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The Voice of Versatility

May 2007
The Voice of Versatility

Few Indian singers can boast the versatility of Hariharan who has covered almost every genre of the subcontinent's musical traditions. His musical elasticity comes from his training in Hindustani classical and Carnatic music.

"Although I have enjoyed music all through my growing years, it took its own course. I never learnt music to become a professional singer but I think the call was quite strong. I started doing music for films in 1977 while I was still a law student at the Government Law College," Hariharan told Khabar during a quick interview before he took the stage for his concert in Atlanta on March 16. The playback, ghazal and pop singer was performing in Ashiana at the Global Mall as part of a fundraising event for the victims of Tsunami.

Hariharan, who was the recipient of the 2004 Padma Shri award, a national honor, performed more than 25 songs and displayed his virtuosity in every genre and language that he sang.

According to the singer's official Web site, the musical journey for Hariharan apparently started the day he was born to talented Carnatic vocalists — his father, the late Ananthasubramani, of Trivandrum, and his mother, Alamelu.

But what about his dexterity in Hindustani classical music? "Well since I was born in an established Carnatic music family, it was a part of my upbringing as both my parents are known Carnatic vocalists. However, when I began learning Hindustani from Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, I had to un-learn Carnatic. Basically both the systems are very strong in me," he says, laughing heartily.

"It was after I met Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan saab that I became very serious; aanth das ghante riyaaz karna (practicing 8 to 10 hours) and all that," he says, speaking like typical Mumbaikar in "Hinglish." For him, his musical inclination is more toward Hindustani music, he says. And within that he feels an affinity for Raga Yaman. "It is very sweet," he says.

For the concert, he was dressed in a hot couture black and gold kameez with a shawl draped on him. Of course, he still has that pony tail, a goatee and a shiny gold earring, much as he has appeared since he became part of Colonial Cousins, the Indian pop music duo he formed with composer Leslie Lewis. But Hariharan denies his look came about as a marketing ploy to metamorphose him into a pop musician. "Pony tail had nothing to do with the Colonial project. It was in 1989 that I grew a pony — much before Colonial Cousins was even though about. Colonial came about in 1992."

Lewis and Hariharan found widespread popularity with Colonial Cousins, finding a big audience for crossover/fusion pop music that the duo came to be known for. The Cousins project is not over yet for him. "God willing we will be out with ‘Colonial Cousins Once More' in December."

In addition to his role in Colonial Cousins, Hariharan plans to continue his journey in fusion music with can album called "For You." It would be "on the lines of ‘Kaash,' a very contemporary sound design, a ballad album with orchestral sounds," he says.

Never one to be stuck in a rut, Hariharan always believes in undertaking new musical journeys. "I am trying to get into creating an international fusion album — nothing is determined yet, but if you ask me what next? This is a part of my evolution."

Indeed, he has been evolving since the day he took up music as a profession. He initially gained fame for singing ghazals. His mellifluous voice was immediately noticed in the 1977 film, "Gaman," in which he sung "Ajeeb Saane He Mujh Par Qarar."

But unlike many who are typed into a certain singing style, he has adapted well to mainstream Bollywood playback singing. He has given several hits to big-name directors such as A.R. Rahman, Vishaal Bharadwaj, Jatin-Lalit and Shiv-Hari. In what can only be seen as an acknowledgement of Hariharan's undiminished standing, he is still sought out by hot, new directors. So who does he like in today's wide array of musical directors?

"Shankar-Ehsan-Loy are doing a very good job. Vishaal- Shekhar and are good as well. There are many composers in the south who are also doing exceedingly well ? Vidyasaagar and Yuvan Raja, son of the great Ilya Raja, who has created a sound of his own. Any surprises? Like father – like son. Ilya Raja is one of the monuments of Indian (music)," he says.

At the concert in Atlanta, Hariharan's repertoire included songs in English, Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. Among the songs that he performed included "Dheemi Dheemi" from the movie "1947 Earth;" a ghazal, "Mein Khayal Hoon;" the title songs from "Lamhe" and "Yaadein"; Baba Bulleh Shah's "Bhavain Tu Jaan Na Jaan," a folk song from the album "Lahore Ke Rang;" a song from "Taj Mahal," the last film that legendary composer Naushad worked on; "Bahon Ke Darmiyan ("Khamoshi"); "Nahi Saamne ("Taal"); "Piya Tora Kaisa Abhimaan" ("Raincoat"); a Rajasthani folk number in Raga Maand, "Kesariya Padharo Mare Des Re"; "Aye Hairate Zindagi" ("Guru"); and other bigger hits such as "Chappa Chappa" ("Maachis"), "Krishna" from the eponymous 1996 Colonial Cousins album and the Tamil and Hindi versions of "Tu Hi Re" from "Bombay."

Kavita Chibber was the hostess for the evening, while the biggest donor and supporter for the event was community activist P. I. Joy. The fundraising event was organized by Bindu Balakrishna on behalf of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma), the spiritual leader who has worked tirelessly to spread the message of love and humanity around the globe. Tsunami Relief is one such undertaking and the Atlanta fundraising concert achieved fulfillment in every sense.

By Viren Mayani

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