Playback singing has lost its soul: Alka Yagnik
Singer Alka Yagnik on the paradigm shift in Bollywood music and why she's better off touring the world
She’s just back from a concert in Nigeria (“There’s a huge Indian crowd there!”) and about to leave for US to undertake month-long concerts with Udit Narayan. The two-time National Award-winning songstress might not be belting out chartbusters but she sounds content. We caught up with the otherwise media-shy Alka Yagnik in a candid mood at her Lokhandwala residence to know what she has been up to lately.
Between studio recordings and live concerts, what do you enjoy more?
During my heydays, I used to get a lot of offers for live performance but being a painfully shy person, I often refused. But now that I’m touring the circuit, I’m realising what I missed in those days. Today, I not only interact with the audience but also dance with them (laughs). The connection is so spontaneous because you’re in close contact with the audience -- the people who make you. You don’t know them but your songs are the connecting factor.
Being someone who has been around for three decades, what is the greatest change you’ve observed?
I started out when I was barely in my mid-teens. Things were different then. I learnt everything on the job while working with masters such as Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. In my view, the real big change started taking place in the mid-2000s when a new phase of playback emerged. Technical advancement played a role and singing became easier. We used to have 100-piece orchestra with chorus. Sometimes I turn nostalgic and wonder whether that era really existed (smiles).
So is it a conscious decision to stay away from Bollywood?
The thing is, one goes through phases in life, and things change from time to time. It’s not like there wasn’t any talent around -- not to forget the two leading female singers -- to compete with. But I somehow made my way to the top. It’s okay. When I look back at my repertoire, I’m glad with the number of hits I delivered. It is a fact that the nature of songs has changed over the years. My voice doesn’t suit most of the tracks that are played nowadays.
But you’ve sung so many songs...
Yes, but that was mostly during the ’90s when intense songs were sung in a soft melody and the texture of my voice fit in perfectly. We see it today -- there’s no distinction left between the sound required for a lead actress and a vamp. Earlier, the vamps -- who eventually got replaced by item girls -- always had a heavy voice. At present, the heroine can have any kind of voice which has less to do with sound and more to do with gimmicks.
Aren’t there way too many playback singers now?
Actually, it’s a clash between quality and quantity. My daughter keeps listening to popular numbers but when I ask her “Kiska gaana hai (Whose song is this)?”, she goes blank. ‘Who cares?’ is the attitude now. Besides, the aural identity is fast losing its sheen. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that playback singing has lost its soul. Some of the blame could be placed on too much exposure. At the same time, you can’t overlook the talent that is out there.
Do you have any regrets as such in terms of your career?
Not at all. There’s no point being critical. Thanks to my touring, I’m travelling places I never had time to visit before. Sometimes I ask myself “Where did my 25 years go?” (laughs). I was busy entering and exiting studios recording on a daily basis. It was fun though. What I’m doing now is something I enjoy as well. It’s not like I’ve retired or anything. If a song that suits me has to come my way, it will (smiles).