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Ankur ‘Enkore’ Johar: Once more – INTERVIEW

“I have an inherent distrust of Bollywood…they will put money in what will make money and hip-hop is by nature not a capitalist scene – it’s about community, not about one company making money.”

The first question on Ankur’s lips as he makes himself comfortable in the Black Box at G5A is ‘Gaali chalega na?’ 26 year-old Ankur or Enkore as he’s known, made us sit up and take notice of the Indian rap and hip-hop scene, long before films like Gully Boy came about. 

After a riveting performance at PORT, including a song with Aarifah Rebello and Ramya Pothuri, he talks to us about his album Bombay Soul, his musical discoveries, lucky sneakers and more.

Ankur ‘Enkore’ Johar: Once more - INTERVIEW

Speaking about his Indian contemporaries, Ankur says he doesn’t listen to many of them – simply because he doesn’t want their music to subconsciously influence what he’s doing – and lead audiences to mention him in the same breath as them. 

While ‘earnest’, ‘intense’, and ‘hardworking’ are just some of the words that come to mind when interacting with Ankur, what comes through strongly is his warmth and gratitude towards every producer and artist who has collaborated with him. “I don’t listen to many of Indian contemporaries, because I don’t want to be influenced by their sound subconsciously. However, I do listen to those I really like – my crew, all those who collaborated with me on a song called ‘Pinjre’ in Bombay Soul. Here’s a big shoutout to them – 12 of my favourite Bombay MCs: Adro, MC Altaf, BLUnt, D’evil, Dee MC, Gravity Kav-e, Sai, Sammohit, The Siege, Tienas and MC Todfod.”

Ankur ‘Enkore’ Johar: Once more - INTERVIEW

Collaboration is necessary for Ankur, just by the nature of what he does. “I’m an MC first and foremost and words are all I have,” he says dramatically. He usually works with a producer, a beat maker, and an instrumentalist. But recently, he has found joy in collaborating with artists who are not just hip-hop musicians, including a band called Small Talk, an electronic fusion band called Filer Coffee and jazz-electronica musician Mohit Rao. “I got into music because I loved rap – but at the moment I’m fascinated by music – what you can do with it and the way people receive it. When I’m working with a dope musician I feel like I’m in a candy store – bro tu ye bhi kar sakta hai? Ye kaise kiya? That excitement fuels what I’m doing. It’s like a synergy which really excites me.”

The mainstream Bollywood film Gully Boy put the spotlight on India’s burgeoning underground hip-hop musicians. Apart from this clip on Instagram, Ankur has a lot to say about it. “I have an inherent distrust of Bollywood. It’s not personal to the people who worked on it – it’s just capitalism, they will put money in what will make money and hip-hop is by nature not a capitalist scene – it’s about community, not about one company making money. Hip-hop is sacred and very precious to me – I get scared when it’s in the hands of people who I’ve never trusted, because it changed and saved my life to a great extent. I just don’t want it to be misrepresented in any way – to be shown as something better than it or worse than it is.”

Speaking about his latest album Bombay Soul, he says, “the reception that Bombay Soul got has been beautiful, since the night it was released. The moment it dropped people started using words like ‘classic’, ‘masterpiece’, ‘powerful’ and ‘inspiring’ – they used heavy words, and it made me feel like even though we didn’t have a label, it was a vision we made happen.” His biggest challenges though were managing his time and money. Budget restrictions meant that he had to work a day job to make sure that the passionate musicians and technicians who worked on the album got paid in time. “I’m really glad with the end result. Sez, Varun, Sandesh, Wide Octaves, Ronit who did the photography, they all worked patiently, they understood it’s not a cookie-cutter pop album, it’s something that will stand the test of time. I think we’ve made something that’s unique and I feel proud that we gave back to hip-hop culture, internationally, with a story that is honest and music that is organic.”

Ankur ‘Enkore’ Johar: Once more - INTERVIEW

For Ankur, at this point, growing as a musician is what excites him. Working with new musicians is one way he avoids stagnating in his work. “Some part of me feels like the sky is the limit. I want to take that spirit into whatever I’m doing and make original unique music with new sounds and themes, so my music should grow with me, as I grow as a person.”

To show us his lucky item(s), he picks up both feet. He’s wearing 10-year-old sneakers, one of the first pairs he bought with his own money. He wore them through college, post-grad, and work. “I didn’t want to throw them away so I wore them in the rain when I couldn’t wear my other shoes! Maybe they’re lucky for me – touch foot!”

Watch Enkore LIVE at PORT

Words by Shaista Vaishnav