Singers Usha Uthup and 'Malgudi' Shubha exercise their vocal chords, and this time it isn't just for singing
I am a people person. I love being with the flock Usha Usha Uthup is a sport. Though a little miffed initially about the Take Two shoot, she was ready in a jiffy, her trademark bindi and 100-watt smile in place. She was scheduled to participate in a show with playback singer S. P. Balasubramaniam. The crooner was at her vivacious best as she chatted with 'Malgudi' Shubha. Usha sings in 15 Indian languages and eight foreign ones, and has performed for the likes of Indira Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. She is in the news now for a project into which she has put in her "everything" - the tsunami album. As for Shubha, the bubbly singer with an unconventional voice shot to fame with her folksy Vaalparai vathaparai. Being part of the tsunami project has been a highpoint for Shubha, who regards Usha as her 'manasiga guru'. Savitha Gautam recorded a conversation with the two singers who giggled like schoolgirls initially but ended up doing some soul-searching.Usha: You know, I love being in Chennai. Boy, did we have fun last night! (The singers of the tsunami video got together for a party.)Shubha: Yes, it's great just being with you. Usha: Balu sir was so happy that he felt we must meet like this at least twice a year!Shubha: Oh! That would be great! Akka, do you know that I am often referred to as the Usha Uthup of the South? I feel so good when I hear that. Of course, you have been lucky... to work with such greats as R.D. Burman.Usha: (after a reflective pause) Yes... those were the days. Remember, I had no godfather to shape my career, but I survived. It opened up a whole new magical world for me.Shubha: I think you set a trend for many youngsters like me who had unconventional voices. And what's more, you lent dignity to nightclub singing. Till you came along, nobody could imagine a singer looking so traditional in a Kanchipuram sari, jasmine in hair and bindi, singing Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.Usha: Believe me, it was a tough life. But it taught me a lot. Patience and also not to take myself too seriously. You know, I believe the magical moment is now. I still do the nightclub circuit. I think my definitive contribution to Indian music is to wipe out the stigma attached to that profession... (waves her hands and laughs)Shubha: Thank God for that. You gave many youngsters the courage to dream of a singing career, by reaching out to the common man. Akka, how did this tsunami concept come about?Usha: Thanks to a report I watched on TV. A report that said Cliff Richard will perform for tsunami. My blood boiled. It had happened to us and we had to wait for somebody from outside to do something. That set the ball rolling. Shubha: You started with singers from Mumbai... Usha: Yes. Actually I wrote the lyrics in English for which Amitabh Bachchan lent his voice. Then I called up people like Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan and they agreed at once. Then it struck me that the disaster had hit the South and there was no representation. That's how singers such as SPB, Chitra, Sujatha, Srinivas and others were roped in. Vairamuthu's lyrics captured the mood brilliantly. Nearly 82 artistes have put their talent together for this album.Shubha: We had a blast recording the video... the ship ride, the shots on the beach. And at no point did we forget the cause, the reason that brought us together. Usha: Shubha, I loved producing the video. More so because I am a people person, I love to be with the flock. I am a grabber for happiness. Also, we need to leave behind something that people will remember us by. Shubha: I think that comes across in your music and the way you interact with audiences. I must tell you this. I was driving down the ECR the other day. And on the horizon I saw several boats. It was such a beautiful sight. And I thought, life goes on... Usha: True, these are moments when I realise the Guy Up There (pointing to the sky) is the one who controls the remote... Shubha: Akka, coming back to music, there are many who want to sound like you, but nobody takes the cue when it comes to the sartorial statement. Have you wondered about it?Usha: (laughs) Of course, I've been asked that many times. I think today's game is a body game. You don't show, you don't go. Also, the race to be seen often overshadows the talent.Shubha: True, I think the youth want to become famous with first song... Usha: True (looks at her watch). Before we wind up, I must tell you this funny incident. On New Year's Day, I performed in Kolkata. It was a rocking show. After the show, a man came up to me and said how he loved my music and how the choice of songs was good and so on. I was thrilled and then suddenly, he said, "Even at this age, you have so much energy." (She bursts out laughing) And that was it! I was ready to give him one tight slap. I think I'll never grow old. My spirit will remain forever young.Just then, Usha's two young granddaughters make an appearance. She baby talks to them.Usha: (with a warm smile) I recommend grandchildren to one and all. I love their honesty. They have changed my life and brought so much meaning to it.