Sonu Niigaam: You Can Be Good at Everything

first_imgThe versatility, diversity, power and range of Sonu Niigaam’s voice has catapulted him to the top of the Indian music scene. He spearheaded the blockbuster show Saregama Pa to dizzying heights as he hosted one stellar legendary musician after another to judge some incredibly talented contestants. Both as a TV and radio show host, he brought brand Sonu to the fore  in a natural and hard to imitate style. Today he is a global icon, and yet behind the warmth, mischief and prodigious talent, you find a man who is a pretty straight shooter. In an exclusive interview with Little India the singing superstar talks life, music and the recent media frenzy for locking horns with a well known journalist.Your father’s journey has been very different from yours. He was too proud to ask for work and never went to Bollywood, and here you are, the biggest singing superstar to emerge out of India in recent times. My father’s story is that of loneliness, isolation, poverty and hunger and of not having the support of his middle class family who were essentially government servants and couldn’t understand his passion. My life began under his protection and we didn’t live hand to mouth by then. If my parents ever fell short of money, we would just go out and do shows to make some. So his journey was more rigorous, mine was more emotional.He chose not to go to Bollywood, because he had a lot of pride and wouldn’t ask anyone for work, though he did ask for me.My father gave me two pieces of advice when I headed for Bombay as a teenager to try my luck. He said, if you have to succeed you have to remain in the eye of those who you want to work with. Follow them, bug them constantly, show them you are a hard worker and available, and that you will deliver. Secondly, he said, either you can have fun in your youth and then labor in your middle and old age, or you work hard in your youth and enjoy your middle age and old age.I’m glad I decided to do the latter and now as I turn 34, I am very secure both financially and emotionally.You sang many cover versions of popular songs of the legends of yesteryear. What did you learn from that?Well it was my father who made me look at what each singer brought to the table. So unlike some singers who would look at the song and lyrics and sing it their own way, I would study each singer and try to sing the song as close to the original, even breathing at the same spot where the legend had taken the breath. Studying stalwarts like Rafi ji, Manna Dey ji, Kishore ji and others gave me a very good understanding of how each voice functioned and because of that I have been able to constantly improve and change my voice, upgrading it to new levels and adapting it to different genres of music.  When I sing, I can visualize the song in the voice of ten different singers, and then I blend the best of those voices to create a song. I know the day I stop trying to improve myself, is the day I will be left behind. In music you can never say even in a life time, “Oh I know everything.”You have been deeply influenced by Rafi and had said that you had come to the industry to fill the void left by him, and today you are doing something very special that you were hand picked for.Yes I’m singing 18 of Rafi ji’s most memorable songs with the Birmingham Symphony orchestra. When I was approached, I was a bit skeptical and wanted to make sure it was not a remix or cover version. But when I heard the tracks they were mind blowing. The symphonic sound gives a different dimension to Rafi ji’s voice. I have done so much research on Rafi ji’s voice that I don’t think even Rafi ji could have analyzed his voice to that extent and those songs are known to me much more than they could be to anyone else. I think it will be a treat for listeners to hear a symphonic interpretation as grand as this is, of his music. I have finished 16 of the sings and two remain.Hopefully that will be done soon.You have sung both in the South and North Indian music industry. What sets them apart?  Sonu Niiggam with melody queen Lata Mangeshkar.The gayaki ang, which is so appreciated in the South. You take a harkat (move your voice) and they appreciate it. In the North, you’ll often run into conservative people, who have perhaps never heard of a harkat and they get intimidated and will say-yeh harkat kyon le rahe ho-seedha seedha gao (why are you creating inflections? Sing in a flat voice). I usually do what is best for the song without listening to them.People keep talking about the golden period of Indian music that has gone by. There were good musicians and bad musicians in every era. So it is not fair to say that. Music is a hreflection of the society we live in, and caters to the need of the times. Technology and marketing have changed the way music is presented today. And it is also easy to turn a mediocre artist into a star, because computer technology has made it very easy to take each word, sing it many times and keep deleting, cutting and pasting each word to create a perfect song. The tremendous respect Lata ji, Asha ji, Rafi ji and others commanded was because they sang each song in one take in real time. I recently did two songs for Pyare babu (Lakshmikant Pyarelal) in one take, but I also see so many composers who are clueless about where they want the song to go, so I will sing it ten different ways and then they choose what they like best.A few days ago, you mentioned to me that you were harassed by a journalist who has made sexual advances at you for ages. When