Can an artist survive on talent and eccentricity alone? With Mumbai-based musician Ritwq, it's his personality that really shines
Remember our letter-writing exercises in school? We’re wondering where those skills had vanished in today’s workplace environments, where even the salutation ‘Dear’ seems to have retired from most written communications. If there’s anything I’ve learned from life, it’s the fact that if you’re asking someone for a hundred percent, prepare to offer them a hundred and forty in return (often, in advance). This process in establishing a relationship collaborators, no matter how big or small, first begins with how you address them, and the offering in return sometimes need only be grace and gratitude.
In this vein, Ritwik Punjwani, known by his stage name Ritwq, is humility personified. It was first clear in the email he wrote to us. The cherry on the cake was him ending the mail with, “I am writing to you hoping to be featured in whatever capacity you deem fit. This would give me credibility and also set a benchmark for my future career.”
Now, I hadn’t listened to his music. Post starting a communication, it only takes a few seconds for any professional to decide whether they want to take things further. With Ritwik, it was the addition of humility’s best friend, honesty. Under the rubble of thoroughly exaggerated write-ups and bios, one always looks for any semblance of honesty, something of a starting point, to better understanding the true artist behind the person. Usually it’s a single word or sentence in the way an artist describes his or her self.
On reading his bio, the one word that bounced around in my head was Catharsis. In the beginning, Ritwik began writing his emotions in the form of poetry that later turned into a song. The moment that made him consider taking up music professionally was when a friend broke down listening to his song.
“Growing up, I had a lot of pent up rage from everything I had been through and music had become my escape. Music had become an outlet, a form of self-expression when everything seemed bleak.” He wrote.
Aristotle left the word Catharsis undefined, but today we’ve widely accepted it as ‘expressing strong feeling, for example through plays or other artistic activities, as a way of getting rid of anger, reducing suffering, etc,’ (The Oxford Dictionary).
In my own case, music saved me from the consistent humiliation I faced as an academic failure. Sometimes all one needs to get through a negative phase is a little confidence and a much needed push. At age ten, I may not have understood or cared why chlorophyll makes plants green and at age thirteen I did not understand what stalactites and stalagmites were, but I had learned the entire periodic table by simply singing the elements in the tune of a rock-and-roll song. People may not admit that they too have made similar not-so-normal efforts in times of struggle, but they have.
The difference lies in that though I knew music was my calling and though I had several opportunities to pursue music; I didn’t. It’s something I regret to this day. The opportunities were abundant, and I had enthusiastic full-fledged family support if I ever wanted to pursue a career in it. However, what pains me even more is that many of my college mates who were in fact brilliant musicians just sort of gave up and haven’t gone near an instrument in decades. The response, “I’ve quit music, bro, it just doesn’t pay the bills,” is why I hope against hope that classically trained up-and-coming artists like Ritwik will see a better future.
He continues, “My father, who was a theatre artist and singer in Himachal Pradesh back in his day, introduced me to music. I started training in Indian classical music at the young age of seven at Bhatkhande Music Institute and then later transitioned into learning western classical music at the Trinity College of Music under the guidance of Mehul Pandit.”
At the mere age of 20, Ritwik is a multi-instrumentalist and can play various instruments including the guitar, piano, drums, cello, violin and flute.
His bio ended with these words - “I truly believe that there is more to each person than what we see. I want to show that to my audience by bringing their stories, their emotions, to life. I believe music is a universally binding language that can bring people together from all around the world. We are more similar than we think, and this is what I want to show through my music.”
It was now 9:30pm on Wednesday. I’d listened to his music (He has a magnificent voice) and it was time to get on a call with him to delve deeper, especially with the juxtaposition of darker, more emotional lyrics and brighter music tracks.
“There is no emotional thread in my writing, but yes, much of it stems from certain corners. Even the next few tracks I’m going to be releasing don’t have a vibe that’s too bright,” he chuckles, “I’m consciously triggering certain emotions so I can write about things that people going through similar circumstances can connect to,”
So what about the music? Ritwik has no qualms in admitting that, while his lyrics are personal, when he writes his melodies he’s more focused on what people are going to like. In fact, he uses what I can only describe as the most ‘Gyaani’ metaphor. Something I would put right up there with Schrödinger & Cat.
“Imagine you have a pair of socks, both fit the same, they’re made of the same material so they feel the same, but when you look at them they aren’t the same colour. Most people would be uncomfortable with this because it’s the norm to wear two socks of the same colour. But not me, I imagine catchy music even with downhearted lyrics just as long as they fit.”
What I found even more interesting was, despite the lockdown, Ritwik’s debut Hindi single (He’s sung in English before) ‘Kya Karoon’ featured actual instruments in it. In today’s world of loops, effects and computer generated instrumentation, why did he prefer going through the trouble of getting a pianist, a saxophonist (From London, that too!), a guitarist and others to play with him? And that too when I see so many artists, mostly singers, releasing new singles each week, because the need to go through this trouble when all one really wants to do is exhibit one’s vocals and lyrics seems a tad bit... what’s the phrase I’m looking for... old school! It’s definitely not the fact that he’s classically trained, right? Many classically trained musicians themselves are doing the ‘electronic’ thing these days.
“I wanted to go down this route. When you have programmed music, you’re going to get bored with it at some point. There’s never that hint of surprise (read: variation) in it,”
He’s right. There’s always been this annoying consistency in pop music that I’ve found hard to describe, especially the overplayed chart toppers that have a certain repetitious quality to them, like a bad habit. You listen to these songs for a certain period and then suddenly one day the annoyance dawns and you can’t stand being near one playing. In contrast, you could listen to an Estranged by Guns N’ Roses any day of the week and never feel that it’s dated even after nearly three decades. In ‘Kya Karoon’, Ritwik drops an unexpected guitar solo at the end of the song, perhaps in keeping with this.
When I ask him about the future and where he sees himself, his response is quite immediate, like he was expecting it.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I would love a career in music, but I really don’t know.”
On the one hand, this is in line with the way his generation thinks and the practicality of your average Zoomer today (They’re risk averse and motivated by stability). On the other, I’d predict that if he continues with music, he has a definite future in it. The challenges are many; the experiences are gruesome and the path leading to success is far tougher than we imagine, but at the end of the day, whether or not one succeeds, one can only ever join the dots backwards.
If that’s not encouragement enough, at the very least, young musicians can take heart in the fact that come hell, high-water or trend, good music has always been and will always be our civilisation's number one form of entertainment. The ones who eventually succeed are always going to be the most adored and highest-paid humans on earth. It’s all about fighting the good fight, and at the moment it seems Ritwik Punjwani is. In more ways than one.
LISTEN TO KYA KAROON BY RITWQ
ABOUT THE SONG
‘Kya Karoon’ is Ritwq’s debut single. The song has been in the works for about 3 years now. It was written about his longtime high school girlfriend who moved to a different city after graduating. After she left, he was so lost and had been going through a lot. His outlet became his music. He wrote this song to remind himself that he should be lucky to have experienced love and to remember his relationship for all its good parts and to not dwell on the outcome. Through this song he wants his audience to connect to his story and understand that things end, sometimes on a good note and sometimes not, but it's important to focus on the positive side and to push yourself forward.
Ritwik Punjwani - Singer/Songwriter, Producer
Sagar Saluja - Co-producer, Guitar Player
Rishabh Jain - Arranger, Keyboardist
Anoushka Sivasankar- Backing Vocals
Gabriel Marić - Saxophonist
Jiya Somaiya - Graphic Designer
Aanchal Mankani - Motion Graphics
Krisha Shah - Artist Manager