Musicians, writers, poets, or architects creations are affected by their experiences and mould by their up bringing. The time, effort and passion that gets put into making an album and then sustaining a presence in the scene while studying for a Masters is overwhelming. Throw in being faced with deportation then you might understand the hold music has on you. Most would give up with odds stacked against them.
It was only about two weeks after brothers Lenin and Lionel’s quick exit from the Belfast to the South, that I heard this brother duo singing unique covers of The Beatles in a open mic night in Sweeneys. Their duets of these classics rose above the typical noise of the evening, I sought them out after their set wanting to find out more.
I found Lenin, an open and cheerful guy whose appreciation and dedication to music is remarkable. Last year while studying in Belfast the brothers recorded an album ‘Belfast In My Heart, Dublin On My Mind‘ themselves. Later I had a long chat with Lenin on their music, growing up in India and their new life in Dublin.
Hailing from Mumbai, Lenin and Lionel Pinto were always looking for music as kids.
“As far as I remember, our early influences or beginnings with music were some of the old Hindi songs… Our parents had a good collection of Abba and Bony M. songs which I think was our good start to the western side of our Musical journey in the Early 90′s when we were little children. We always seemed to be inclined to music because our mother always sang to us.
“Later on it was church music that helped us pick up instruments and sing in harmony. Irish traditional and the music of the 60′s, Simon Garfunkel, The Beatles, Don McClean, The Shadows and Ventures etc. I remember the first time I had money in my hands, sometime in the year 2000, I bought The Beatles No. 1 cassette which had two of my favourite Beatles songs ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Something’.”
It may be easy to dismiss India as not having a similar music scene to the West with our perception of the popularity of Bollywood there but this would be like saying all Ireland has to offer is Trad music. Metal was the genre of choice for many sub culture Indians. Many of the most popular metal bands originating in Mumbai or Bangalore. Bands like Bhayanak Maut and Inner Sanctum have played along side Lamb of God and Cradle of Filth.
“The only thing we weren’t prepared to do was metal, because, we weren’t good at that. And if it was not heavy metal rock music, it had to be jazz. And for that time, we didn’t fit into either of them so we had to think of other option.”
Mumbai has a population that is hard for us to fathom, near 20 million people are living in a space half the size of London and it has an abundance of clubs, pubs and venues. It was in places like The Hard Rock Café and the Blue Frog that Lenin and Lionel honed that talents playing covers from the 60′s and 70′s.
“We started our own rock n roll band and we played stuff like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, that would get people dancing to their feet.”
While playing at one of their usual haunts Joe Walsh, the lead guitarist of The Eagles showed up.
“He told me about the song choices and styles that we picked on and said that we are learning from the best and that would turn us into great songwriters. What was remarkable was that we didn’t cover any songs from The Eagles that evening.”
Metal may have been music was more accessible to the vast majority of Mumbaikars the brothers had a soft spot for classical and opera
“Yes the Baroque, the Classical and all of it. Operas or Oratorios and all forms of classical music is very expensive in Mumbai and most often it’s only the rich who can afford to watch them in those fancy halls. We loved classical music from the time we first sang with an Orchestra in 2002. Ever since then we’ve always tried to be part of every Opera that was produced in the Subcontinent, as being part of it would save us the trouble of buying expensive tickets and we could experience the music more strongly than ever.”
Tenor singers were hard to come by and being part of these Opera opened a lot of doors for them, it enabled them to travel around and those rehearsal, trips and experiences provided them with the necessary training that would have been out of their reach otherwise.
“These were our music lessons you know, there weren’t any conservatories around to help us with those sort of things, and when it came to writing music, we had to teach ourselves that.”
I got the impression that trying new things is what makes Lenin and Lionel different from other groups out there. It is certainly this mentality that brought them to our shores.
“We wanted to break away from the fast-paced city into a new and big adventure. It was a crazy idea, and most people would think so. We decided to combine our passion for music and science with a Master’s degree in Music technology and Sonic Arts, and so we came to Belfast as International students, at Queen’s University.”
Belfast fuelled their imaginations. The clash of cultures, stories, ideal, the weaving Northern Irish landscapes, the openness and warmth they received when playing unique venues inspired them to lock themselves in a studio for 20 days. What came out was the bones of their current album ‘Belfast In My Heart Dublin On My Mind‘.
At times we get caught up complaining about why this country has lost its way or how it should be better, it takes an outside to clear away the mist and clouds that fogs our view of this country. If outsiders can fall in love with and appreciate this island for what it is and what it has, why can’t we? ‘Belfast In My Heart, Dublin On My Mind’ is an Irish album that isn’t begrudging while staying remarkable honest and positive.
“When we came here, everything felt new and wonderfully different. We try not to dwell in the bad parts of anything as far as possible, especially when we want to write about it.Oh yes! Some people complain about the weather. But we believe it wouldn’t have been this beautiful if it wasn’t for it, wouldn’t you say so?”
Belfast was good to them, they fostered a good following they even got a nod from Keith Duffy, from BoyZone, when winning a college talent competition.
“He said the song made him feel proud about being Irish and that we ought to consider ourselves great ambassadors. It was the first time ‘Belfast In My Heart, Dublin On My Mind’ was performed and there were probably a thousand people who came and caught the tune at its first instance before it was recorded.”
