Exclusive: Colonial Cousins To Reunite On A Mumbai Stage After 10 Years

Musicians Hariharan and Leslee Lewis will perform at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2023.

Published On Feb 06, 2023 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


Sometime in the 1990s, two musicians in matching black sherwanis and braided hair came up with a debut album self-titled Colonial Cousins and changed the way we thought about pop music. Pop music wasn’t just Hindi anymore; it had become indie. Songs such as Sa Ni Dha Pa and Krishna were on everyone’s lips and the two musicians, Hariharan and Leslee Lewis went on to win numerous awards for their soulful melodies and fusion style. Over the years, the duo has performed at various prestigious venues and now, after a gap of almost ten years, they are all set to enthrall the Mumbai audience at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2023 on February 12, 2023.

In a chat with Zee Zest, Hariharan and Leslee talk about their upcoming show and their future projects.

Edited excerpts:

Leslee: Yes, absolutely! More than anything, the audience is going to experience Hari and me together on the stage. Hearing us sing live and interacting with them – that is what a mehfil is, people reacting to each other and still hearing music. Hari is a natural improviser and I think that’s what people love; they love to see him fly a little bit. They love to hear us both sing. At times there is Hindi and then suddenly we switch to English. When Colonial Cousins came out with their first album, the poster announced it as ‘the first ever indie pop album’. Every other band or album was Hindi pop till that time. We had Telugu, Rajasthani, Tamil… it became the first ever pop music that had different languages and everybody started doing indie pop. We lost that one slot we had (laughs).


Hariharan: Krishna is a song that is requested, no matter where we play. Something about Sa Ni Dha Pa always pulls people back into the ’90s and takes them back to their school or college days. It’s great to take people back in time.


Hariharan: Actually, there is a phenomenon we see across India. People’s reactions are very similar to music these days. I just did a massive show in Delhi where there were over 10,000 people, mostly comprising the youth. They were listening to Urdu ghazals with a lot of interest, and I see that happening in all cities. They are listening to more music through Instagram or YouTube or other mediums. It’s like they were being groomed in listening to music and not only one that is foot-tapping but all kinds of music. It has to hold them.

Leslee: Yes, I think the cultural essence of a strong melody had been missing for a bit. They don’t want to hear the same thing. As Hari said, there is a whole set of youth ready to lap it up because they want something which is ‘fundamentally strong’ melodically and musically. They are very receptive to it. On the flip side, there is also the sentiment that ‘entertain us now, otherwise we are leaving’.


Hariharan: It was like singing on an unplugged show. We had fun doing that and we knew that there were many people looking at us so we behaved ourselves (laughs).

Leslee: These online gigs taught a lot of artists how to disconnect from the visual and just hope that one is being able to soulfully connect with the audience. You don’t know if they are watching you so you presume and perform for them. It was a big learning curve for a lot of artists. We were also pushing ourselves to do something we don’t do all the time.


Leslee: I think the essence of Colonial Cousins is strong songs produced in a fusion format. If you listen to Krishna, it is a 7/8 time signature which is not a typical pop music beat. I bumped into some American musicians in Bangkok and they said, ‘aren’t you the guys with the 7-8?’. They are musicians and they got attracted to the musicality of the songs. So, the songs were very strong. Secondly, the kind of fusion we put around the song was something people had never heard before. As an audio package, it was the most eclectic sound they had heard because it had never been done like this. Then there was the look of it. Here were these two guys in sherwanis when everyone else was wearing suits. I think we brought sherwani into that very cool zone. Also, there was a certain kind of camaraderie in the talent of two different people who sound like one, because our souls are one. Hari is still Hari and will always be what he is and Leslee will always be Leslee but when we come together, we both experience a certain magic between us that translates to the music.

Hariharan: Our backgrounds are very different but the melody and the soul of the music are somewhat similar. It is the seamlessness of music which is naturally within you.

Leslee: When we were in London recording our album, we were hanging out a lot and so, we decided to take a break from each other. We went shopping separately and ended up going to the same store at different times and buying similar T-shirts! It was such a joke! (laughs) It is the same way with our music. We both look for the same space artistically.


Leslee: There will be singles that will happen because the whole album culture has sort of moved on and a lot of things have changed from 2000 onward — in the way music is consumed and how it is promoted.

Hariharan: But yes, we need to come together again in a way that we have done. That will happen because artistically, we are the same guys. It is just that the years have gone by. It is like a new bottle but old wine - the hearts and souls will be the same but the packaging will have to change according to the current scenario.

Hariharan: Hamare paas bahot gaane hain. Why go and sing the same? (laughs)

Leslee: Why waste our time with remixes and reprises? Life is too short for that. 

Colonial Cousins will be performing at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2023 on February 12, 2023, at 8.00 pm. This will be the duo's first performance in Mumbai since 2013. 

Photo: Colonial Cousins