Singer Shaan on the recreation of KK’s iconic song ‘Yaaron’

The new rendition was unveiled on Friendship Day, which is celebrated in India on the first Sunday of August every year
Shaan with KK
Shaan with KK

For a generation of Indians, the late singer KK’s song Yaaron became the quintessential sonic background to the spirit of friendship. To celebrate its legacy, singers Shaan, Papon, Benny Dayal, Dhvani Bhanushali, composer Leslee Lewis, and KK's children Nakul and Taamara came together to recreate the iconic track.

The new rendition was released digitally on August 5 ahead of Friendship Day — which is celebrated in India on the first Sunday of August every year — and will be performed live in Mumbai at the end of the month.

KK and Shaan have given us hit duets like Koi Kahe and Dus Bahane. The duo has also been on extensive and successful music tours. However, what is not known to many is that Shaan was not just KK’s contemporary; he was also one of his closest friends. On Friendship Day, the singer spoke to Indulge about his surreal first meeting with KK, their friendship, professional collaborations, what made KK the great singer that he was, and much more:

Singers like you and KK have gifted us songs that went on to become friendship anthems for an entire generation. How important is friendship to you as an artiste?

As an individual, I have always thrived on friendship and have held it very high on my priorities. I’ve not let many of my friends go. I’m a cling-on when it comes to friendship.

As an artiste, maybe it’s one of the reasons why I can’t say ‘no’ to most people. But I think it’s a good thing. Saying no is easy. But whatever you do as work, there is some benefit to it. Very often, people tell me, “Koi bhi bolta hai gaanaa gaane toh tu gaa deta hai.” (You sing for whoever asks you to sing). If there's a friend-connect in a project, I’ll have to oblige. But I enjoy doing that. Sometimes you have to give relationships more priority than career strategies.

Can you recall your first-ever interaction with KK? Tell us how your friendship with him has developed over the years.

When I met KK for the first time, neither of us knew that the other one was a singer. It was a very strange, surreal meeting. It was an afternoon of maybe ‘94 or ’95. I had just entered an almost-empty train at the Churchgate Station (in Mumbai) and saw this boy sitting with his Walkman. I casually asked him, “What are you listening to?” and we got talking. He said he is a singer and had come from Delhi. That was KK.

Just a couple of days before that, my sister (Sagarika Mukherjee) had recorded something with him for Vishal Bharadwaj ji. She mentioned that there’s this singer with a terrific range and this whole ‘rock’ feel. In those days, that kind of singing was rare. It was mostly the Bollywood style of singing that was there. So, I told him that I’d listened to him and my sister Sagarika has mentioned him. That's how the conversation started. Never really thought much of it.

Then we met again probably in the late ’90s. We started recording all our duet songs around 2001 or 2002 and started touring together. It was amazing. We sang a lot of youth icon songs like Koi Kahe, Time to Disco, and Dus Bahane. We did quite a long list of fun duets together. In the film Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi – I sang Woh Pehli Baar and Musu Musu Hasi, and KK sang the title track. So, we even started our journeys together.

What do you think was the one thing that made KK the great musician that he was?

I think there was not much difference between KK – the musician and KK – the person. The warmth and genuineness he had as a person came through in his singing too. As a singer, very often you are given a brief by the composer and you’re supposed to deliver that feeling. But there was a certain honesty in him that came through in his expression when he sang a song. He wouldn’t overdo or underplay it, which was not a popular thing to do at that time. You had to over-emote and sound more husky for romantic songs. You had to be over-the-top energetic for dance tracks. But KK’s style was different – it actually grew more popular with the newer generation of singers and composers as well. They wanted a more real and casual approach to singing. I think that's when he became the torch-bearer for the newer generation of singers.

Also, the amazing fearlessness when it came to the range he sang at – he never worried, just sang full-throated. The kind of straight notes he would attempt to do, not using many frills or harkats – that became the style for the coming generations. I think a lot of what you hear from Atif or Arijit today originated from the style of KK.

You and KK have not only recorded duets together but even performed together at concerts. What was it like to collaborate with him professionally?

KK was very easy-going and chilled out, he would be happy to let you take the lead. He had a very ‘jiyo aur jine do’ (live and let live) kind of attitude towards life. Very early in our careers, we did a lot of shows together with Anu Malik ji. We did a McDowell's No. 1 Yaari tour and travelled across Assam and West Bengal to do shows together. We also did a hattrick of sold-out shows in Dubai. It was a lot of fun.

But KK was very disciplined. He was not a party person at all – no drinking, no smoking, no partying, no late nights. His clarity was very strong, you couldn’t push him to do anything he didn’t want to. And he was very much a family person. With me, he’d talk one-to-one, just the two of us. But ask him to hang out with a group – he wouldn't be interested. He’d rather be alone in his room. If at all he had attended any parties, then it has been like, he has come home a couple of times. I remember it was my birthday when we were touring once and he had come to my birthday party. He didn’t like parties but still he attended that one. It was very sweet of him.

