He could sing before he could speak

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Singer and musician Agney Mulay performing at the Anti-CAA rally held in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. January 2019. Photo courtesy Agney Mulay

Agney Mulay, 30, was once a shy child. Though today, he lives up to his name which means ‘Born from fire’. But at the age of four, when he remembers performing publicly for the first time, it was harrowing.  It was in Tokyo, at an Indian Diwali function where he held the lyric sheet close to his face to avoid seeing the audience, sang a revved up version of ‘Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon’ and ran off the stage at high speed.

The graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston fondly remembers his early upbringing, his love of singing, and the numerous failed attempts to get into this exalted institution from where he finally earned his degree in Professional Music with concentration in Contemporary Writing & Production and Songwriting.

“My Mom says I sang even before I could speak, humming along with the radio,” Mulay told Desi Talk.

But it’s been no easy road to get where he is today, a vocalist, arranger and songwriter, who is an active member of the renowned Berklee Indian Ensemble and the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir.

Agney Mulay at the Harvard Anti-CAA protest November 2019 (Photo Credit: Sunaina Pamudurthy courtesy Agney Mulay

Mulay has performed with the likes of 7-time Grammy-Winner Paul Winter, Grammy-Winner Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, Shreya Ghoshal, Raghu Dixit, Vijay Prakash and Tigran Hamasyan among others.

He recalls how he always enjoyed singing but not so much the performing. “I got very nervous,” he says, “… but it got better.”

Son of a diplomat, Agney Mulay has lived in several countries, imbibed many cultures, been in bands wherever he was, whether in high school or college, in an internship in the Maldives, or in New York.

Agney Mulay performing with the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir at the 38th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration in
New York December 2017 (Photo Credit: Matthew Muise courtesy Agney Mulay)

Yet, he never considered music his calling or his profession till well into his teens. It was always a pressure of sorts to find a way to earn a living before going into what some saw as a hobby or merely a talent.

But Mulay turned every disappointment into an opportunity, and in this he was encouraged and supported by his mother.

“My mom pretty much single handedly raised me and my brother and I’d love for that to be acknowledged,” Mulay said.

Trying Automobile Engineering

Yet, in an effort to compromise and possibly ensure a livelihood which music was not seen as providing assuredly, Mulay was willing to try a radically different path than music – he tried becoming an automobile engineer, enrolling in school to get the necessary qualifications and even finishing some of the prerequisites. But it was not for him.

Candid rehearsal shot of Agney Mulay (Photo Credit: Janani Sharma courtesy Agney Mulay)

“Eventually I had a serious talk with my Dad about a backup career to doing music,” he said.

Through his life, Mulay was using his musical talents in different and creative ways, such as providing backstage music for plays. He also learnt other skills. Using a beat-up guitar from a friend back in high school, Mulay taught himself to play using cybercafes to log in and learn the chords.

Journalism seemed an acceptable backup career, so Mulay  secured his degree in journalism and mass communications in Delhi from the Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, and ended up as a copywriter at an advertising agency in  Bombay.

He got to meet singer and music producer Shekhar Ravjiani, and renowned singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan. It was a decisive moment in his life when he saw the great A.R. Rahman and his collaborations with the Berklee Indian Ensemble.

“I was blown away thinking this is what I want to do.” This was the kind of music he loved.

By now he was sure his first interest was music.

His goal became to join the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And he never gave despite being disappointed at least twice.

In his first audition which the school held in Bombay, Mulay realized he did not know much about music theory. “Though I did well, they said I didn’t qualify for Berklee. I was so disappointed, but still really, really wanted to learn.”

He took the plunge, offering his resignation saying he needed to “educate myself” and took admission into the summer program at Berklee in 2015, where people of all ages and abilities came to find out what music was all about and decide if they wanted a career change.

“It felt like a Hogwarts!” says Mulay referring to the imaginary school in the Harry Potter series. He threw himself into the five-week program taking in theory, practice, reading music, and joining even choral music.

His close friend in Bombay Naveen Kumar, wrote the lyrics to a song “Maajhi Re” to which Mulay composed the music, to perform at the school’s Singer-Songwriter Showcase.

“I feel like this song is one of the reasons I am where I am today. It’s a beautiful song.” He was among the top 10 finalists, and the teacher in charge of the show, Melissa Ferrick, encourage him to pursue his passion.

Agney Mulay performing with the UNIVOZ Vocal Ensemble at Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont February 2020 (Photo Credit: Michelle Frehsee courtesy Agney Mulay)

He re-auditioned for admission into Berklee, and says this time he was much more confident. “But I still did not qualify…, But I knew I had learnt a lot.” That persistence and absence of ego is what fuels Mulay.

That Summer, he got his great surprise. As the family was leaving for a tourist trip to Niagara Falls early morning, he received a phone call from Berklee asking him about how the 5-week Summer program had been. “I thought it was a feedback type of call.” But then, surprise, surprise. They asked him if he would like to attend Berklee starting in the Fall.

The rest is history. Mulay’s six years have been on an upward trajectory as he distinguishes himself through his music, which draws from various life experiences and stories of those around him.

As his profile notes, the young aspiring musician “is deeply influenced by Indian semi-classical and Sufi folk music, as well as western rock and world music from the Middle East, the Balkans and South America.”

He seeks to write and compose songs that are a catalyst for change and talk about real issues affecting people around the world. In this process, he has collaborated with artists from Colombia, Spain, Israel, Portugal, Germany, Japan and the US and aims to fuse semi-classical Indian vocals with different genres and styles from across the world.

 

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