Indian music producer and singer Clinton Cerejo who is a known name in playback singing, vocal and musical arrangements, background scores and music programming cum production, has always been appreciated for his unique style. Though he has been in the industry for more than two decades, it’s now that he is making his debut as a Music Composer with a 12 track album for the film Jugni. While in conversation with the multi-talented musician, we understand the way he discovered himself while working on the music of Jugni among other things.

Clinton Cerejo

Clinton Cerejo

From being a music arranger and vocalist to a music producer and also composing music for ad films, you’re now making your debut as a music director with Jugni. What made you choose this film for your debut?

I think Jugni had a lot of scope for musical experimentation and creativity therefore I thought that it was an interesting project to start with. I didn’t even know Shefali (Jugni’s director). She came up to my studio and gave me the script. Once I read the script I found it interesting. But since the movie is set in Punjab, I did ask myself the question as to why only me, as there could have probably been other obvious choices who have already done such work. But it is probably because they (the makers) wanted something out of the box, which is not usual and is different from most of the Punjabi stuff that we hear these days. So I took that as a challenge and thought that I’m going to approach it from my perspective.


How many songs does the film have? And what genre do they belong to?

It is a 12 track album. The script allowed me to do a very versatile album in terms of songs and arrangements. The title track is sung by Javed Bashir who is someone that I’ve always wanted to work with as he is a fabulous singer. We did another track called Dillan De Saudey for which I got some guitars and it turned out to be a fusion-rock kind of thing. Then there is Dugg Duggi Dugg, while composing which I always thought of Vishal ji (Bhardwaj). When I approached him, he was initially very skeptical because he had heard my voice in the song. He told me that it sounded amazing like that and why would I want his voice. But I was insistent and he agreed. And everybody loved it. Then there is a song called Bolladiyan by Rekha Bhardwaj that came as an afterthought because though it was always part of the film, it was coming as a small verse that one of the characters was singing to herself. Initially there was no space for the song in the album. But once I did the composition and verse, we had this idea of doing it as a whole song for the album. But the background score was already complete. So Shefali found a couple of places where we could insert it. This was one of the last songs that we completed and everybody loved it.

Then there is a track by Neha Kakkar called Joban Hai Shawa. It has a wedding song kind of feel and can get popular at sangeets. There is also a track called Dil Ke Sang that Nakash Aziz has sung brilliantly. Another track Hatt Mullah is a duet between Bianca Gomes and me. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwali Zarre Zarre Mein Noor Bhara along with Jazim Sharma is really a treat for vocal lovers because the improvisation is such that they are constantly trying to top each other. It is pretty amazing to hear the graph of the song and the way it builds up.

For the first time Vishal Bhardwaj has sung for any composer other than himself. And you have sung a lot of songs composed by him. What kind of an experience was it this time?

It was amazing. Firstly I wasn’t sure that he would do it. But I thought that I should check. Also we have a very good relationship since we have worked together on so many tracks and he has always been an inspiration. He was very supportive of the film from day one. I thought that the song would work in his voice though he wasn’t sure initially as he had heard it in my voice and really liked it. But I was confident about it.

Was it difficult to convince him?

Not really! He was very confident as he has enough faith in my musical abilities to know that it will be a good song. He trusts me with his music so I don’t think that he would have a problem singing a song composed by me.

Clinton while performing on stage

Clinton while performing on stage

How did you zero in on all the singers since there is so much versatility?

Firstly I like to have the lyrics with me. Most of the composers give a melody to the lyricists and they write to that melody. But I like to first have the lyrics with me and I then start composing through those lyrics. I don’t have to wait for the entire song to be composed; when I’m halfway through I start getting an idea of which singer would suit it. It could even be an international name, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an Indian name.

Since Director Shefali Bhushan has already worked on ‘Beat of India’ and has immense knowledge of music along with being exposed to untapped talent, what kind of a brief did she give you? 

The story and the script of Jugni was almost autobiographical for Shefali because she has been going to the interiors of the country for years and recording folk singers and archiving them. Her site is an ideal source to listen to untapped talent. There are so many foreigners who buy music from that label though it might be undiscovered in India. So she was definitely very familiar with folk music and has a musical side to her, which is why she had a very clear picture of the kind of songs she wanted in the film. That made my job easier. She might like something instantly but if she doesn’t like it, she’ll say it and her opinion will not change with time.

