Usha Uthup, the grand lady of Indian pop and jazz, ushered in 2015 by regaling those present at the Chasing Storm music festival in Coorg with her renditions. The event, a compacted version of ‘The Storm Festival’, hosts camp-out musical performances in the lap of nature, with bon fires, late-night barbeques and jamming sessions. The singer said that the experience was special because it was her musical debut in Coorg, something that had not featured in her singing career of 45 years!
Love for languages Usha Uthup, with more than 100 albums in 17 Indian languages to her credit, recounted her musical journey, “From my school days, I have been exposed to a variety of languages. And, it’s up to an individual to soak in and make the best of what one is exposed to. That’s when my interest in music developed. Then of course, I’ve always been a people’s person. The more I observed and conversed, the more I absorbed. I love to communicate through music, and when I leave my audience with a smile on their faces, I feel wonderful.”
She has elevated lesser-used languages like Dogri and Khasi through her songs. Her vocals have gripped foreign languages like Spanish, French, German, ltalian, Zulu, Swahili, Sinhala, Russian and Ukrainian.
But her first unexpected singing experience became her chance opportunity to build up her musical career. “On one of our vacations in Madras, we were taken out to a nightclub called Nine Gems on Mount Road. On my aunt’s insistence, I sang along with a band that played there. Then came the applause. The club’s owner asked me to sing there for a whole week, and gifted me a Kanjeevaram Saree, my first one! After that, offers from several other nightclubs started to pour in. It was an experience that left me intoxicated and urged me to take on a musical career, which has been going on for over four decades now.”
And since then, she has given performances across India, addressed the youth, and defined how music can connect beyond caste, class, race and religion.
Through her vocal prowess, she has always tried to create a consciousness of love, unity, peace, tolerance and integrity. She recalled the name Harry Belafonte as her greatest musical influence. There was also one other entity that impressed her deeply during her childhood. “The Radio. It can be called my first teacher and the most serious influence, although I come from a family that appreciated different genres of music. Also, my two elder sisters, Indira and Uma, considerably influenced me back then.”
Her sisters were known as the famous singing ‘Sami Sisters’. Usha Uthup has achieved immense success as a singer and performer. And she attributes it, to a great extent, to her fans. “The support of my fans has kept me going. I never planned to become a singer, it happened by chance, and I am thankful to god for giving me that chance.”
Upcoming tunes At the moment, she is busy with performances across the country, which, she said “were lovely as I get to be closer to my audiences.” Simultanesously, she is on to an interesting project — “I’m working with Munna and Raj on what would be a tribute to R D Burman. It is one hundred per cent original, it’s in Bangla, and is ‘Burmanesque’.” She also expressed interest to “add to her (live) repertoire.”
She has planned to render a few old and new songs like Kiss of Fire, Diamonds Are Forever, You Only Live Twice and other Bond classics after the tremendous success of her rendition of Skyfall. In an effort to justly acknowledge ‘behind-the-screen’ stars of the music industry, she has pitched for an award ceremony for technicians! “All the artistes attend award functions and get felicitated for their work. But no one spares a thought or two for technicians — the sound engineers, set decorators et al, who play a crucial role in our success.” Indeed, her music and her intentions are appreciated.