What has been the driving force behind your music?
Itís basically my love for people. When people ask me what kind of songs I sing, I tell them I sing all kinds of songs. I never really learnt music as such, but I love people so much that I always wanted to be among them all the time. So, I believe music is not my business, communication is. And I guess that has clicked for me. I am an Indian, but I tried to connect with citizens all across the globe with language and music.
It is said during school people discouraged you to be a singer, but you proved everybody wrongÖ
I have been singing for 43 years now. I was thrown out of the music class, as they couldnít find a correct slot for me in the choir because my voice was too bass and it still is. I didnít prove anybody wrong, it just happened that way. But even in school they knew I was musical, as they would give me some percussion to play or ask me to organise the programme. I kept tapping the table like a tabla in the class. I loved music and I stayed with it. All it needs is the courage to follow your conviction.
In your initial days, you sang in nightclubs at a time when it was considered an outrage.
It was not acceptable. There was stigma attached to it. It may be a drop in the ocean but I contributed in removing that stigma.
Whatís your fascination with languages?
I love languages. The language I am performing in is the language that is closest to me. Like today, it will be Odia. The language that connects me to the audience is most important one. I have sung in 18 Indian languages and eight foreign ones.
In a recent major film award ceremony, you were overwhelmed to receive the best playback singer award. Last year, you were felicitated with the Padma Shri Award. How do you assess the signification of awards for artistes?
Many artistes say they donít need awards, some say it doesnít matter, but for me, it is important but only when I get it. If I donít get it, I am not a frustrated person. Otherwise, I would have been a frustrated person for 40-odd years of my career. But the biggest award is always your audience.
What is your Odisha connect?
I have been associated with Odisha for a long time, around 32 years now. Our studio in Calcutta had a monopoly in the Eastern region for recording for films. Several Odia singers used to come there. The greatest music director of Odisha, Akshay Mohanty da, was a wonderful friend of mine. It was a great experience working with him. All the famous Odia singers used to come to our studio and we had lovely interactions.
Are you planning any music album?
I have been working on my album Kashmir to Kanyakumari for three years now. Itís about a peace train travelling across all states. The songs in languages of all those states will be there. My music is ready. But do you ever go out and buy an album? There is hardly any scope in it. Itís all about films. So much money is being pumped in Bollywood. Thereís no scope left in albums. If an album happens it is fine otherwise I have no plans for it. Everybody simply downloads music from net.
Did Bollywoodís popularity inspire you to take up acting?
I love acting. Since school days, I have been fond of acting.
Unlike you, why donít we see Indian singers singing in English?
Many people try to sing like me in English, but never in the open. I donít know why!
Is your characteristic fashion statement an effort to look different?
I come from a middle class family. My father was in the police and he couldnít afford to give us stylish clothes. I wore whatever was available. The only dress I knew besides school uniform was the sari. I am grateful I was born in India. It was never a style statement then. I make sure I get the combination right and my bindi, garland and bangles are matching. Today, it may be seen as a style statement, but it was never intended to be.
Pandit Ravi Shankarís demise is a huge loss to the music world.
Indeed, but life goes on. Music will go on forever. But the greatest thing about the legend is when you think about Indian classical music, the first person that comes to your mind is Pandit-ji. His contribution and the amount of labour he has put in is unbelievable.
What do you think about upcoming singers?
Fantastic singers are coming up. The reality shows are giving them platforms. There was a time when in millions of people there would be only a handful of singers. I am happy thereís so much talent around.
What is your most memorable moment?
I hope this concert proves to one. One of my most treasured moments was when the then President Jomo Kenyatta made me an Honorary Citizen of Kenya after listening to the famous song Malaika in Swahili. Meeting with Nelson Mandela and Indira Gandhi were equally unforgettable moments.
If not a singer, you would be?
A teacher. Or may be a tailor. I am a wonderful tailor!
A music teacher?
No, any subject teacher. I just love teaching and children.
So, what would the teacher inside suggest to young musicians?
Just hang in there and be prepared to work hard. Be ready to give up other things if your priority is music.