Tell us more about A R Rahman’s prayer song, Lakhon Salaam, that has been penned and composed by Kashif, lyricist of Jodhaa Akbar’s Khwaja Mere Khwaja that was also sung by Rahman.

This song is a prayer and it is a almost like a gift by Rahman sir to this album. When I was around 21-22 years of age, I used to spend more time in Chennai than Mumbai working on all of Rahman sir’s projects and movies. There was a great level of trust between us. He would let me work on his songs even when he was not in the same city. So having him on this project definitely has a special significance to me because both Rahman sir and Vishal ji are two people who have impacted and shaped my career. Both of them are my inspiration.


Do the music and lyrics tell the journey of this movie’s story as well?

I think so. At the end of the day, the emotions that you go through in the film are reflected in the album when you hear it from start to finish. It is a journey of the protagonist. I think we have managed to capture that journey in the sound with the album.

Director Shefali Bhushan, Clinton Cerejo, Vishal Bhardwaj and A R Rahman during the music launch of Jugni

Director Shefali Bhushan, Clinton Cerejo, Vishal Bhardwaj and A R Rahman during the music launch of Jugni

The film’s lyricist Shellee mentioned that there were some kind of language constraints while working on the music as English happens to be your regular language, which is not the case with him.

It was fun working with him. Most people consider it to be a disadvantage and a language barrier when someone composes a song in a language that they are not familiar with. Frankly it doesn’t always work as a disadvantage, as at times it becomes an advantage. When we compose the song the meaning of the lyrics definitely affect you. But when you are not familiar with the language you can take certain kind of risks, which you otherwise wouldn’t take.


Jugni’s story is primarily about a woman in search of herself and soulful music. While working on this film’s music, did any of your musical searches get fulfilled?

Absolutely. For me it is also a journey of personal discovery as a music composer because I haven’t done an album which is so out of my zone. This is something I had to push myself to do primarily because I don’t normally compose something which is so steeped in Punjabi folk. It was a journey of breaking certain barriers and obstacles that I had raised for myself in my head. That’s why this was more enjoyable for me.

Did you hear some kind of Punjabi music before working on the project?

I used to listen to a lot of stuff, not just Punjabi music because some of the Punjabi music these days is one dimensional. I was listening to several qawwalis and songs by Mehdi Hasan to understand different raags and how they work. I also heard a lot of Pakistani folk.

Since both Jugni’s director Shefali and protagonist Sugandha Garg are musicians themselves, what edge did they have on the project? 

They have trusted me more than anything else and have humbly displayed that throughout the film. So there were never any egos or questions. They trusted the music and I do have a level of experience that was useful for them in the project. And there was a constant communication happening between us.


Clinton Cerejo

Clinton Cerejo

The film’s music has its roots in Punjab and Punjabi folk music happens to be quite rich and popular.What are the kind of instruments that you’ve used for its music?

More than using any specific instrument, I tried to make sure that on a competitive level it is something that you are used to. If anyone knows Punjabi folk, he/she shouldn’t find it complete alien. It was difficult to do but I was sure that the music should be ideally made like that. I could then dress it up as I want so that it sounded out of the box. On a composition level I wanted it to sound very rustic. And the biggest reward came when Shefali called me while they were doing a dance sequence on Joban Hai Shawa in Punjab. She said that there were a lot of bystanders who were watching the shoot and at the end of the day they were all singing the song. It was the biggest testimony that showed that we have achieved something and it belongs to that part (Punjab).

The music has definitely created a buzz online. What kind of reaction have you got from the music fraternity?

It has been extremely encouraging. Not because most of them are my friends but also because I think that for a long time people have been waiting for me to come up with something in a Bollywood film. Since it was a first of a kind of project for me, the curiosity level in the industry was high. Secondly there are so many amazing singers who have sung for the album that people want to listen to them.

What are your upcoming projects?

I’m working on a couple of projects. One of them is a film by Arjun Mukherjee called Three Stories with Excel Entertainment for which I’m doing the songs and the background score. I’m also going to start work on the music of another movie called TE3N starring Amitabh Bachchan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.