October 2007

Vol 7 - No. 4
 

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Entertainment | October 2007

 


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Kailash Kher: A Singer Interviewed
ďKailasa Jhoomo ReĒ

BY KAVITA CHHIBBER *

(Photo: Pravin Talan)

A. R. Rahman says his voice carries with it the fragrance of India ís soil. The reclusive actor Amir Khan considers it to be the most complete voice in India today. He is also called the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For Kailash Kher, the journey to superstardom may have been full of heartbreaks, blood, sweat and tears, but he tells Kavita Chhibber in an exclusive interview that he has always lived life on his own terms. ..

I hear you are not from a musical family and yet today you have Indians across the world crazy about your voice. 

I was born in Meerut, and my early association is with the villages nearby. They are still untouched by the city culture. My father used to hum folk tunes and we often had many spiritual masters visit us, as my father was very deeply involved with spirituality. The deeply spiritual couplets many of these men sang on their ektara (a one string instrument) left a deep impact on my psyche and I started singing. Often

Often the things they said in those lyrics had meaning that was too deep for me. I would ask my father as a young child-why did that spiritual man say the body is an illusion, the breeze will mingle with its own, we shall all return to earth? My father would say-wait till you grow up. You wonít understand it now, but some day you will. 

 

To this day, the only music, the only lyrics that attract me are the ones closest to the organic truths of life and to nature. Mystical, Sufi music attracts me deeply. Iím very particular about what I sing and that my lyrics and compositions must inspire and speak the truths of life.

 

I lived in a little village, studied in a village school where the teachers would teach at their whim, and holding a cane in hand would ask me to sing, because they had heard a lot about my music. If I was a little lax, they would cane me-I guess I learnt how to cry and sing at the same time.

 

You decided to move to Delhi to pursue music. How was that experience?

 

I decided after finishing 5th grade when I was twelve that I had to go to a big city to pursue music. In the fourteen odd years, I must have had fourteen teachers. I was told by one that music means solitude and sacrifice and I must stay away from my family. So I told them I will stay in the same city but I wonít see you. They were really upset. They couldnít understand this new generation of youngsters and their quirks.

 

Delhi was a culture shock. The fast pace, never ending stream of cars that would not slow down whizzing past, the glitter of the big city were all confusing and overwhelming. There were people crowded in four rooms in a kind of musical strip mall, teaching all kinds of music and musical instruments. I did all sorts of odd jobs, home schooled myself, thanks to my auntís help who allowed me to focus on my music and come a month and half before the final exams to study at a school she owned. I practiced music in so many different ways. I saw musicians with their own hang ups-some said I didnít have a good voice, so I should learn some musical instrument. That is how I learnt to play the tabla.

 

I saw musicians bad mouthing other musicians, people pretending they were experts in ragas having done correspondence courses in music, and there I was facing all kinds of tough situations, without any family support. I didnít know when my day began and when nighttime arrived, and before I knew it I had turned 22 years old.

 

I had many bitter sweet experiences and at the end of it I realized that the best thing I could do musically was not to learn but ďobserveĒ music. So I started listening to records of Lata Mangeshkarís Mira bhajans, Rafiís bhajans and other stalwarts of music like Kumar Gandharva, Amir Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I very rarely listened to film music. The music that attracts me to this day is not popular music. It is music that is rooted in out ancient traditions. I see so much of it being an inspiration for generation after generation of artists whose lyrics and music reflects that rich heritage.

 

You went to Bombay in 2001_ How was it?

 

I had been to Bombay in 1998 at the invitation of one of Bombayís big holy men who owns a huge spiritual institute. I had sung Bhajans for him and had been honored there as well. I was given this fancy shawl as gesture of gratitude. In my innocence I presumed that the man would welcome me with open arms and if nothing else will allow me to stay in his multi-room abode for a few days while I found my bearings.

 

I reached there only to be rebuffed by that man. He said there is no room here. Why did you come? We donít need you to sing anymore hymns-everyone here is already purified.  I sadly walked out and was wondering what to do when one of the young boys who lived there remembered my last trip and welcomed me warmly. I left my bag with him and walked around Bombay, looking at the hustle and bustle till I found myself at the very busy Andheri train station. The world around me was filled with the sounds of life. The last train left at 2 a.m. but there were still people around.

 

I thought to myself, here I was so worried about where I would spend the night, but God had provided a world stage in a railway station where I saw people enacting out so many aspects of life that before I knew it was close to dawn. I went back, took a bath outside the holy manís home thanks to a tap there and was ready to face the world. That experience turned me into an atheist. I felt that these so called holy men who have the cityís biggest business tycoons at their feet, the keepers of our religion, donít know a thing about being a humanitarian, so why would I be attracted to religious rituals propagated by such people?

