Hukmani is the first artist in the world to have 9 Number 1 hits on top global radio charts in 2021. He is also the first Indian to achieve a series of accomplishments on global radio charts in 2021, along with multiple Grammy submissions.
In this exclusive interview with India Currents, Hukmani talks about being the founder of India’s Radio One, and the fact that three of his songs that were submitted in consideration for Grammys last year.
IC: NINE is a collective of nine original, thrilling stories based on nine original, optimistic songs.
VSH: 2021 was a great year for me, musically. I became the first artist in the world to reach 9 consecutive No. 1s on the European Indie Top 100 charts. I was awarded a World Record and Gold Disc for this in January 2022.
These singles also had chart-topping positions in the US on the Digital Radio Tracker charts, which are the largest charts that track radio airplay across the US, and charting on the oldest notable chart magazine in the US, Cash Box Magazine. All this charting happened alongside my favorite artists, like Drake, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Van Halen, and ACDC. But something felt amiss.
I felt the experience of the songs could still be taken to another level. Being an action/adventure movie junkie, I decided to write nine action stories to add to the essence of the songs. So, the book + album, NINE (9 Thrilling Stories. 9 Optimistic Songs) was born.
The first story, NINE, is about an estranged husband/father who hides his identity from his family and has to disappear. The song NINE has the chorus: Nine times out of ten, I’ll be there for you, the only other time, I’ll be thinking of you.
Each story after that, be it about genetically engineered athletes, or the largest cryptocurrency heist, or a supernatural entity that appears in a doomed passenger flight, has a song that enhances the roller coaster ride.
Commercially, NINE is a disruptive and differentiated product in a crowded music and book market. It aims to target book, movie, and music lovers all in one go!
IC: An electronics engineer by profession, you are a Harvard Business School alumnus. What were some of your biggest musical influences?
VSH: In my study days, I adored top-40 acts like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Lionel Richie, and Duran Duran. If you listen to MJ’s Thriller album, you’ll find a song in every genre, from pop to R&B, to dance to rock. That really influenced me. Our band in college performed classic rock covers of Bon Jovi, Nirvana, Guns N Roses, and Led Zep.
As time passed, my tastes moved towards artists like Bruno Mars, again so good at every genre, or the vocally supreme Adele, the effervescent Dua Lipa, the retro vibed The Weeknd, and new age rockers Imagine Dragons. So, in my head, the concept of being genre-agnostic has been getting reinforced. I really do love the vibe of every popular genre. Today, I’m enjoying Jon Batiste’s R&B style, Drake/Kendrick Lamar’s poetic hip-hop, the new groovy vibe of Silk Sonic.
Each of my nine songs, as a result, were created and therefore topped various genre charts, thanks to the love they received in different genres/formats of US radio.
My US-based agent, Martin Langford, actually pushed me to make singles in each genre of radio/music, one every 45 days, so that we could showcase this genre-chameleon side of me, quickly and consistently.
IC: You are the former MD and founder of India’s only international format radio station. Tell us about your journey as a musician.
VSH: My forte is business development and valuation enhancement. In 2007, I co-founded Radio One in seven Indian cities. We ran that business for 13 years before it was successfully sold to a larger media group. Right through my career, music has been a parallel. I did my 9-to-6 job, and then hopped on to the music bandwagon after work.
Music taught me a few life-changing lessons. The importance of teamwork in a band helped me create a better organizational culture. The quest for excellence and the need to differentiate a business helped me apply similar work ethics in my music. This duality now extends to writing books and music creation.
IC: In 2021, three of your songs were submitted in consideration for Grammys, in four mainstream categories.
VSH: The Grammys are the ultimate treasure for an artist. However, you cannot submit your own music for these awards. The music has to be submitted by Grammy voting jury members. My first experience with a Grammy jury member was with Stephen Wrench who mentored my understanding of what it takes to be submitted.
I have continued to learn from the multifaceted Eren Yağmuroğlu, and the absolutely talented and generous Ricky Kej. Grammy voting members are your music peers who are ahead in the journey. One needs to listen to them and imbibe their integrity apart from music creation.
I was elated that three of my songs—Jab the World (in Rock), Turning Back Time (in Pop), and I Pray (in Melodic Rap and Song of the Year) were submitted for Grammys. Submission means that you have begun your journey well. When I hear about the inclusivity-oriented process that is led by Recording Academy CEO Mr. Harvey Mason Jr, I am enthused with the hope that there is going to be an Indian wave at the Grammys just like Latin music or Korean music has managed to achieve.
IC: You are also the founder of greatsong.world, a foundation that trains artists from Asia.
VSH: I have realized that Asians/Indians have a lot of catching up to do to reach commercial success in music or writing. We created greatsong.world to help artists understand what it means to create songs for a defined radio genre, and to do it consistently; songs that have high-repeat listening value and global production standards.
IC: Which are some of your biggest musical inspirations, both Indian and international?
VSH: My inspirations have mostly been global, from multi-genre artists like Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and Hans Zimmer whose music scores for movies are just out of this world. I am hugely inspired by Pandit Ravi Shankar, who broke the global glass ceiling with his music and Grammy wins. Ricky Kej is continuing in those glorious footsteps and I am totally inspired by him.
However, my larger role models are movie directors like James Cameron, Joe Russo, Michael Bay, and JJ Abrams who have really mastered the art of creating immersiveness. There are Indian movie makers who I feel have so much global potential like Zoya Akhtar, Aditya Dhar, and, of course, Rajkumar Hirani. I watch and learn from all of them.
IC: What can fans expect from you next?
VSH: My priority is now to get our Book + Album into the hands of more readers/listeners. I also want to present it to Amazon, Netflix, or Disney to get the stories made into thrilling movies. I imagine Dwayne Johnson or Ranbir Kapoor acting in movies based on my stories. I use these dreams to fuel my actions.
I have been approached by artists for some very interesting collaborations. I hope we have the time, space, and inclination in the coming year to pull these off.