you rebuffed him he started writing derogatory stuff about you constantly. You finally named Subhash K Jha, a prominent veteran journalist, and outed him as a homosexual man. Your letter to his employer Times of India has made front page news and now I hear you are receiving death threats. Why give this man prominence by talking about him?There are several reasons why I decided enough is enough. Subhash K Jha is someone who had constantly written positive things about me, but when he started making sexual innuendos in his conversations I told him I was not interested and to back off. I have all his messages saved. When he persisted I hrefused to give him any interviews and also told him to stay away from me. After that he went on a rampage where every two weeks I would see something nasty about me in print. I kept quiet thinking he will get tired of Sonu-bashing some day, but he has been relentless. The last article he wrote he said some things that were just so totally false while making another musician seem like the greatest star. I don’t care if you don’t like me or my music – you have every right to your opinion, but you cannot write blatant lies about me. I can still handle it but my parents, my sisters, and loved ones have been very upset by all this.The media in India, until now, would boycott you if you say anything against any member of their fraternity and this man took full advantage of it writing damaging and derogatory things about anyone who hrefused to give him an interview. The legal recourses take forever, so many people just let things slide. I just decided I had had enough and wrote to the Times of India. I cannot believe why Amit ji, Shahrukh Khan, and others have not come forward to speak up against this man.What really surprised me was the reaction of the media. I was very sure my letter won’t be published, and that they were going to blacklist me. Instead not only was it published, but there were hour long discussions on CNN-IBN, Aaj Tak, and Mumbai Mirror, the big Times of India supplement in Mumbai has fired him from their paper.I’m also pleasantly surprised at the number of celebrities from the film fraternity who have come forward and spoken in my support. The press and the industry in Bombay know what a terrible human being this man is, but he has sucked up to some important people. I hear that a legendary actor pays him a hefty sum to do his publicity and may be there are others he has latched on to, but I felt it was time his readers knew what he really was.Yes I received death threats on my phone here in the US, and the police has been informed. I feel safe here, and I think things will have been resolved by the time I return to India.One of the prime reasons I did this was to warn youngsters who are coming into this industry, to be very careful of who they talk to. If someone like me, an established member of the industry, can be sexually harassed and maligned, they can easily be intimidated into giving into predators like this man.So many music shows have sprouted and so many singers are being turned into stars overnight and at such young ages. What do you make of all this. You are also a youth icon and so many kids imitate you and want to be like you, what tips would you give them? The world has changed and marketing is playing a big role in music economics. These days there is lesser and lesser focus on integrity, talent and hard work. If you can market yourself well, you can be a star. But I’m a firm believer that in the long run the only way you will feel fulfilled and proud is if you have achieved success on the merits of your hard work and talent. So that is the path to take. And surround yourself with good people. I have a very small group of sensible and sensitive friends who allow me to take the time to hone my skills, surround me with positive energy and don’t waste my time. If you stay true to yourself and work hard you will reach the top and even if someone manipulates their way in front of you, you will always be the one to earn the respect of others in the long run because of your integrity. The truth always comes out.What are the exciting things in the work?I first have a pure classical album coming out in 3-4 months and this is my toughest and most exciting project. It is an album composed by violinist Deepak Pandit who is like a brother to me and produced by Ajay Jhingan. We have done some very good work in it. Then there is the Rafi Album. I have also done a single, the first ever in the history of Indian music, a dance track. The project is being promoted by corporate houses like Reliance. It will be something you haven’t seen before.You have sung so many beautiful numbers, which would be your top five favorites?Satrangi Re, Mera Rang De Basanti Chola, Soona Soona, from my new classical album which is easily my toughest song ever, Kal Ho Na Ho and Sandese Aaatey Hain, which is very close to my heart.So is there anything else that you dream of doing? Also, you have managed to excel in so many things with such energy and dedication. How do you do that?From the time I was a child, I have wanted to do one thing and I don’t know if I will achieve all that I can in that area. I want to help the hijra (transgender) community in India. They receive no help from anyone and we shun them when they are in dire straits financially.As for multi tasking, I believe in the mantra, you don’t have to be successful in everything, but if you try, you can be good at everything!   Related Itemslast_img

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