Ashutosh tells us about Ash
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- Published 12.06.12
The London-born gospel and R&B singer Ash King, making big splashes in Bollywood with songs like Te Amo (Dum Maaro Dum), I love you (Bodyguard) and Auntyji (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), has just recorded his first Bengali song, a “zippy romantic” number for Pratim D. Gupta’s Paanch Adhyay. The half-Bengali, half-Gujarati whose real name is Ashutosh Ganguly traded his waistcoat and spiked hair for kurta and chappals on a Monday afternoon to retrace his roots and narrate to t2 his journey back from London to Calcutta via A.R. Rahman, Lady Gaga and blood ties.
Tell us about your first Bengali song...
I sang the love theme track for Pratim’s Paanch Adhyay called Pum param pum. I met Shantanu Moitra when I performed on his show called Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar. I had gone to meet him at his studio last month and co-incidentally they had this song they wanted me to try out. It’s got a Latin flavour with a great electric guitar solo and went with the same key and style I sing in. It was pure coincidence. I recorded it right then, in two hours.
My dad (Shankar Ganguly) passed away last month and during the funeral process I decided I wanted to do something here in Bengal. I’ve got a lot of love here and I want to give something back as a tribute to my dad. So I’ll record a Bengali single when I’m back in July. It’s translated from a Hindi song called Kaise written by my mum’s twin sister and based on the story of Job.
How did a half-Bengali, half-Gujarati land up in London?
My real connection with Bengal is through my Dad who was a semi-classical, folk music and tabla artiste. He was close to Hemanta Kumar, who introduced him to flautist Pannalal Ghosh. He took my Dad to Bombay where he got involved with the Mumbai film music industry and became assistant to Salil Chowdhury and Anil Biswas. Then he was sent to Africa by Nirmala Devi to propagate Sahaj Yoga before moving to London as a music lecturer. I was born in London and have always lived there.... And yes, I often feel torn between my masoor dal, begun, maachh bhaja and khakhra, dhokla, thepla! (Laughs)
You also have a connection with Kishore Kumar?
My grandfather [Brajendra Lal Ganguly, a close ally of Subhash Chandra Bose and the first Indian classical teacher at Visva-Bharati appointed by Tagore] and Kishore Kumar’s father were first cousins. I never met them. My Dad worked with them but I’m saving the full story for a book that I’m planning to write at some point!
Given your lineage, was music a natural progression?
I was never pushed into music. I used to play jhanj with my Dad’s Gujarati compositions and the dhol and dholak. I grew up listening to music in my own dream world. It was only after I started going for Open Mics and singing gospel-influenced R&B stuff by Boys II Men, Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight that I realised I wanted to be a singer. I’m not good at anything else. I left school at 16. I used to stare at the board. I don’t know if I was dyslexic but I also got bullied a lot because I was very fat — a typical Bengali boy who loved to overeat.
And when did Ashutosh Ganguly become Ash King?
For my first ever song release I wanted to be trendy. I looked at the NRI Asian underground music scene and did a song with Hard Kaur called Look For Me. Now ‘Hard Kaur featuring Ashutosh Ganguly’ didn’t sound right. Secondly, in England they wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. I already had two nicknames — Ash and King. So, my friend Chris Jones who cuts my hair suddenly went “Ash King” and I thought, that’s a nice name that people could get familiar with before I reveal my name Ashutosh Ganguly. The idea was to actually make it easier for people. I’m not ashamed in any sense of telling people my real name. I was looking at the urban Asian scene and picked on a stage name that these kids would remember and relate to.... It was The Telegraph that revealed my real name publicly after Bodyguard’s preview screening in London last year.
How did Rahman spot you and what was it like recording your first Bolly song with him?
He was in England working on Slumdog Millionaire and a mutual friend said I should meet A.R. Rahman because he was making a western film. We were introduced and he wanted me to sing a few lines in Hindi. I was nervous and he asked me to do what I knew best. I had to put my best foot forward and I sang a gospel-influenced R&B song called Six Months, Eight Days, Twelve Hours. He heard me and said, ‘I have another song for you in mind. Are you free in August?’
He gave me a two-week holiday in Chennai. I was meant to record Dil gira dafatan written by Prasoon Joshi for Delhi-6. I thought it would have English words but it turned out to be Urdu! I still don’t know why he gave it to me! I spent 300 pounds over phone with my friend Jatanil Banerjee, an Indian classical artiste in Mathura. I called him and panicked ‘Jata, how can I sing this? I don’t know what it means or how to say it…. Save me!’ The next day I went to Rahman’s home studio where he recorded me himself. Everybody was there — him, Rakeysh Mehra and Prasoon Joshi — spending time going through this song with me. 09ash5
Amazing experience. It changed my life. Even if I don’t sing another song for 10 years and then turn up and say ‘I was the one who sang that song’, I know people will give me another chance.
But two years and you’re already working with the best names in the industry...
I had always thought I’d move to Bollywood later in life but when A.R. Rahman happened, it really changed things for me.
Soon after, I got called by Pritam to sing I love you for Bodyguard. Then Amit Trivedi called me to sing Auntyji. Taufiq Qureshi wanted to use my voice for a recording and all of this happened over 10 days. And when Te Amo, which I recorded and emailed from England, released, there was an influx of attention.
I just love singing anything that is pleasing to people’s ears. But Bollywood is what I’m loving right now. I get to sing every kind of style and people accept it. Also, the way Pritam and Rahman have mentored me and even Salman Khan has reached out to me makes me feel ‘wow’.
How did you end up in a Lady Gaga album?
I went back to London after the Delhi 6 song and got hyperactive about working in the studio. Deewan, a music producer, and me downloaded just the acapella part of Just Dance, cut out some portions and put in my voice. The remix sounded quite good so we sent it to Lady Gaga’s management. They loved it so much, they released this as the first official Bollywood-meets-Lady Gaga track, part of her repackaged Bad Romance album for Asia.
Do you attribute your singing style to your gospel choir days…
It’s hard for me to say but I think people like my tone of voice and the technicalities I use. Rahman had told me that he loved my gospel style. That’s why he put a lot of my typical R&B kind of vocal movement in the beginning of Dil gira. Black gospel music has a soul that even non-Christians would fall in love with. The harmony will get you.
Isn’t it tough living in London and working for Bollywood?
I’ve been based in Bombay for the last nine months. I keep visiting London where my mum and sister live and I’ll be travelling to Calcutta more often now.
Who are your idols in music?
My father, Haimanti Shukla, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. In western, a lot of my singing style I take from Al Green. Then there’s Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. Among modern-day singers I love Rihanna’s voice.
What’s your 2012 calendar looking like?
I’m working a lot with Pritam. I recorded a song for a Hindi film directed by Pradip Chakraborty, grandson of Pramod Chakraborty. I spoke to Rahman and he’ll hopefully find a song for me. I hope to have a bigger song bank in the next two years with more Indian content as well as a lot of my own songs.