After KK’s unfortunate demise, you have performed his songs at your concerts. But what inspired you to work on the recreation of Yaaron?

Whenever we talk about friendship, Yaaron is always a part of it. The song was created by Leslee Lewis. So, I insisted if anyone is interested in recreation, it should be Leslee Lewis. We’ve all started off with Leslee – he has been sort of our mentor in the mid-’90s. I’m very happy and thrilled that we got to work with both Leslee and KK’s band (for this project). I just had to be a part of it. And I do feel that I was his closest friend, at least, in the industry.

Despite your best intent, recreating a classic like Yaaron is always risky. What were the things you and the other artistes working on the recreation had to keep in mind while making it?

Honestly, I wasn’t thinking like that. It was just a way to remember KK and pay tribute to him. More importantly, it was to showcase Tamara and Nakul (KK’s children) and be with them. Nothing else really mattered for something like this.

Gladly, Leslee had KK’s vocals from the original version of Yaaron! So, in this recreation, we got those vocals in the beginning. It is to show that you can’t replace KK’s voice. It is quite iconic that we could get KK’s vocals and Taamara and Nakul to sing with him. It was like they did a duet with him. That was very touching, very beautiful. Really loved the way this project has turned out.

Like KK, you are one of the few singers of your generation who has consistently had a loyal audience base. What does it take to do that?

No no, I can think of many such singers of our generation (smiles). The question is beautiful, but very honestly — I can speak for KK too — we are not very complicated people. We don’t think too much about these things. Singing is our passion; it is something that keeps us young.

KK was clearly the youngest 53-year-old I have ever come across – not just physically, but also internally. He was like an excited kid. And it’s the same thing for me. I believe every song is your first song, every project is your first project. It’s not about where the song is played. Very often KK used to tell me, “Yaar, you should choose your projects.” I used to say, “Bro, I think the projects choose us, we just have to go along with it.” My biggest fun is being in front of the mic. As long as I am in front of the mic, I am happy. Maybe that’s how we stay young and happy. Do something you love and keep doing it. That keeps you young and excited.

Whether it’s your singles on YouTube or your content on Instagram – your artistry seemed to have gone through a revamp in the last couple of years. What was your intent behind it?

No real intent, I just have much more time on my hands and I want to make the best of my time. I don’t want to sit back and talk about what has happened. I never have any record of the music I have done. I like to keep staying in the moment. So, I keep making songs and once you make those songs, what do you do with them? You put them out! And I am enjoying this whole exercise of putting out my songs on YouTube, exploring different types of songs and genres – as a composer and as a singer.

In our generation of singers, KK is someone who consistently kept getting very interesting and popular songs. Maybe between 2010 - 2020, I just had four or five big hits. But KK kept singing for the newer actors. Somewhere, his style of singing remained appealing to the newer generation. That is why despite not being very active on social media, he had a very strong fan and forever-growing following. He loved them too but he was a very private person. So, maybe one reason why his fan following kept growing is that his songs kept coming up in these big, important films. The younger composers also enjoyed working with him. In fact, I wish I too had that. Which is why I probably started composing (songs) myself (laughs).

But yeah, you never know what's in store tomorrow. While we're alive we have to keep living. You have to make the best of every moment. I feel I am at the best of my abilities today. The day I feel my voice is deteriorating, I'll definitely stop doing what I'm doing. But until then, I believe I am in charge of my destiny. As long as I believe in myself, I'll keep doing what I do.

What are you working on these days?

Post-COVID, the live shows have come back strongly. So, I've been travelling a lot with my concerts. Also, I've realised that life's too short, you've got to live it, really. So, I was in Scotland recently and before that, I was in the UK and the US; I spent some good family time in these places. I also hosted Swayamvar: Mika Di Vohti – a very successful TV show. I got to do a lot of new things, which were not just music but also about human relationships. That was a lot of fun.

Going ahead, I am creating new songs for films and for my own channel. And for my own channel I make music videos too, so that is also happening. All in all, keeping busy. Some very interesting projects that I've been working on will be out soon.

Also, before leaving, since today it's Friendship Day, I wanna leave a small footnote. Very often we take our friends for granted. But don't postpone connecting with your friends. If you have a rift with a friend but you know he or she is a very close friend, be the first to reach out. Connect with your friends because friendship is beautiful; friendship is above everything. To have a great friend is worth so much more than having all the wealth, believe me. So, hold on to your best friends, because life's too short, you never know what happens.

Shaan will perform at the McDowell’s No. 1 Yaari Jam – KK Forever Concert at Phoenix Market City in Mumbai, on August 23.


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