Singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Ajai, 21, isn’t constrained by boundaries. Genre, instrument choice and language pose no limits for him when it comes to making music. Ajai has studied both ancient Indian ragas and modern-day rock, and from engrossing himself in these two disparate musical worlds, he has found a creative freedom. His boundary-crossing songs, which reflect his American and Indian roots, will be available on iTunes later this year, and he’s in talks with major labels in India to get his debut disc on sale across the entire subcontinent. Ajai learned to play the piano before he could even read, and from that starting point, he has matured today into an artist whose music was featured in the movie “Offshore.” Read more about this young musician’s rise to success as we feature him in this week’s Young & Professional profile.
West Bloomfield, Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
University of Michigan (2007)
What’s your story?
From the very beginning, music has been instrumental in my life. I grew up immersed in it. I learned to play the piano before I learned how to read. Over the years, I picked up many instruments, most notably the guitar and the drums. Fueled by a hunger to create, I developed a serious dedication to writing and composing seven years ago.
I spent the years engrossed in the compositions of Western and Eastern artists that I revered. I studied the ragas and Western classical theory. I spent time studying voice with both Western and Indian teachers. Ann Arbor has a rich history and a robust culture of music, and I truly matured during my time there.
Two years ago, armed with a disc of my work, my manager and I traveled to Mumbai to meet with various people in the film and music industry. I returned with the conviction that I would be heard on the national stage. About a year ago, I met Manish Joshi, a well respected lyricist. His God-given ability to put a thought into verse astounded me. We decided to get together to assemble the latest round of songs. We have just started the business processes associated with securing a partner for marketing and distribution, for which I was in India earlier this year.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I wouldn’t call them responsibilities. Playing my guitar and singing? For me, songwriting isn’t a structured process. You can’t plan for it. It’s inspired. It’s creative, and each time, something different jump-starts the progression. It’s something you end up playing by ear (no pun intended). I occasionally have to wander over to the business side of things, but thankfully my wonderful manager takes care of most of that.
Most notable milestones
I got a call from Diane Cheklich saying that she would like to have my song for the movie “Offshore.” That was quite a thrill. Securing distribution through iTunes with BMR label was also quite exciting.
What’s the niche?
Like many South-Asian Americans, I’ve had the opportunity to evolve in a unique atmosphere. I am a lifelong student of two fantastically diverse musical histories: Indian classical, established millennia ago through the Vedas, and the relatively modern genre of rock.
In this fusion of cultures and this new musical environment, I have found a beautiful freedom. I don’t feel constrained by any boundary, be it by genre, by instrument choice, or even by language. I don’t actively strive to create “a sound,” but rather strive simply to create music that appeals to my basic instincts. To create music that makes me smile.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Facing rejection. Anyone in the industry will tell you the same thing. Over time, though, what you learn is that you have to believe in music, believe in yourself, and most importantly, believe in the music inside of you.
What’s in store for the future?
We are currently talking to the major labels in India, so if all goes well, you’ll find my debut disc on shelves across India in the coming year. In any case you’ll be able to purchase tracks from iTunes later this year. There is a studio session booked for late May, so we will see what comes out of that. In a different vein, there have been offers to act. However, for the time being, music continues to remain my focus, as well as my number one passion.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
I don’t think about it as “a competitive edge.” A competitive edge implies an external focus, which in business is essential, but in art is dangerous. Do your thing. Do what you love. Do what sounds beautiful to you. Don’t concern yourself with what others are doing. Find the music inside of you.
Guiding principle in life
Integrity. Everything else comes second.
Yardstick of success
A lasting impression.
Goal yet to be achieved
Sharing my music with the whole world.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
Kuch outstanding karna hai! – Nani.
What motivated you to get started?
It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint the precise moment that I started on this path. I don’t believe it was ever a conscious decision. In retrospect, events seem to follow a logical progression, but that was never by intent. I just did what I loved, and one thing led to another.
Like best about what you do?
Rabindranath Tagore said “music fills the infinite between two souls.” I realize a joy that is unparalleled each time I see another human being enjoying my music.
Like least about what you do?
Nothing. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to live in the world of music every day.
What advice can you give to others interested in a career in music? (Especially South Asians!)
First, stop and thank your lucky stars. We live in unprecedented times, as far as accessibility. There is very little standing between you and your most fantastic dreams. Begin today, and never stop working. Remember: no matter what you do, there will be critics. Trust your gut.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Both a physicist and a professional ice-hockey player. Simultaneously.
What was your first job?
Working the line at Taco Bell.
Biggest pastime outside of work
I love to work with the homeless men and women of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have learned more from them than I have from any professor.
Person most interested in meeting?
Leonardo Da Vinci. Versatility beyond imagination and genius beyond comprehension.
Leader in business most interested in meeting
A.R. Rehman. His style is terribly elegant.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I bowled a 290.
- I was attacked by a shark, but fortunately not bitten.
- I believe that things come in threes.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- My family
- Chasing dreams
The children of the world.
“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.” – Maria Montessori
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Absolutely anyone who enjoys the music.