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You left home to pursue your love for music at a very young age. You said that you were looking for isolation. How has this isolation helped shape your music?
When you come out of your closet, you tend to explore the world around you in a larger way, and you get to see different perspectives on life. My music is really more about life in general. Our soil, our country, our heritage, our culture is so rich and vast that without actually studying, you have the opportunity to learn so much. That’s what my music is all about.
I use so many different dialects in my music; I have a different way with words, my rendering is different. I have been singing without any formal training in music, and yet this music manages to touch people’s hearts and souls, and I think it is because you explore the world out of your comfort zone, out of your closet.
Athletes often say that sport is a lifestyle. Do you believe this of music as well?
No. I don’t believe that music is only a lifestyle… Music is in all of us. Music is a part of our being. A few amongst us are blessed to explore it within ourselves. For instance, soil comprises of lots of minerals, water, other useful particles and resources. But when we choose to dig a few rare spots, we sometimes discover oil or even a diamond for that matter. Music is like that. A few are blessed in this way, to be able to create miracles through their art.
They say moods often affect the music we create and vice versa. Would you say that is true for you?
It is not about me. It is about everybody. Similar to how cool breeze can make you shiver and feel good sometimes, and how from a cold place when you step into the sun, it can literally be a source of life… Music is like that. Its words, its notation, its melody, and its rendition can touch any soul and bring about a change to the mood of any and every soul on this earth.
Do you have a story to help us understand this?
I remember when my mother passed away in 2012, I did not cry for a few days and got busy with the arrangements for the last rites and the rituals thereafter. After about eight days, we had a prayer meet and an acclaimed folk singer, Prahlad Tipanya ji, sang some poetry of Kabir. The moment he started singing, I burst into tears and I sobbed like a child. I was inconsolable, and I know that it was the music that affected me and brought out the outburst of emotions. I still remember the words…
Tharo Kaye Gun Gaava
Kai Gun Gaava Tharo
Kai Jas Gaava
Mahal Banaya Hansa Rehnavi Paya
We keep collecting so much but we don’t always survive with everything. So what is the point? Those thoughts only made me cry more than the departed soul that I was crying for. Music can make you go through a lot. It can make you go through so many different moods...
Two years ago, my group, Kailasa was performing at a beautiful festival in Shillong, and the moment we started singing Teri Deewani, I felt as though I had created 10,000 pieces of my being. And we were all singing together.
This kind of feeling of course doesn’t happen everywhere. But there, I felt it. It became like a love anthem. There and then! The emotions that ran through me… I could hardly even sing. I was excited, happy, nervous because so many people were singing with me; I was scared I’d go off-pitch but I was in a state of utter bliss! When you surrender yourself, god takes over everything. We shouldn’t be too intelligent about this. Love is not for intelligence. It is for emotions and feelings
What is the starting point of creating music? Do you think about a subject and then create the music around that?
I don't think because I don’t have a mind. I only have a heart and emotions and feelings from where thoughts flow like a river, and that is how the song is born. Once the song is born, there is a parallel story going on inside me. I create this world inside me that if I have to put in words, I would call it a dream world.
For instance, in the song,
Yuh Toh Teri Yaad Mein Bhi Swaad Hain Tera
Aur Aakhon Ko Manau Kis Tarah
Hothon Ki Kya Majaal Jo Kare Yeh Sawal
Par Dil Ko Mein Samjhau Kis Tarah
Sat ya Asath Hai Main Kya Janoo
Dekho Saanse Tere Bina Hui Ghum
Kar Kar Mein Haara Har Jatan
Teri Tadap Teri Lagan
there is a song, there are lyrics, there are thoughts, and they are all going on parallelly, so you don't really have to put your mind in it. When you do something from your soul and you surrender yourself, then the soul starts flowing like a river, and that is how anything can be created. And this is not only in the case of music, you even can create the Taj Mahal like that.
Your music has a soulful quality. Is that natural or cultivated by practice?