Winning competitions to getting extensive radio play and expanding their fan base quickly became into jeopardy when the U.K. Border Agency (UKBA) changed their policy for international students, meaning they would have to leave the British Isles as soon as they have finished their studies.
“The chance to stay back two years to recover your expenses was taken away, and the companies and organizations would have to answer a lot to the government for hiring us. We didn’t know what was to lie ahead of us. All this popularity with the music scene in Belfast seemed to be heading towards a collapse… One of the things we took refuge in, were in those 20 days where we locked ourselves in those studios, be it rain or sunshine, we didn’t come out. We told one another, lets finish what we came here to do, and then if we’re meant to be leaving Ireland, then we will just have to. It was just few days before we had to pack our bags and leave that we happened to be accepted in companies in the Republic of Ireland, and the only reason we are here is because we are considered in the shortage skill list.”
There are a few stand out tracks on the album and with all the travelling that these two have done, the title of the track I thought they might have suggested a vulnerability one being ‘Running Away’ a song that describes the frustration and disappointments that come with everyday life
“It was quite hard to find gigs and places to play that we were forced to dream of other things which might have sounded impossible at that time. The truth is you can’t run away from life, it’s just something one has to deal with, and that’s all it says.”
‘Running Away’ is the first track and does nicely setting up the album with just acoustic guitar, soft electric and their hallmark harmonies. The album never gets too heavy a changing in tempo will be about the only dramatic change you’ll get throughout. So after a short intensive stint in the studio, playing most of the instruments themselves or collaborating with many musicians they had played with and from The School of Music they produced an album that sums up their life experience to date. The elements are simple and its message is strong.
“It was a lot of hard work but probably one of the most productive things we had ever done and we would like to do it all our lives if we had the chance .
“The music can come in any time in the middle of the night, in a dream or as you’re walking someplace.. it’s all floating around you if you have your mind set on it. In our case we just need to be prepared for it, when it arrives, or just simply make it up.
“One of our greatest fortunes was running into Jonny Kirk, our percussionist and drummer. A friend from one of the Churches introduced us to him and we performed together for the first time in a Church event. He was brilliant and we didn’t have to struggle to work with one another on the music.”
While the album could be described as easy listening the subject matter may not always be so easy. ‘Change’ is a song that came out of living through a number of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, seven separate attacks in the last 10 years, 2011 being the most recent.
“Change was written at the time of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The city was being bombed and torn apart by terror strikes for consecutive years at the time. We found ourselves not too far from them, and consider ourselves lucky to be alive each time.”
The connection to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is very real but comes from a different place. It is far from a cover or even a homage both Lennon and Yoko and Lenin and Lionel have found similar ways to portray a profound message of hope.
“What some might assume [That Imagine is] an interesting kind of socialist idea of having no possessions and no religion, whereas Change asks you to imagine all religions as one and no insecurities between groups and races, or even to people walking on the streets, with fear of being torn apart. The song hopes for international peace and positive change, starting from the Individual.”
It comes across clearly that Lenin and Lionel’s approach to song writing deviates from the norm. They don’t have the same variety of music hooks, there isn’t a typical love song here either or the trashy sentiments that make up the current chart hits. Their ideas are bigger and perhaps profound, but not in an arrogant way. ‘Remember Me By’ encapsulates this, the score is larger, while the lyrics are simpler revolving around a repeated line
“Seasons change, Friends remain, And the days seems to be flying, Colourful lives, All good times, Something to remember me by.”
You can hear all their influence here from Opera, Classical, Church and Simon and Garfunkel. It even has a hint of Irish Traditional with the inclusion of the Tin Whistle and the addition of the strings give it an angelic quality.
“Remember Me By… talks about how quickly time passes by when you’re enjoying your days. And all memories, people, objects, even life itself will pass away, vanish, burn down or wither completely as there will be time when it may seem that its existence didn’t matter, or was somehow forgotten. But the love with which it lasted and existed carries on till the end of time. I was thinking of some strange philosophy (could be Indian or Celtic) which I remembered from my lessons in school when I came up with the bridge of this song. This is what I interpreted. Everything, living and non living are temporary and will fade away into its original state, from which it was made. What I thought was, it wouldn’t end there the love with which it was created and existed, has to carry on. It’s what will be remembered. We tried to picture all of it with words and with the string arrangement, although it might eventually have different messages to different people listening.
“I think that the kind of stuff people write about when they are constantly experiencing some sort of romance or the other way – they’re in a relationship crisis. It’s not to say we don’t fall into these things, it’s just that we don’t dwell on them a lot while we’re in them, and so choose not to write about them at a time.”
Sure ‘Belfast In My Heart, Dublin On My Mind‘ is an album that is rough in parts it lacks some of the shine that production value brings. Yet none of this takes away from the accomplishment they both achieved in such a short time, their personalities and experience has shaped their music in a way that differs from the rest.
“Our music would give out a simple message, in a different way, and probably in the way people can understand and feel happy to listen. We’d like to continue as far as we can go and Ireland is our home now, and we couldn’t be happier to sing and make music here, more than anywhere else in the world.”
Interview – June 2013 MRU Magazine by