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On a happy high

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN
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Chat Popular singer Kailash Kher says it’s not the singing alone. The thought process matters more

It’s ironical that this diminutive singer goes by the name Kailash. But with a larger-than-life voice, he has scaled heights. Kailash’s music is like a journey to Mansarovar… expansive, mystical, colourful and calm and at the same time like the undulating terrain of the Himalayas.

Mere dhun duaon mein baste hain (my tunes reside in blessings),” says the singer, who lives in the spiritual fast lane. How else can you explain his life… his success, which he terms a “miracle”. He left home in Meerut when he was just 13 years old to study classical music. He went in search of gurus, never found one and returned home. But when his parents forced him to take up a job, he again left home and went to Mumbai to seek a future in music.

He lived on railway platforms, small tenements, often had only chai for meals and did endless rounds of the recording studios. He finally managed to enter the music industry by singing ad jingles. Soon he drew the attention of music producers with his heartrending, earthy vocals. Bollywood was the next step and ‘Allah ke Bande’ in the film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai (Part 2) hit the high note. Today, he performs at sold-out venues across the world, film music directors compose songs especially for him, the albums released by his band Kailasa (also features musician-brothers Naresh and Paresh) dwell for long on top of charts, drives expensive cars and resides in a bungalow in Mumbai’s posh Juhu. His life story has all the ups and down like his voice that traverses across octaves. “My singing translates my spirituality, my intense love for music for which I gave up my home and family. I don’t know if what I am singing is sufi, folk, geet or classically influenced. Anything that stirs your soul is music,” Kailash puts it simply.

He grew up listening to the verses of Kabir, Tukaram and Chaitanya at satsangs his folk musician-father organised at home. Even as a young boy, he found serenity in Amir Khusro’s poetry. “Their works are not mere wordplay. There’s philosophy, psychology, sociology… yet they are simple to understand and live with. I wanted my music to have a similar vibration and connect with the listeners. It’s not the singing alone, the thought process matters more.” And to prove his point he begins to render Kabir’s ‘Nirbhay nirgun gun re gaunga…’ explaining the deeper meaning of these lines.

The inhibition about not being classically trained undermined his confidence initially. He would shy away when asked to sing in front of a gathering. He began writing, but for himself. He wrote about his fears, his joy, his calling and his dreams. His younger sister Nutan knew his dilemma. She gave him the courage to face the world and to be comfortable with who he was. And in a crowded soundscape Kailash soon found his groove. “I realised I could fill in the void between classical and film music. I brought my childhood influences, diverse sensibilities and the inherent emotions of Indian music to my work. The honesty in my voice helped me reach out, particularly to the youth, who are the change makers. Along the way, I also learnt how to continue doing what one believes in. I have seen A.R. Rahman do it. I have travelled widely with him during shows. He never gets carried away by trends and the pressure of expectations,” says the singer.

In 2004 he set up his band Kailasa and composed the kind of tracks he always wanted to. The super success of his albums took him to more than 100 countries with about 300 shows in America alone. Meanwhile, he did cameo appearances in a few films and took to film music direction too. Anand Kumar’s Desi Kattey is his next film as music director. “It’s a crazy schedule but as long as my days and nights are filled with music I am ecstatic. But having lived alone from a very young age, I now value every moment I spend with my wife and son Kabir. I have understood how much you have to give to relationships to gain. Not just family, even to your bond with nature, and art. Hence I never miss looking at the small yellow bird that sits everyday at my bedroom window sill or listening to my favourite Kumar Gandharva.”

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN



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