Kher: A Singer Interviewed
KAVITA CHHIBBER *
R. Rahman says his voice carries with it the fragrance of
ís soil. The reclusive actor Amir Khan considers it to be the most
complete voice in
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
hear you are not from a musical family and yet today you have
Indians across the world crazy about your voice.
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
spiritual couplets many of these men sang on their ektara (a one
string instrument) left a deep impact on my psyche and I started
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.
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.
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.
decided to move to Delhi to pursue music. How was that experience?
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.
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.
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.
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.
went to Bombay in 2001_ How was it?
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.
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.
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?
humanity and humanitarianism is my religion.
Ke Bande from the film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai, catapulted you to super
success and you have not looked back since then.
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.
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.
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.
the private albums I have come out with have been greatly appreciated as
well and Iím grateful that people like my compositions.
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?
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.
Akhtarís lyrics too were outstanding.
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.
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.
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?
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.
the marketing of music being done well in India? I keep hearing about the
haphazard way things work there.
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.
do you stay so grounded and fearless? You donít mince words when you
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.
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.