Sometimes, you know, whatever circumstances you may be born with, your journey makes you what you are. You procure a persona because of a certain route that you have taken in life. Nowadays, everybody is in a kind of rate race. We don’t believe in what God has made us, and try to become something else always. Many people try to become this or that or like someone else.
I just followed my journey and just stayed true to who I am. I want to only be myself because I really believe that God has made me with so much love and kindness. I only want to focus on my journey and becoming better with every passing day. And naturally my entire personality will be reflected in what I sing for myself and what I sing for others. The inside will be reflected outside, whoever you maybe. It will reflect in your craft and in your deeds. We must have the faith that God has made us unique in every possible way.
You compose the songs that you sing. In that sense you are most involved in your music… What is your take on lending just the voice for a song? Do you believe that the outcome is as soulful even when you haven’t created what you are singing?
When I sing someone else’s music, and don’t find too many heart-warming moments in the song, I do my best to make it my own and render it in my own style. I first sing each line the music director has asked me to, the way he/she has described it. Then I emote what I am singing in my own way. Often, composers find what I sing beautiful and decide to go with that.
Whatever is best always takes place in the universe. So creativity is not anyone’s individual thing. It comes from the universe and reaches the universe. I do what I think is best even with the music that other people have composed.
The stories depicted in your music videos are always accurate extensions of the essence of the song. Do you write these stories yourself?
Like I told you before, I have not undergone a formal training in music. Because of my personal circumstances, I could neither go to an institution nor study with a teacher. But life itself, through its own natural course has taught me so much. You know, our life, in fact each and every one of our lives is full of stories. So every song really emanates from the stories from our lives. Likewise, on the other hand, every song can inspire the script for an entire film.
I believe that the music we make, the composition, the lyrics, everything is not merely made for sallow entertainment. It is much beyond that.
For instance, I have heard how Teri Deewani (a song by Kailash Kher), has impacted so many people in so many different contexts and circumstances. When I visited the Wagah border, the BSF (Borderline Security Forces) officers told me how Teri Deewani affected them. Sometimes, we are isolated and have nothing and nobody to reach out to, perhaps just your cell phone, and you have this song on it, and it says, “Ishq Junoon Jab Hadh Se Badh Jaaye, Ishq Junoon Jab Hadh Se Badh Jaaye, Haste Haste Aashiq Suli Chadh Jaaye,” it can really inspire one in a situation where one needs to decide in a fraction of a second whether he must attack the opposition or not. In this context, Teri Deewani did not inspire as only a romantic song.
I remember another story of how a student from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Kharagpur who was on the verge of committing suicide, changed his mind after listening to Teri Deewani and later went on to win a gold medal.
Both these situations are distinctly different from each other; the only common thing between them is that the song helped them cross their hurdles and the low points in their lives. So you see, every song can connect with every individual differently.
You use a lot of folk/rustic sound in your music. What about the folk culture fascinates you?
Folk music has roots. As they say, as big as the tree is, so deep are its roots. Whatever you see outside, you can see how deep its roots are. It is a very beautiful thing. You know, nobody used to train our elders, but they still knew what time the sun is going to set, and what time the sun is going to rise… They could predict that rains would come after three days! How? Because they lived in sync with nature… When you look at our folk culture, roots, and lifestyle, it has this natural quality.
When you walk on dry leaves, there is a natural sound that attracts us. It can actually sound like natural percussion. In fact, if you observe carefully, not only sounds, but words are also produced, and the whole thing, in its entirety, attracts you. You can witness the beauty which is raw, and very, very real. Every real thing and pure thing attracts everybody. Only those who are pretentious say, "I am not into it; I am too sophisticated.”
There is sound all around us. The highlight is that even if you open the zip of a bag, you hear a sound. Even if you are scratching your ear with an ear-bud you can hear a sound. For instance, take empty Bisleri bottles, pour some pulses into them and shake them… They can become instruments like the shaker. Sounds that we create and that have already been created are all sounds around us. It is up to your intelligence how you use them.
