Pursuit of Happiness

To the beat of his own drum

MD of Universal Music Group, South Asia, Devraj Sanyal is a frontman for heavy metal band Brahma

Amit Haralkar

Devraj Sanyal’s office space clearly reflects his musical proclivities. Seven guitars are strewn around his cabin. On the wall are posters of popular artists and performers. The rack behind him is groaning under the weight of over 1,000 CDs and DVDs, an eclectic collection ranging from David Guetta, Bob Dylan and The Beatles to Pink Floyd, Scorpions and Metallica. Music videos on VH1 play all day long on a television screen, a trifle loud for a corporate office setting. 

But then, the Mumbai-based managing director of Universal Music Group, South Asia, always has music on his mind — even late into the night. As the frontman, or lead vocalist, for 20-year-old desi heavy metal band Brahma, Sanyal lives on both sides of the fence in the music business. 

When he’s not signing up new faces for his music label or negotiating contracts, the 38-year-old Sanyal can be found screaming and headbanging at Mumbai’s music night clubs, at college fests or opening concerts for leading artistes across the country. “No achievement at work can be as thrilling as performing in front of 10,000 people.” says Sanyal. 

It was a quieter initiation, though, into public singing for Sanyal in 1986 when he was a sixth grader at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s Boys Academy. Reciting a prayer from his school diary at a singing competition, he went on to win the top prize. Later, listening to Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Pantera stoked his interest in heavy metal. Sanyal says black was his favourite colour then, and he seldom cut his hair. In 1991, he got a few friends together to start a band called Orion. “Soon, the band’s stage presence and aggression became the talk of the town,” he remembers.

Two years later PsychoNeurosis, another just-born heavy metal band was performing its first gig at Mumbai’s Razzberry Rhinoceros and asked Sanyal to be the lead singer. It was on stage that the band members decided to stick with this composition, and renamed their new group Brahma. 

The band’s big moment came in 1996 at Independence Rock, an annual rock event, where Brahma’s first album The World Beyond released to an unprecedented response, selling 25,000 cassettes during the event. Its next album Reborn (Sony Music) came a decade later. A third album, Bramha III, based on post 26/11 experiences — with a track titled ‘Kasab’ — is slated for a late 2013 release by Universal Music.

Sanyal, who has previously done stints at Percept D’Mark, Elle magazine and The Times of India, contends that having a day job has changed a lot of things. The flowing tresses are long gone and there’s little time for rehearsals now, although he still performs at a couple of gigs every month. “I have rehearsed with the band, many times, via Skype. I’d be sitting in some other city for a meeting and the band would be somewhere else. On the day of concert I would reach the venue directly.” It’s an arrangement he’s not giving up anytime soon. He says it makes him better at his day job, spotting budding talent and helping them with their lyrics. That’s the best of both worlds.