there for two years, trying to figure out creative space for my music while I was doing some job to be able to support my music. But at one point, it all stopped making sense to me and I returned home in 2016. It was sort of an existential crisis. I did not know what to do or where to go. I had done a little bit of everything but I could not see any clear path before me. I had a few options but I didn't see myself wanting to pursue any of those." The return to his roots, however, didn't provide the recess he hoped to find - instead, it marked a new beginning.
"At home, I attempted to reorganize my thoughts, examine my years of learning and find a common philosophical thread, something t hat makes sense enough to draw all my energy. That is why I called it 'reinterpretations' because it is all the same information rerouted it into this one place. I did not have my guitar that time either. I just bought the most basic acoustic guitar and decided to go back to my roots and connect with that 10-year-old boy again," said Samar for whom music has always been about an internal connection.
And as he began again, the fears he had harboured also began to fritter away. In Reinterpretations, Samar recreates his experiences and observations from daily life, translating them into music. "At this juncture, my quest for self-sufficiency came to an end and the sense of magic returned in its wake." His music, he hopes, will speak to be people and perhaps be recognised beyond a 'sideline entertainment.'
Samar's debut EP, 'Urooj', which deals with his existential crisis, was released in April 2018. Urooj, which translates to ascension, aims to push towards a time in musical and artistic expression where it gains a higher societal relevance. For Samar, music has been the sole companion and his instruments his friends. In fact, he has been so immersed in his musical journey that he admits he isn't "great at making friends" or "achieving success in this social media world."
Samar began with the drums and went on to try his hand at various instruments like the flute, the keyboards became a new constant (he wrote his first song on one) and then moved to the guitar, which he now uses in his percussive-fingerstyle-songwriting. As he composes his songs in Hindi and the Urdu, he constantly strives for his music to leave some sort of an emotional impact on his audience even if it is one person.
Samar is fond of the huge sound created through a band, so when he cannot get his band and is performing solo, he becomes the band himself. His acoustic guitar becomes the street musician's workstation. As he moves his fingers and taps his hand, he creates the sound of a guitar, a keyboard and the drums all in real time through that one acoustic instrument hanging close to his body to create a transcending sound.
"Numbers are an illusion, every musician needs to know how much is enough for him and remember that art is what the world needs to break through the void and only a few people can make that happen."
What: Samar Mehdi
When: June 22, 8 pm
Where: The Humming Tree, Indiranagar.