The most beautiful sound, however, is when there is no sound. You can grasp so much of natural sound, when there is silence. The sound of silence is the best sound. When you collect the molecules of silence, it becomes Om (a sacred sound in the Hindu religion), and that sound is attractive.
What is the emotion that music evokes in you? Do different processes in music evoke different emotions?
No emotions are one. They are a way of feeling the power of whom we call god. It is a way in which we feel the cosmic divinity. Either you write or compose or paint… All creativity connects you to the supreme being. There is no one emotion that encompasses this. You are in a different world, at a state of divine bliss.
I’d like to say that music is in all of us. Music is a part of our being. A few among us, are blessed to explore it within themselves. There are lots of minerals, water, and other useful particles in the soil. But it is in a few rare spots that we choose to dig, explore and we find oil or a diamond for that matter. Music is like that. A few are blessed this way; to create miracles through their art
Your live performances are electrifying. What about the stage and the audience inspire you?
Live performances are real demonstrations of your being, and your personality. The real madness, the real act of you celebrating life is in a live performance. In it, my audience and I become one. And this is our journey to become one. We are born, and we form relationships, and yet, we are alone. Remember Tagore who said, “Ekla Chalo Re.” “Hum Sab Ma, Sab Hain Hum Ma, Hum Hoon Bahuri Akela, Avduta Jugan Jugan Hum Jogi.” The most beautiful thing that I experienced in the 12 years of my performance career, was two years ago, when my group, Kailasa performed at a beautiful festival in Shillong, and the moment we started singing Teri Deewani, I felt as though I had created 10,000 pieces of my being. Like what is said in Mohammed Rafi’s song:
“Hum Sab Ma, Sab Hain Hum Ma, Hum Hoon Bahuri Akela, Avduta Jugan Jugan Hum Jogi.”
The most beautiful thing that I experienced in the 12 years of my performance career, was two years ago, when my group, Kailasa performed at a beautiful festival in Shillong, and the moment we started singing Teri Deewani, I felt as though I had created 10,000 pieces of my being. Like what is said in Mohammed Rafi’s song:
Ek Dil Ek Tukde Hazar Huye
Koi Yaha Gira Koi Waha Gira
(A heart broke into a thousand pieces. Some fell here, and some fell there)
I would change that slightly to:
Koi Yaha Sthapith Hua, Koi Waha Sthapith Hua
(Some were established here, and some were established there)
And we were all singing together. This kind of feeling of course doesn’t happen everywhere. But there, I felt it. It became like a love anthem. There and then! The emotions that ran through me… I could hardly sing. I was excited, happy, nervous because so many people were singing with me; I was scared I’d go off-pitch but I was in a state of utter bliss! When you surrender yourself, god takes over everything. We shouldn’t be too intelligent about this. Love is not for intelligence. It is for emotions and feelings.
What music do you like to listen to?
I listen to music by Prahlad Tipanya ji and his contemporaries. I also enjoy folk music and listen to a lot of folk musicians like Mooralala Marwada. He is from Gujarat. Some of these people call themselves my fan but I like to think of them like god’s children who have been sent to this world for a larger purpose. Their music is full of love and kindness. It is truthful, simple, spiritual, humanitarian, and sensitive. It can make you feel like you are actually in conversation with the creator.
I may have a car worth Rs75,00,000, but do you know what music plays in it?
Thara rang mahal mein
Ajab shahar mein
Aaja re hansa bhai
Nirgun raja pe sirgun sej bichhai
(A song by Kabir)
So bliss really is in absolute simplicity.
Could you name five of your favourite songs? Also, your favourite songs by other composers?
Kailasa Jhoomo Re
Lata Mangeshkar, MG Sreekumar
MM Keeravaani, Mounima
Interviewed by Madhumitha Raghuraman
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