Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mentor - 2point9 crew's new muse

Text By Ashanti OMkar
Pictures by Akin Falope

The enigmatic Mentor, whose real name is Amit Bajaj is one of UK’s best kept secrets in terms of Asian producers, especially from the point of view of ‘Desi’ music and remixes, as he has works with many top US and UK artistes, giving them re-mixes with Asian beats and sounds. Being related to super producer Rishi Rich had no doubt had a great impact on this humble, talented young man, but he has carved a niche in the UK, with his unique brand of remix. With his latest remix on US artiste Jon B’s single, ‘Lately’ and his production of Juggy’s D’s current track, ‘Akheer’, Mentor is a name to watch out for in 2005, as he has his own ‘Kolektiv’ – a collective of hand-picked talent, who rap, sing and Dj to entertain crowds (collecting a heart-throb type status, along the way) and have their own new sound (a mix of Punjabi vocals, cool production, rap and excellent mixing) – their mix tape is available via their website. Mentor holds onto his inherently Punjabi ancestry, but also has his roots mingling between Africa and the UK. Having set up his own record company, POA records, in Tanzania, he has brought the joy of music to many an impoverished talent in Africa, by providing them with much needed music technology. Often seen in a quiet corner of most music parties and events, Mentor spends a lot of time married to his music, in his gorgeously decorated West London studio, on the premises of 2point9 and weaves his production magic – someone who is clearly driven by music and intending to spread his talent and individuality to the world. We wish his all the very best in his endeavours and look forward to great things from him… In this candid and rare interview, Mentor reveals all…

Kenyan born - tell us about your background and heritage and how Africa features heavily in your up bringing.

I was born in Nairobi, as was my mum. My dad was born in Tanzania and my grandparents came to East Africa when they were teens. This makes me a third generation East African of Indian ancestry, raised and living in the UK! I draw on all these cultural diversities in my music. I love Africa and African music. My heart lies in there and I find I'm most at home in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, although for now I'm settled in the UK. Above all it’s the attitude of the African people I retain, relaxed, easy going and down to earth.

You are the cousin of Rishi Rich - would you say that is involvement in music inspired you to get into it?

Rishi played a big part in my career. He was always focused on his music, which definitely had an influence on me. Although our production styles are different, I think we have similar work ethics and goals we want to achieve. We always loved music and used to play at family functions together all the time. We've been there to support each other from the start and I'm sure this will go on for the rest of our careers.

How did your Parents and family react to your taking up music as a profession, as opposed to a 'professional' career like Medicine or Engineering?

They were always supportive of my career. I got my qualifications in Audio Engineering, so I do consider myself 'professional' at what I do.

POA records - tell us about this- what doe Poa mean? You have done a lot for music in Tanzania and also plenty for the community there - how often do you visit and are you still very much a part of it?

"Poa" is a common slang word in East Africa meaning Cool, All good, No worries. It's one of the first words I came across that I thought, "That's a cool word" and though it would be appropriate for my label as it was young and fresh at the time. Unfortunately I don't get to spend too much time in Tanzania these days. I try and make a trip at least once a year. I still have a recording studio there which local artists use. It's a hub of creative activity with some of the realest artists you'll ever meet. Even though the country is poverty stricken, they're some of the happiest people you'll come across. I try and keep in touch with my people out there on a regular basis and listen out for new music, but work here has got me tied up for now.

The Mentor Kolektiv - another venture from you - tell us more about the boys (AC and Desi? and DJ Mr Mak) and the work they have done, including the mix tape and where you see them heading in 2005.

The Kolektiv was something I put together last year. I chose AC, Des-C and Mr Mak for their varied talents. AC is a great MC who's witty and humorous and controls the crowd well. Des-C is a fantastic vocalist who sings not only in Punjabi, but Urdu and Hindi as well. He's got great dance moves too. Mr Mak has got skills when it comes to DJing. His scratching and mixing amazed me when I first heard him, plus he's a bit of a ladies man! Their individual inputs into the Mixtape and the group overall is invaluable. After we get the Kolektiv album done, I’m gonna be working on all their solo projects. It's gonna be an exciting year.

You have done remixes for lots of big names, including Timbaland and even spend the day in Southall with him. What were your experiences and who are the other big names you have/will be with? I hear that Jon B is the latest US export to have Mentor's remix on his single?

So far I've done remixes for Nitin Sawhney, Craig David, Timbaland & Magoo feat. Missy Elliot, Blacksmith feat. Naila Boss, and now Jon B. It's great to have done work for such big names and I hope there will be plenty more to come. Timbaland really loved my remix and complimented it when we were in Southall. Something like that really gives you confidence that you're heading in the right direction. It's nice to be appreciated by an artist of that calibre.

You worked on some of the main 2point9 albums, like Jay Sean's and Juggy D's - tell us about your production styles and creative inputs in this.

It was lots of fun working with them. They've got different personalities and different musical styles. Jay Sean and I connected on a hip-hop level. We both love the music and understand each other’s influences in this genre as we've got similar tastes. I brought that side out in him a lot more than any other producer he was working with, so the tracks I did for his album had that sound. With Juggy D, I had to explore the more traditional side to his voice and song writing. We made songs that were completely different to what he had done with Rishi in the past.

'Akheer' - a song that most certainly stands out on Juggy's album - tell us about the concept, from being a religious song, which was enhanced with the use of Carnatic Classical music - how did the whole thing come about and how did you put the 'Mentor' production touch to it? How did you embrace the talents of classical musicians Karthik and Kumar Ragunathan, for the track?

Akheer is a song that crosses many divides. I felt that a classical approach was a good way to express the lyrics in the song, as they are deep and meaningful. It does not talk about any particular religion or a specific God, but embraces the entire notion of Faith. These are turbulent times and everyone needs faith in something to get by. Because of the classical nature of the song, I felt it was essential I worked with Karthik and Kumar. They're fantastic violin players and vocalists. Most importantly they're knowledge of classical Indian music is vast, and they were able to bring the Carnatic style to a North Indian song, creating a sound that is quite unique.

You did a track with the notorious 'Hardkaur' - tell us about it and will it be released in the near future?

I did a song called "Party In Bombay" with Hardkaur last year. It was a hit on the underground but never got released due to certain record company restrictions. It's a shame really, but that's part and parcel of the music industry. If anything, the song helped to re-launch Hardkaur's career and gave me a bit more heat on the streets.

If the BrAMA show had happened in March 2005, you and 2point9 had a lot of nominations. Who do you think would and should have won had the show happened?

It's great to be nominated as Newcomer of the Year. I doubt I’ll win, but just being acknowledged is a huge compliment. I hope Juggy D wins Best Album. Jay Sean should win Best Performer and Rishi deserves Best Producer! I'm sure all the young ladies will vote for DJ Mr Mak as Best Club DJ!

Which musicians inspire you to keep going in the field?

There are so many new and inspiring artistes around these days. All good artists and music inspire me to keep going as it keeps me on my toes. I know that if I start slacking there are hundreds of producers and artists catching up to me, and I’ve got to stay two steps ahead.

Personal question - do you have a young lady in our life and can you tell us about her?

It's hard to have a relationship in this game. You don't know who's for real and who's not. I'm committed to my music at the moment!

Any messages for your UK fans?

I love you all so much. I get loads of emails from genuine people all over the world who admire my work and I'm deeply grateful for all the support I've had from the fans. It's what keeps me motivated. Please continue to support our scene by purchasing, not downloading music. One Love.