'I am still a student of music'

'I am still a student of music'

Legendary singer K J Yesudas talks to us about his five-decade journey in the music world
'I am still a student of music'
K J Yesudas

Yana Gupta

Read more about Yana Gupta

When he walks into a room, the glow and the composure on his face is enough to light it up. One is almost at a loss of words on seeing Padmabhushan K J Yesudas. After all what can you ask a person who has over 50,000 songs to his credit and whose very name evokes awe among millions of his fans? He is a legend whose every number – be it in the classical, devotional or popular genre – is cherished by fans and connoisseurs alike for years on end. In a career spanning over five decades, he has sung in Hindi, Malayalam, English, Kannada, Telugu, Oriya, Bengali and even Malay, Latin and Russian to name just a few languages. And his golden voice has won him seven National Awards (the most by any singer) apart from innumerable state awards. Bollywood music lovers still remember his 'Gori tera gaon bada pyaara', 'Maana Ho Tum', Surmayi Ankhiyon mein' and other ditties that are hummable even today.

Perhaps awards do little justice to his stature which, over the years, has grown to legendary proportions. And despite his numerous achievements, be it in singing or composing, the singer remains one of the most humble and down-to-earth celebrities you have ever met. In many ways, it is this humility, coupled with his spirituality that defines his persona.

Year 2012 is a very special number for Mr Yesudas who has been anointed the title of Gaana Gandharvan (celestial singer). He has just completed five decades of an illustrious singing career and to celebrate the momentous occasion, Wide Zoom Event, a Dubai-based event management company, is offering a treat for the singer's fans – a full-fledged concert featuring him along with singers like Sujatha Mohan, Vijay Yesudas, Shwetha Mohan, Ranjini Haridas and Stephen Devassy. The concert will be held on March 23, 2012 at the World Trade Centre.

Masala.com met up with the singer when he was in Dubai recently and chatted with him about his music, spirituality and much more. Here are excerpts from an interview:

You are known to be a deeply spiritual person. How has spirituality defined your music and life?
Sometimes, reporters ask me to explain my belief in God. I find it difficult to answer such questions because I believe in the letter and the moment, not words or volumes. That is, I have always believed that the Almighty decides the course of our lives and our every action; we are merely following His path and taking His orders. So I can't take credit for whatever has happened in my life or whatever will happen; it's all due to God. How do I define my spirituality? Well, let me put it this way – it's God who defines my very core.

You recently completed 50 years of your singing career. Is 50 just a number for you or do you give importance to such milestones?
Every person has a mission or a dream. The reason for my being here is my music. When I look at the vast ocean that is music, even today I feel humbled. I realise how little I know about this world. Music is like an ocean and the more you get into it, the deeper you go. There is still a long, long way to go in field. So in that context, 50 years is nothing! All that I can do from my end is to ensure that my voice is healthy so that I continue to serve the Almighty with my music. I have to be careful about my voice to preserve it, which is the greatest gift I have got and I cherish!

Recently A R Rahman was in Dubai and he spoke very fondly of you. How do you look back at your association with him?
Rahman is a very special person. In fact, I remember his father R K Sekhar very well; he had worked on a lot of songs of mine and I shared a very special rapport with him. I am not at all surprised at Rahman's fame and fortune, that boy was destined for greatness. Rahman, I remember, was a very quiet, shy boy who used to accompany his father to the studios. He has struggled a lot in his life. And it is this factor that lends a certain pathos to his music. I believe, all people who have reached certain level in life and have attained fame, have gone through struggle.

Were there times when, as a singer, you were uncomfortable with the lyrics?
Yes, there have been occasions when I have not been comfortable with whatever I have been asked to sing. At such times, I usually discuss it with the composer. Of course there are some composers who are very rigid and refuse to see my point of view. Then I simply say 'thank you' and leave.

These days, thanks to reality TV, there is a huge platform for budding singers. Do you feel youngsters see fame very easily due to these shows?
Today, it's all about clone culture. Fame comes instantly. But do you recognise and value that fame? It's highly doubtful. I believe that to achieve anything in life, you have to go through a process; it's the most important thing. You have to constantly get on a journey of self-improvement. I can't say whether these shows are good or bad but yes, they are creating a lot of instant celebrities. So long as they do not get carried away by the fame, it's fine. But if they do, then there is little hope!
I don't blame the youngsters entirely. It's the situation around them that makes them seek the easy path. The industry and the world at large has changed.

You are writing a book, could you tell us more about it?
I am writing a book called 'Sahajaryam' (circumstances). My story in it will constitute a very small part. It will be more about the people I meet and those who inspire me. I have just started and I am not even choosing the people who will be featured in it. I believe the subjects will choose themselves. It should be an organic process, I don't want to plan anything.

You have lent your voice to some extremely popular songs in Hindi as well. Who is your favourite singer?
My all-time favourite singer is Mohammad Rafi. I greatly admire his voice modulations, his versatility and range. I keep humming only his songs! Unfortunately I haven't heard too many recent songs to list down my favourites. But Rafi will always rule my life!

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