Indian Adventurism is a Part of Me, Says Music Composer Colin Aguiar
Colin Aguiar takes us through his musical journey, from finding inspirations in Goan music and Kathakali to working with Oscar-winning Canadian composer Mychael Danna.
Music composer Colin Aguiar’s tryst with sounds and notes began in Goa even before he was born. Years later, he is working with Oscar-nominated composers in Los Angeles and Canada. So yes, life has been quite an adventure.
Aguiar grew up in an environment where music was a passion and profession. His musical journey began when he was a toddler. His father Cleto played in a band that performed globally. His parents, who belonged to Portuguese Indian heritage from Goa, lived in Mumbai, and then moved to Canada, where Aguiar spent his formative years.
Along with his father, Aguiar traveled to the Netherlands, England and Canada for his performances. Cleto was a jazz and pop singer since his teens while Colin’s maternal uncle was the bass player in the same band. Aguiar, who is primarily a percussionist, grew up listening to Bollywood music and jazz standards. By the age of 10, he was already composing. By 16, he was writing semi-professionally and two years later, he composed a set for three short films in Canada. He then moved on to TV and commercials in the country, where he got the opportunity to work with Oscar-nominated music composer Mychael Danna.
Aguiar spoke to Little India about the influence of his identity and his journey on his music as well as his latest project:
How has your identity influenced your music?
Out of the 1.3 billion Indians there are, I’ve noticed that there’s a good number who love adventure and “adventure” seems to be the running theme with my family. They come from Goa, but they moved to the big city of Mumbai where my parents grew up, and then we did stints in Europe before moving to Canada and I eventually moved to Los Angeles. But before all that, the family originally began in Portugal. So adventurism has also been a part of my musical rearing.
You seem fascinated with combining different sounds…
I was always curious about different music. Growing up, when I was about 5 or 6, I would be really fascinated with Japanese music for a few months, then I’d move on to African music (I was a drummer), then Kathakali, then Opera, then back to Classical and playing in bands when I was 12. The sense of Indian adventurism has always been a part of me.
Tell us about your experience of working in movies that went on to get nominated in Oscars or got the Canadian Academy awards.
My experience with most of those movies was under the mantle of my mentor, the Oscar-winning Canadian composer, Mychael Danna, who has played a big part in my life. Working for him, I got a first-hand look at the process of beautiful films like Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter that was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, but also Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm. This all led to the experience of scoring my very own film that got nominated for an Oscar in the Student category – Fly, directed by Jigar Talati – a gorgeous film about the immigrant experience of an Indian family in Canada. But what was reinforced time and time again was that films require a composer to be imaginative, collaborative and hard working beyond the typical demands of a job but none of that mattered if you loved it and were in love with the outcome.
What is your process when working on a film?
First point of inspiration is always the film. When I see the film for the first time I get a lot of ideas from there. Breathing a unique life into the score takes the film to a new level of experience. After you watch with music that is unique to the film, characters and stories pop out and you are more engaged emotionally. I feel that just writing music is not enough. The films deserve more effort. They deserve a level of thought great literature have. Some books have lived hundreds of years. The films I work on deserve a symbolic treatment that works on different levels.
What’s your latest project about?
The latest project is a TV film, Final Vision, based on a trial case of Jeffrey Macdonald. He had killed his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970. I read the script, which was my first point of inspiration. After watching the movie, several themes and situations surfaced. Crime scenes deserve a certain level of dissonance and level that the music had to bring. I had to personify the innocence of the two little girls and wife, who were murdered by the Army doctor. I used a female vocalist for that and the melody recurs. The film is based on a New York Times bestseller Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss for the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel. Since the book is the narrator, I used the typewriter as percussion so that there is an essence of the book having its own narration.
The cast of Final Vision includes Scott Foley of Scandal fame as Jeffrey MacDonald, Dave Annable of Brothers and Sisters fame playing the writer Joe McGinniss and Jessica Harmon, who plays the recurring character Niylah in the CW series The 100, as Colette MacDonald.