Stephen Devassy is widely regarded as an enthralling stage performer, an innovative arranger of film music and a brilliant composer. In an interview with NISHAD PADIYARATH, the 30-year-old shares his dream journey so far and his passion for music
A 19-year-old village boy from Otappalam, a little-known place in Kerala took a bus to Chennai with a keyboard, a handful of money and heart full of dreams to conquer the world. In a very short-span of time, he conquered the hearts of thousands of music lovers across the world. He has now grown big and is arguably India’s best pianist today. He is none other than Stephen Devassy who has so far programmed over 2000 songs for various music composers and has worked with more the cream of the nation’s music fraternity, including A.R. Rahman, Zakir Hussain, Amjad Ali Khan, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Mandolin U. Sreenivas and Anandan Sivamani.
Excerpts from the interview
You are the busiest musician in India today. You are also the most sought after programmer while at the same time you are doing concerts in different parts of the world. How do you manage all this?
Many people have asked me this and at times I marvel that. But I would say it is because of my passion in music that keeps me going no matter where I am and what I am doing. Today you might see me here in Muscat doing a concert but tomorrow I will be at my studio in Chennai programming music. I am here because of music and that is driving me everywhere.
Retro music revolution is what makes you stand out from rest of the musicians in India. Can you explain on the popularity of retro music?
Retro music is basically a contemporary performance yet derived its roots from classical music. I love old music a lot and during the early 80’s and 90’s so much importance was given to the lyrics than the music. I am trying to experiment these classics by giving it a contemporary feel. I do my trial in concerts because I would get an immediate reaction from the crowd. If they like it they would cheer for it. Moreover, I have found out that even the youngsters have started loving it and most of them are unheard of such classical songs.
You have invited negative criticism after doing retro music
When you do a creative work, people will be there to oppose you always. See what had happened to popular South Indian composer Gopi Sunder. He has done such a brilliant work in the film Ustad Hotel and the song Appangalembadum was well accepted by the audience. The song is still on top of the music charts however, some experts have opposed the music. As long as you are doing something innovating, there will be at least one person to oppose you but there are 100 others to support you and that is my force.
When did you start learning music?
When I was studying in school, my brother Sam Devassy used to learn violin at a church near our school. I used to admire him and soon I started to practice keyboard from the violinist Leslie Peter. Gradually I became a regular performer at the church. After 10th grade, I joined Chetana Music Academy in Thrissur in Kerala, which is affiliated to Trinity College, London. This was the place where I learned more deeply about keyboard. My break as a musician came when I was only 18 years old. I got an invitation to play for popular Indian singer Hariharan on his European tour. We performed Ghazal and Western music fusion in many countries and the rest is all a history.
Your biggest moment came when you got an offer from musical maestro A.R. Rahman. How did you feel then when you first performed him?
A.R. Rahman’s offer came as a surprise. I first worked with him in a Tamil movie called Azhakiya Tamizh Makan starring Vijay and then I travelled with him for his Jai Ho World Concert. To work with him is an admiration for any musician and the fact that he has recognised me itself is an honour. Working with Rahman is fun. He gives you the freedom to experiment, something that is rare with every other composer.
You have so far programmed for over 2000 songs and has worked with more than 50 musicians of the likes of A.R. Rahman, Zakir Hussain and Amjad Ali Khan to name a few. And now you have also opened a music school of your own. Looking back how do you feel?
I would say it has been a dream journey so far. I never thought I would reach at this level at a very young age. It is not an easy road to success. I struggled to reach where I am today. There are a lot of talented youngsters who lack only the right guidance. The objective of my music school is to share my experience and that of established professionals so that they are put on the right track. The reason why I am here today is because of the blessings of so many people in my life. Firstly, I would like to thank my brother Sam who inspired me and everyone in my family and also my fans who has been supporting me.