Today humanity and humanitarianism is my religion.

 

 Allah Ke Bande from the film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai,  catapulted you to super success and you have not looked back since then.

 

Well I had been looking for musicians to form a band, because I didnít want to go to any film music director. I was writing my own lyrics, composing and singing the songs. I felt that I only wanted to associate with people who understood and identified with my musical sensibilities. I finally met two brothers Naresh and Paresh Kamath. They had their own group of musicians friends some of whom were in the film industry. Music directors Salim Suleiman were also two brothers who heard me and they liked my voice and asked me to do a couple of jingles for them which took everyone by storm. Suddenly everyone started talking about my voice, how much it resembled Nusrat Fateh Ali Khanís, how amazing it was. In fact in the ten songs I would sing only three would be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khanís, the remaining were my own compositions but who was I to go around giving explanations, since I worshipped the man. I just let it be.

 

 Allah Ke bande happened in 2001, my band  Kailasa was formed in 2004, and our first album did very well. I have to this day never begged anyone for own sensibilities and I appreciate the fact that music directors have worked with me and created the kind of music I liked. To this day Iím attracted to music that touches the soul, and is not run of the mill. Here very few people create that kind of music. Everyone is just busy ripping off stuff from English songs and often doing Hindi versions.

 

All the musicians I have worked with have been very cool people, and have tried to accommodate my style of singing and the way I perceive music.

All the private albums I have come out with have been greatly appreciated as well and Iím grateful that people like my compositions.

 

You are very fond of A.R Rahman. Is it true that the title song of Mangal Pandey was inspired by a folk song your father used to sing?

 

Yes, its true. Rahman just asked me if I knew of any music that would bring out the martial aspect of the song-the patriotic fervor depicted in the movie. I told him we have something called the ď alaaĒ gayaki and hummed a tune my father used to sing. Thirty minutes later he had a wonderful composition ready. He captured the madness, the fervor so beautifully in the tune he composed.

Javed Akhtarís lyrics too were outstanding.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and A. R.  Rahman are not musicians but the messengers of God in my eyes. I met so many people in the US and Canada who knew Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan personally and I kept hearing story after story about his humanitarian ways and that of his family. His words and music were beyond the ordinary.

 

I feel the same about Rahman. He is a man of few words, and has touched the soul of the world with his music. He reminds me of a young Lord Krishna. He is so untouched by any kind of impurity and that is reflected in his music. When I record with him, Iím transported to a different kind of heaven where all the music is not of this earth.

 

Why have you sung songs like Chand Sifarish, where all you did was mouth Subhan Allah and nothing else, and the same thing happened in Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan. Why do you say yes to songs that donít exploit your talent to its fullest?

 

Well I wish I could look at every song in terms of its commercial value or how many accolades it will bring me. I have done some songs where something did jell and Chand Sifarish was one of them. Even just that line created a special ethereal moment in the song and stood out. The other song yes, I did tell Annu Malik that he wasnít doing justice to my voice and he promised he would create a full song for me which he did in Waqt. So it worked out well.

 

Is the marketing of music being done well in India? I keep hearing about the haphazard way things work there.

 

I think India is a country of so many diverse people, places and products that even having an MBA from the greatest Ivy League schools cannot give you an idea of how to market a product here. I just heard of a guy selling his tractor and then launching an album with that money, and then you have so many young people from so many contests coming in, so many films being made- everyone wonders what all can you accommodate and how can you create a system that works efficiently? But somehow it works! Still I do see a lot of jealousy and envy and people trying to climb over others to succeed and that sometimes sabotages projects.

 

How do you stay so grounded and fearless? You donít mince words when you speak.

 

I have always felt that it is really important to retain your balance. From the time when I was a nobody on the streets to where Iím today has been a journey full of bitter jolts and sweetness, and through it all I have lived life on my own terms. I live by this couplet which says, leave alone the affluent, I will  not go uninvited even to Godís home. I believe that being compassionate and honest keeps you balanced and gives you the strength to say it like it is. If you are not honorable or kind, the poison of dishonesty and envy can not just contaminate your mind and body but also your music. So I keep away from anything that pulls me away from that path, no matter what the temptation.

__________

 

* Kavita Chhibber is an accomplished freelance writer and media personality. She  writes for Dr Deepak Chopra's website www.intentblog.com. She is well-known for her interviews of celebrities, authors and public officials. But she also writes hard-hitting news articles and cover stories for publications.

  

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