Some musicians gravitate immediately to their calling, while for others a defining moment – perhaps a tragedy or a realisation that it’s now or never – sets them on their path. For Nikhil D’Souza, that rude awakening came with a chance meeting with an old friend in Mumbai while he was working as a geologist.
“I told him about the job and that it paid well and that they were thinking of promoting me,” D’Souza recalls, almost wincing at the memory. “He just looked at me and said ‘I want to slap you right now!’”
His friend reminisced about their time growing up, when D’Souza would be found carrying his guitar around town and playing music in people’s houses just for the sheer fun of it. That old pal concluded that the real Nikhil D’Souza wouldn’t have been content working as geologist for a living.
Together with his discovery of the inspiring sounds of Jeff Buckley, this virtual slap-in-the-face set D’Souza on a new journey which necessitated taking a huge risk. “I thought, let me give this a shot and quit my job,” he states, with determination still echoing in his voice years later. “I’m going to get back to Mumbai, see where the music scene is at and see what I can do.”
D’Souza’s dogged determination saw him thrust demos into the hands of whoever might be able to provide him with an opportunity. And soon enough, his first big break – singing for an ad – in turn instigated a second in which he carved a niche for himself as a playback singer (in short, providing a vocal for an actor to mime along to) for a wide range of major Bollywood films such as Anjaana Anjaani and Queen. His impact is easy to summarise: if you’re one of the millions of fans who make Bollywood an industry that’s worth $2 billion a year, you’ll recognise his voice.
Bollywood enabled D’Souza to make a living, but his long-term goal was to get his own original songs out there. He entered and won the televised South-Asian talent contest SUTASI and everything escalated. He subsequently played the nation’s top festivals including the NH7 Weekender and The Times LitFest, while his sets at college events all around the country see him perform to anything from 2-10,000 people. He even represented his country by claiming second place at the Crimea Music Festival, which earned him a significant fanbase in Ukraine and Russia. Elsewhere, he has played shows as far afield as London, Los Angeles and Melbourne.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of SUTASI was that it enabled him to meet a manager who put him in touch with Jeff Cohen, a songwriter and producer who has scored hits with artists as diverse as Josh Groban, Macy Gray and contemporary country stars The Band Perry.
The blend of Cohen’s magic touch with the atmosphere of working in Nashville improved D’Souza’s songwriting exponentially to the extent that they both felt sufficiently confident in D’Souza’s growing talent to book a small industry showcase gig in London. The result exceeded all expectations, as D’Souza soon signed a deal with Warner Music and returned to London to record material with the Grammy-winning producer Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, James Blunt).
Two songs were co-written with Jamie Hartman, the songwriter who is currently enjoying huge success for his work with Rag‘n’Bone Man. The buoyant ‘Because Because Because’ celebrates the positives in a blossoming relationship when it’s “very easy to find a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t be together”, while ‘Beautiful Mind’ tackles a complicated situation in which “you want to be with someone, but she’s seeing a close friend of yours.”