Sukhwinder Singh: Understanding poetry is crucial for singers
Chronicling his love for words in a session with Merchant brothers, Salim-Sulaiman, Sukhwinder Singh justifies his endeavours as a lyricist in Bollywood
It's hard to not crack up every now and then, when you are at a recording studio with Salim-Sulaiman (composer duo Salim and Sulaiman Merchant) and singer Sukhwinder Singh. As we settle in for a Jammin' session at the music directors' studio in Santacruz, it is instantly made apparent that Singh is more comfortable playing the interviewee. They discuss music, food and more over coffee and lots of laughter.
Salim-Sulaiman to Sukhwinder
(Salim) The world knows that you are a good singer and composer. But not many know that you are a prolific lyricist too. Where does that inspiration come from?
It comes from the people you hang out with. Many believe that one is born with talent. But aisa nahin hai. Talent sohbat [association] se bhi aata hai. My interest in poetry originated when I heard Mohammed Rafi saab's song titular song, Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi Woh Barsaat Ki Raat. It's a 10-minute song, but it doesn't feel [unnecessarily] lengthy. One can judge that Rafi saab first understood the poetry and then went behind the mic. Jo poetry hi nahin samajhta, woh theek se gaa hi nahin sakta. I remember, I was at AR Rahman's studio to record for Thakshak (1999). Since the lyricist didn't turn up on time, he asked me if I can write. So I wrote the songs Rang De and Dholna. That was my first outing as a lyricist.
(Salim) Everyone is hooked on to social media today. You're also quite active on Facebook and Instagram. Would you agree that spending so much time on social media is a waste?
I have hired a team that takes care of my social media handles. You and I can't do it on our own. I use my mobile only for flirting (laughs). Maine kitne artistes ko gadha majdoori karte dekha hai phone ke saath, be it on a flight, while eating food or combing their hair — they're always hooked on to their phones and social media. Woh ghulam ho gaye hain iske aur yeh acchi baat nahin hai.
Sukhwinder Singh with Salim Merchant
(Salim) It's believed that music is 50 per cent learning and 50 per cent listening. Who is that one singer whose music has been educational for you?
As a kid, I would listen to a lot of songs by Tufail Niazi [late Pakistani singer] and was inspired by him. I was also fond of his sons, Babar and Javed Niazi. For them, understanding poetry before singing the song was important. Rafi saab and Lata Mangeshkarji are also institutions of learning.
(Salim) Every singer has an unfulfilled wish of working with a composer/singer. They think, “Kaash main unke saath kaam kar paata.” Apka 'unke' kaun hai?
If Pancham da (late composer RD Burman) was alive, then I would have sung the same number of songs with him as I do with the two of you. Unko main peer baba bolta hoon.
(Sulaiman) Not many people know that you are fond of cooking and feeding. Where does that hobby come from?
I love to cook. All my cooks follow my recipes. I think every musician likes to eat and feed people. I make good lachha paratha and khadi dal.
(Salim) Of the innumerable songs that you've sung, which one is the closest to your heart?
I sang Ramta Jogi (Taal, 1999) post midnight. Recording it was a memorable experience. Rahman is a brilliant technician. I told him to place the mic at two-three places, but he said it's not possible, because he had a small studio back then. Finally, the mics were placed at the verandah and when I sang it, it sounded magical. I felt a divine energy while singing it. The same version released. That song gave me contentment.
Sukhwinder to Salim-Sulaiman
The music of 102 Not Out is unlike your other works, like Chak De! India (2007) and Fashion (2008). How did you manage to get the old-school vibe to the soundtrack?
Salim: Film mein [Amitabh] Bachchan saab ka ek dialogue hai, “Mujhe zindagi ki har nayi cheez pasand hai, lekin sangeet puraana pasand hai.” We wanted to make music that's reminiscent of Salil Chowdhury, Madanmohanji and SD Burman's work. This was a golden chance for us to try our hand at something so different.
mid-day's jammin session with Sukhwinder Singh and Salim-Sulaiman
Though the soundtrack was different from the kinds you've delivered, it was as appealing as your other work...
Sulaiman: Baal aise hi thodi na safed ho gaye hain (laughs). We have attempted challenging projects in the past too. The demand of the film was such. Since we listen to so many yesteryear songs, woh music abhi bhi hai system mein.
Our song,Peer Manaawan Challiyaan, was released on August 15, 2014, but it's played by DJs at pubs...
Sulaiman: Working on the song was so much fun. Baatein karte-karte gaana ban gaya tha. We felt that you started singing and wrapped up in no time. The modern orchestration and performance made it special. I have friends in Canada, and their parents say this is their favourite song.
I want to know your opinion on being active on social media. Do you think it is important for musicians?
Sulaiman: The current scenario demands that. There are thousands of artistes and they are all craving attention. Aur jo aam aabadi hai woh unhe jaanti nahin hai. So the only way to earn recognition is by being active on social media. Facebook ya Instagram mein shor sharaba karne se unka bhi bhala ho jaata hai.
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