Lifafa a.k.a Suryakant Sawhney
Suryakant Sawhney | Photography: Karan Vaid

Lifafa a.k.a Suryakant Sawhney Zoning in Zoning Out

Suryakant Sawhney started out as a filmmaking student in San Francisco only to return to his homeland as a musician with many influences. In 2013, during his holidays he first started recording jazz music for Peter Cat Recording Co. which is a New Delhi hemp jazz outfit. Now it’s perhaps the most experimental band in the country. They have a longstanding history of giving you what everyone least expects them to. In tradition with that, frontman Suryakant recently unveiled his solo electronic project called Lifafa. Something that he says is radically different from what he created as a part of his former musical outfit. We got in touch to investigate.

Peter Cat Recording Co.
While I was in San Francisco studying animation, I came to India for a holiday and that was the time I started this project. This was when I was 22… I started writing music under that pseudonym. And then later when I came back to India for good, I assembled the band and recorded a lot of music. Then it kept evolving... Peter Cat is more Jazz and is basically a reflection of my emotional ideas which is completely in contrast to what I do now for Lifafa.

Overnight Breakthrough, Lifafa
It was literally like one day I started making music just on the computer and not creating something on the guitar, like how I usually do. Guitar has always been my basic choice of instrument as essentially I am a songwriter. And creating music through a computer was drastically different for me because there you are, just throwing in stuff. It didn't require much brains or anything. To do that was more like a process of learning by emulation. 
Throughout the time I was writing music for Peter Cat Recording Co., I was playing a certain type of music... Jazz, European music and then at some point, I chanced upon electronic music. With Lifafa, I wanted to venture into that realm. At the time it was amazing because I could make the music that I liked, which was liberating. So as I started that, in the beginning it was like making electronic music but wihtout any meaning. And then I reworked on more Hindi-oriented music which linked more to my childhood…music which I enjoyed. Lifafa is slowly transforming into a manifestation of not just my emotional but political/social ideas as well. It's being dictated by my search for some sort of identity. I ended up writing devotional songs, not necessarily god-devotional but musically they do sound like that. I’m trying to find something which is more original and not something that is just an emulation of the west or the globalized kind of music. 

Finding Inspiration
Everything influences me. It could be a band, or just like an idea of a sound; like if I'm sitting on my terrace and you can hear a wedding procession pass by; that typical wedding soundtrack passing through, mixed with traffic noise; that itself for me is a musical idea. Even films, it could be an Indian film, Russian, English, Italian among others. I'm a part of the globalized generation so it’s hard for me to identify with one kind of person…I am inspired by various different cultures. 

Lifafa a.k.a Suryakant Sawhney

Suryakant Sawhney | Photography: Karan Vaid

In Hi Ko—The debut Album
In Hi Ko happened in like a month. I had gone to Netherlands, after touring in Germany and was living with a record collector. I crashed for a week at his couch and he had an insane collection of records which is really hard to describe. He took me through all the records he had, something that he picked from Columbia or other weird places he had been to. It just blew my mind because I heard music that was made over the past 60 years. We all have grown up with American and British music but this trip was my introduction to real world music. Panning the whole globe, beautifully recorded with a lot of passion. Heavily influenced when I came back I started sampling music and In Hi Ko was the result of that experience. It pushed to me a different direction which I thought was true to myself. 

Outward Bound
With Lifafa, I ended up performing abroad more than I performed in my own country. I've had some outrageous gigs outside—there is a certain expectation as to what Indian artists are, and what they do. I was sort of an unusual person for them that way. Although in India, I've never been comfortable doing that for some reason. Maybe because I felt vulnerable; people here are still growing as an audience. They still have an expectation to be entertained in a certain way. And I'm not there yet. I think I can do that with Peter Cat but with Lifafa, I'm not happy presenting it in India yet. The reason I played outside was because I was getting gigs outside and it was amazing; I never got to travel the world like that. For me Chinese and Germans are amazing listeners when it comes to paying attention to music. And Portuguese and Italians are people who really respond to it…whereas Indians respond very viscerally to music. 

New material 
I’m focussing on making stronger music and figuring out how I want to perform it live. 
With Peter Cat Recording Co., I'm working on a new album and with Lifafa I have almost finished an album. I'm trying to release it internationally via some labels, and in India I want to play a different kind of game. I also have to figure how to implement my music here. Apart from that there are a couple of music videos that I will be working on and then I have some distribution ideas that I want to explore... 

Find Lifafa's tunes here.

Text Hansika Lohani Mehtani