The Urdu Blues

WHAT IS Hariharan up to these days? "Well, a lot of things. Travelling, concerts, mehfils, playback... Most important, I am working on a new ghazal album, which is what I call Urdu blues," says the bejewelled, pony-tailed singer.

In Chennai for a charity concert, organised jointly by the Narthana Saala Trust and Vidya Sagar, the first thing you notice about him is the jewellery he's wearing; it would make a woman envious. Huge green and white stones adorn his fingers and neck and a tiny diamond sparkles in his ear. "I enjoy wearing jewellery. At one time, I was crazy about silver pieces," says the singer who's as forthcoming as ever during a brief chat.

He's all excited about his latest untitled venture, which is expected to be on the shelves by the year-end. "The album has a global sound. You know, I've been working on it for a year. This time, the musicians are from Canada and London. And the brass is from New Orleans. Boy, they are simply superb!"

But ghazal and jazz? "Why not? Audience tastes are changing. Today, voices are used as instruments, there's no feeling, you don't need it! People want something aggressive, something rhythm-based. And let's face it, there's no market for sensible, melodic music where words and raags stand out. So, I want to give people what they want," Hariharan rues. He continues, "You can't blame the audience. There's a visual and noise clutter, thanks to FM and television. Not to forget MP3 where you get songs for a song! The trend has a lot of energy, but not much emotion. And good songs do not get played on these channels. Sometimes, my best work goes unnoticed while the dappankoothu becomes a hit."

The Urdu Blues

Talking specifically about the Tamil scene, he feels, "In the last couple of years, the focus has shifted to the youth. New directors are storming the scene with new concepts. Violence is a common factor. And when there are no tender situations, where can you sing tender songs?" Incidentally, the live concert he still holds closest to his heart is "the one in London where I sang all Tamil songs to a 10,000-plus crowd."

You can't resist asking him about The Colonial Cousins, his biggest successful fusion album with Leslie Lewis. "When The Colonial Cousins first hit the market, their USP was the newness and simplicity of sound. It was fusion never heard before." The subsequent efforts "The Way We Do It" followed by "Aatma" did not, however, evoke the same response.

Hariharan, who's worked with legends such as Jaidev, Naushad Ali, Salil Chowdhury, R.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar, is still going strong in the playback field. He's singing in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. But in a scenario where new talent is discovered each day, what's the secret of his staying power? "Well, I guess it's the range of my voice. Also, I am willing to go with the trend, even if the kind of songs I'd like to sing are becoming rarer."

Hariharan will soon be seen on the silver screen with Khushboo in "Power of Women." Does he enjoy being in front of the camera as he is in front of a mike? "It's great. I've really enjoyed acting. I hope to do some anti-hero roles!"

Teaching Hindustani and Carnatic music, doing more charity work and devoting time for riyaz feature among Hariharan's future plans. He's already donned the role of teacher for sons Akshay and Karan, one an aspiring guitarist and the other a rapper.

He smiles as you leave saying, "Whatever I do, I will still be known as `Uyire' Hariharan!"

HARIHARAN SEEMS to be in top form. "These days, I spend a lot of time practising," he says. The effort showed at the concert titled "Soul India" held at the Kamaraj Arangam, Saturday last. The singer presented thumris, dadras, khayals, films songs and, of course, what he's best at, ghazals. To accompany him in some numbers as Mahalakshmi.

He sang his most famous ghazals such as "Main khayal hoon kisi aur ka" naturally, but what he did with them was interesting. Raga met jazz when strains from the alto sax melded with those from the sarangi to give the ghazals a new sound. From audience reaction, it was clear that Hariharan appeals to all ages.

Veteran singer P.B. Srinivas was nodding his head to the music; a mami in the crowd kept shouting "Besh, besh!" while youngsters kept the rhythm and sang along.

Songs such as "Pachchai niramae" and "Yaadein" were hot favourites. But one song that everybody kept shouting for was "Uyire", and they got it.

Somebody in the audience wanted to know why the concert was titled `Soul India'. Hariharan explained, "Whatever I sing it boils down to sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa. But these notes have the navarasas, which give it the soul. And that soul is in every Indian, so, Soul India."

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