Interview of the Week – Kumar Sanu, Singer

Kedarnath Bhattacharya, better known as Kumar Sanu, is regarded as one of the legends of playback singing in India largely due to his work in the 90s and early 2000s. He teamed up Nadeem-Shravan, Anu Malik, Jatin-Lalit and other leading music composers to create some of the most popular and memorable songs of Hindi cinema.

His discography is filled with hits like ‘Dheere Dheere Se Meri’ from the movie ‘Aashiqui’, ‘Tu Mile Dil Khile’ from ‘Criminal’, ‘Mera Dil Bhi Kitna’ from ‘Saajan’, ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha’ from ‘1942 A Love Story’ and many others.

He holds the Guinness Book world record for recording the most songs in a day, 28, in the year 1993. In 2009, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in recognition of his achievements.

Even with a successful career spanning over three decades, Kumar Sanu still has the drive to create new music and traverse genres. To fulfil his creative needs, he has now taken a plunge into the independent music space with his single, Oh Jaana, and is geared up for a string of singles to release in the future.

Over the last year a number of independent music labels owned by composers, singers, and artist management companies have come into being.

For our Interview of the Week, we spoke to Kumar Sanu about his independent music debut, his upcoming projects, tips for aspiring singers, the pros and cons of technology and more.

As a playback singer, Kumar Sanu’s career has spanned decades, what is the difference in the approach of the filmmakers and composers from the earlier days?

The difference lies majorly in the narration part. Earlier the music composers would brief us about the movie’s story and also the song situation in the movie. We were explained how the song should sound. The music composers were given the total responsibility to assign a particular song to the singer of his choice. They would then approach us. The singers were not selected by the producer or the director. That is why the songs are still played and loved.

Do you think technology will have a negative impact on upcoming singers? Should its use be limited?

Technological advancements have certainly had a positive impact on the music industry but it has its disadvantages too. Now we don’t have to record a song with the entire team which allows work flexibility and saves time. We must move on with the changing times.

On the other side, when we recorded a song with the entire team, everyone could contribute creatively. This has led to songs becoming devoid of emotions. Now singers are callous while recording as they know even if they err, it can be rectified later. As with all things, technology has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Sur, taal and lai always have and will be essential to singing. No technology can replace the basics. One important thing to not is to not allow technology hamper creativity.

Almost every TV channel has a singing reality show now. Do you think these shows can produce quality singers?

As we have witnessed so far the chances of a singer making it big through these shows are negligible. This is largely because they perform cover versions of classics and not their original content. This leads to lack of creativity which is a prerequisite to become a good singer. By copying the styles of established singers, they get stereotyped. Many careers have got limited to stage performances where they are expected to sing like Sonu Nigam, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan or any other singer. 

The singers should cover a song using their own creativity and make it sound better or at least as good as the original. The contestants have a platform to showcase their creativity but the creativity has to be channelised. It cannot be a botch job.

It’s now the era of singles and independent music. Many singers have started their own music labels and are releasing singles. Is it a good trend?

The rise of independent music and labels is a definitely a good trend. This has happened largely due to the high handedness of the major music labels. Even the leading singers have jumped in the fray as they want to create music which they desire and also gives them freedom to explore their talent. This is a very positive step and every singer or composer should try to release their music through their own label. They won’t have to rely on the major labels to promote their music. 

I have recently released my single, ‘Oh Jaana’ which has been appreciated by fans. I recently recorded a couple of singles with composer Jatin Pandit here in Los Angeles and will be shooting the videos soon. Along with film songs, I have a number of singles ready for release. Fans will surely see more of Kumar Sanu in the independent music space.

Your daughter Shannon is already making a name for herself in the west. You have already collaborated with her. What kind of music would you like to release along with her in the future?

As you must be aware, Shannon has created an identity of her own here in the States. I am pleased that both my daughters here are doing extremely well. I have played no role in Shannon’s career so far. Our styles and genres are completely different but we incorporate each other’s strengths into our music. 

We have released a duet, ‘It’s Magical’. We are currently working on a song about father and daughter bonding. Shannon has recently released her single ‘Run’ and its video is director by my younger daughter, Annabelle. The fans will definitely be listening to songs by Kumar Sanu and Shannon K very soon.

What tips would you give to aspiring singers?

The first thing I would tell them is to not enter the studio relying on the technology available there. Try to minimise or not use technology while singing and perfect it. Once you develop a habit, you won’t be reliant on technology and will become a better singer. This will also ensure that technology is used to the minimal and that is how it should always be.

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