Ace singer Hariharan gets candid about his four-decade-long journey as a musician
From his mother teaching him music to singing over 15,000 songs in 10 different languages and creating his own sound, versatile singer Hariharan gets candid in a tete-à-tete
For someone who grew up listening to lullabies in ragas, iconic musicians like Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi or Pandit Ravi Shankar and Carnatic greats, it doesn’t come as a surprise that veteran singer Hariharan was a musical prodigy. Ever since he started his career in 1977, Hariharan has lent his voice to more than 15,000 songs in 10 different languages that earned him a huge fan following and many accolades, including two National Awards, and a Padma Shri in 2004. From working with the best musicians and singers of Bollywood and giving songs like Hai Rama (Rangeela), Jhonka Hawa Ka (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) to Kitni Baatein (Lakshya) and Tu Hi Re (Bombay) among others; Hariharan is also a Tamil favourite for his songs with Academy Award-winning music maestro AR Rahman — not to miss Uyire Uyire that earned him the State Government film award. Fast forward to the present day and not much has changed. At 66, he is as busy as a bee and has created a unique ghazal to train students online in a masterclass called Ace it with the Masters presented by Paytm Insider and Indianuance. We caught up with the maestro earlier this week to talk about all things music.
Surrounded by a family of musicians — how impactful were your early years in music?
I learnt Carnatic music from my mother — ragam, swaram and everything. My learning process was like osmosis where there is only music. The aesthetics of music were imprinted in me by my mother and by listening to some amazing artistes. It was a slow process for me. I used to play cricket and was learning music at the same time but I was enjoying music the most. I never learnt to become a professional singer. I had a normal childhood in Mumbai and went to Don Bosco High School, Matunga where I was exposed to English music and at the same time was listening to Bollywood music on Vividh Bharati (radio station) and Carnatic music at home. It was like a melting pot. There was no pressure because there weren’t so many options and no competition. The training also was very different. There was a lot of discipline in training.
Talking about training, what is your method of teaching? Do take us through the process.
I have very few students to whom I impart knowledge about music, practice and philosophy. For this class, I have composed a ghazal and I will be teaching about the composition I have used to create this ghazal. I wanted to make this class special and during the pandemic, this felt right. I am busy with travelling and concerts and taking up a student is a commitment. When you teach a student, you have to see at what level they are and to make them a singer is a task and needs determination and discipline. I believe in teaching that can prepare their singing ability. When the mind is clear, the voice will execute what the mind wants.
How has the pandemic affected your journey as a musician?
I can definitely say that the number of concerts has come down but my energy in music performances has gone up. My enthusiasm has gone up. It’s like when you are hungry you want to eat. I let out my energy in performances. We have never seen this time before and I feel evolved. I have learned that health comes first.
In over four decades of your career, is there any phase you remember as your best musical phase and what keeps you going?
I have had great runs with many artistes. I believe I lived the best phase when interests were stable, unlike now, when there is a sea of interests and they change every six months. I never did the music for the sake of it. When I create something and if I am happy with the results, it keeps me going. I have a solid perspective and values that help me stay sane in a way.
How has the music industry evolved over the years?
The presentation of music has changed in all forms and genres. It’s more like a corporate kind of a deal. It’s all terribly pre-structured. And why I say this is because it’s only about presentation now. The process is you sing and the audience will understand it slowly, but now everything is time-bound, even classical music. It used to be a 45-minute performance which has come to eight minutes because you have to hold the audience in the first five minutes. The nawabi style of music and sensitivity has been reduced. Even film music has also changed but I would say any music that gives happiness is good music. We are living in the time of social media. It’s no more about listening to an artiste and learning but telling the artiste what to sing!
You may have started by singing ghazals but have sung nearly in all genres. What genre is close to your heart?
The ghazal and khayal, because that’s where I come from. It’s too close to me.
Your fans in Tamil Nadu are missing your voice in movies, when will we get to hear you next?
(Laughs) I don’t know. It used to take years for a sound space to change but today filmmaking and song change drastically. The number of songs in films has come down. There are more word-oriented songs so either it will be very dappankuthu (folk music) or philosophical. The sweet melodies and songs have taken a back seat. And maybe it’s okay, since music is a moving art and this is the call of the hour.