Notes from a singer

Notes from a singer

Srabanti Chakrabarti speaks to Sowmya Raoh, the voice behind many a hit song in Bollywood, including the latest ‘Dreamum wakeupum’.

If you are asked to recollect a song that you have hummed in the recent past, chances are very high that it would be Dreamum wakeupum from the Rani Mukherjee starrer Aiyya. You may like it or hate it, but there is no escaping the fact that you have hummed it at least once.

Talk to the voice behind this superhit, Sowmya Raoh, and she smiles and says, “Frankly, I am enjoying this phase where people are praising my singing. After the song became a rage, Rani Mukherjee told me that no one else would have sung it better than me! I guess that is a huge compliment.” The singer had even changed her voice a bit to suit the song and the situation. “I have a different style for every song and thus you will find me sound different in different songs.”

Though this may be her first big hit, singing is nothing new to the young artiste who shifted base to Mumbai 12 years back from Bangalore. It all started when she was a young girl, brought up in a musical family. “My mother, B K Sumitra, is a well-known singer and I have been listening to her ever since I was born! Though I never trained under her, the ambience in the family was always musical and I used to travel with her for her shows,” Sowmya remembers.

By the time she was seven, it was time for the young girl to start singing. “That was when I recorded my first cassette in Kannada. It was an album of nursery rhymes and was very well accepted by everyone,” she remembers. “You know, I could not read at that time, but I wanted to copy my mother and thus insisted that she write down my songs in a diary and give it to me. During recordings, I used to keep it in front of me upside down. It was hilarious.”

Like most of her peers, she underwent training in classical music. But after completing her junior school in music, Sowmya decided to take a break from classical music. “For a few years, I used to just listen to light music, both Indian and Western.” She also started accompanying her mother to concerts. “During one such concert, a regular singer had not come and thus my mother asked me to go up on stage.

That was my first concert,” she recalls. After that performance, there was no stopping the young lady. She started singing dummy tracks for film songs (of late, after a music director composes a song, they record it in a dummy voice with the music. The original singer comes later and dubs on top of the dummy track). While most people do not like dummy singing, Sowmya feels it enriched her as a singer.

“Track singing can give an artiste immense knowledge of playback singing and one can learn many tidbits. Within a couple of years of starting track singing, I got into playback singing for Tamil, Telugu and Kannada film songs. My first ever hit song was from the film Ninne Pelladta, and the song was Greeku Veerudu. It was composed by Sandeep Chowta,” she says. In fact, this was the song that helped Sowmya get a toehold in the industry. Offers started pouring in after this and Sowmya became a regular voice in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada songs.

“But, after a while, I realised that I should move my base to Mumbai. I had two choices — either Chennai or Mumbai. I opted for Mumbai. Initially, the decision was not to move to Mumbai permanently. But once I came here, I met Sandeep Chowta as he was the only person I knew here, and the rest is history.”

For Sowmya, the ball started rolling after her meeting with Sandeep Chowta and she sang for films like Pyar Tune Kya Kiya, Jungle, Family, Dus, Samay, Dum, Bollywood Hollywood, Bunty Aur Babli, Tara Ra Pum, Guru and Welcome, to name a  few. Sowmya’s association with the maestro, A R Rehman, is also interesting. She sang Shauk Hai in Guru. Unfortunately, the song is not part of the CD, but it is played in the background whenever there is a scene between Madhavan and Vidya Balan in the film. Raoh is very proud to be a part of this song.

“Listeners still remember this song despite it not being there in the album. As a singer, I feel a song like this comes once in a while, but stays forever. I was lucky that I did not have to undergo the regular struggle in Mumbai. Perhaps because I  had  already established myself down South. But the other part of the struggle was to get good songs. Even to this day, I have to struggle to get a good song.

I am very bad with my public relations and have never beaten my own drum. Because I believe all the composers in the industry have good ears and when there will be a song made for me, I will be called for that. I don’t have high aspirations and big dreams. I never plan my life, I will accept whatever comes my way.”

Raoh is currently working with Sandeep Chowta again after a long break, and also with Sonu Nigam and percussionist Vikram Ghosh.

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