Music

I make the effort to upgrade myself, says singer Unni Menon

Singer Unni Menon

Singer Unni Menon | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Unni Menon, the singer with the evergreen voice, is on song. He has that zing in his voice while talking about how fruitful 2022 has been for him. Right up there is the groovy, dance track ‘Rathipushpam’ composed by Sushin Shyam in Bheeshmaparvam; ‘Kural Kekkutha’, a breezy Tamil song from Hridayam scored by Hesham Abdul Wahab, was also on the charts . Songs from Avial (‘Manjin thooval’, a duet with KS Chitra) and Karnan Napoleon Bhagat Singh (‘Kathorthu’) were the other songs that got noticed in spite of the films not doing well.

In Tamil, he has four songs ready for release. Of that one is a duet with Bombay Jayashri, composed by Harris Jayaraj for The Legend. “We last sang for him 16 years ago – ‘Partha mudhal’ in Vettayadu Vilayadu. I hope this song will also be loved as much,” says the Chennai-based singer with a four-decade career in the film music industry.

New music, new style

So what has kept him in good stead all these years? “It has been all about adapting to changing times. I make the effort to upgrade myself. Otherwise I will be outdated. I have tremendous respect for the new generation of musicians. I find it easy to work with them. There is no friction in the recording sessions and so there is a homely ambience, similar to the vibe I got while singing for Rahman [AR Rahman],” he says.

The singer, who made his debut in 1981, stresses that singing for new-age musicians is a learning experience. “I have seen both the worlds in music production – the old and the new. The present crop of musicians are exposed to music from across the globe and that reflects in their style. I believe there is so much to learn from their attitude and approach to music, be it in singing or composing,” says Unni.

Singer Unni Menon

Singer Unni Menon | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Going back to the success of ‘Rathipushpam’, Unni believes that although he has not had such a viral hit in the recent past, he does not want to take the credit for its success. “It was Sushin who took the song to another level. The song had a retro feel and my job was finished in half an hour. I would say my contribution was just 10%. Whatever magic that happened on screen is because of Amal [director Amal Neerad], Sushin, the lyricist [Vinayak Sasikumar], choreographers and the actors,” he says.

‘Kural Kekkutha’ was yet another memorable outing for him with the film’s director, Vineeth Sreenivasan, after the melodious ‘Thiruvaavani raavu’ from Jacobinte Swargarajyam, composed by Shaan Rahman. “That song will be played as long as Malayalis celebrate Onam. ‘Kural kekkutha’ had a different vibe to it. After I finished recording, I kept whistling the tune in the studio and Vineeth wanted to use that as well in the track. That made it all the more interesting,” he recalls.

Rahman effect

The singer admits that it has not been smooth sail for him. He remembers a phase when he hardly had any songs in Malayalam. It was Rahman and Roja that resurrected his career at that point of time. His duet with Sujatha, ‘Pudhu vellaimazhai’ turned out to be a colossal hit. He went on to sing 27 songs for Rahman, which include songs in Puthiya Mugam, Thiruda Thiruda, Karuthamma, Minsara Kanavu, Uyire, Kadhalar Dinam and Rhythm.

“I worked in an album, ‘Sangeetha Sangamam’, with composer Ousephachan, in which Rahman — then Dileep — was the programmer. When he called me for Roja, he wanted me to do the recording at midnight! That was a shock for me. But that’s how he works and the rest is history.”

Singer Unni Menon

Singer Unni Menon | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Unni is among the few singers who have had successful stints at composing too. His composition, ‘Oru chembaneer poovu’ in Sthithi (2003), in which he acted as well, remains a classic. “I couldn’t pursue composing after that. However, recently I did three songs for a film, which, unfortunately, didn’t go on the floor. Now I plan to bring out an album with those songs,” he says.

He has also had his tryst with acting — Sthithi, Beautiful and 916. He has also acted and sung “two good melodies composed by Reju Joseph” in upcoming Malayalam release Thee.

“ I have tremendous respect for the new generation of musicians. I find it easy to work with them. ”

Reflecting upon the changes that have swept over film industry, he points out that there are certain aspects that he fails to understand. “For instance, some directors don’t use the full song in picturisation. The song is played in the background or as part of the narrative. It is disappointing for any singer who has put in so much of effort in the studio,” he explains.

Nevertheless, the musician, says that he takes everything in his stride. “After all I didn’t plan to become a musician. There have been no musicians in my family. I loved singing and used to win prizes in competitions, that’s all. I never knew that I could make a career out of it. My parents wanted me to become an engineer or doctor. But that was not bound to happen because I was not good in studies,” he says.

He worked in the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Chennai only to quit after nearly two years. He became a regular visitor at music studios to watch recordings. “I realised that music made me immensely happy.”

The journey to playback music started when he was introduced to composer Chidambaranath by Kunjunni, KJ Yesudas’ secretary. The film was Amudhum Thenum and he had to sing the track of the song for Yesudas. “I was nervous since it was all new but the composer guided me. Even though that film didn’t release, other composers took notice of me. Life changed after that with opportunities from Malayalam and Tamil. I have no regrets except that I couldn’t become what my parents wanted me to be. However, eventually, they understood that this is what I love to do.”


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Printable version | Sep 3, 2022 7:43:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/singer-unni-menon-on-his-40-year-old-career/article65479291.ece