Queen of melodies

being vocal

With her sonorous voice, Shreya Ghoshal has given shape to some of the popular melodies of our times, and created a niche for herself in Bollywood. RAJIV VIJAYAKAR talks to the singer about her latest music album.

She’s the undisputed Queen Bee of playback singing for many years now. In an era where big names tend to go trendy if they do non-film albums, Shreya Ghoshal, whose film songs are a versatile mix of item songs, deep melodies and other styles, has opted for a hardcore ghazal album, Humnasheen, as her debut effort.

The response, says today’s most popular and highly-trained singer, has been heartening and phenomenal. The unusual guts to go against populist trends and strike out on a path that not only deeply satiates the listener’s growing craving for musical substance, but also leaves her artistically and professionally contented has paid off.

Heart to heart

It’s a relaxed morning meeting at Shreya’s apartment, where the singer talks about the album and et cetera matters with characteristic frankspeak. “This album was unique in the sense that it began to be created even before the concept came up,” reveals the diva. “Deepak Pandit, who has composed the songs, and I were working on some small films like The Great Indian Butterfly, Yeh Faasley and others. Deepak has fashioned some lovely thumris and other classically-oriented compositions in these films that I truly enjoyed. He has a background of ghazal and qawwali in his bloodline, besides being the late Jagjit Singhji’s violinist, and we started jamming and composing some music together.”

In rewind mode, Shreya goes on, “As a child, I loved ghazals and I remember winning a competition by singing one at the age of eight. For me, the whole exercise was more of how to learn music and experiment on the andaz then. I had no idea at all that the most important part of a ghazal was the poetry. After I turned singer and understood more of poetry, I learnt a lot from the lyricists and understood how poetry and music go hand-in-hand.”

At 31, Shreya admits that the philosophy and emotions in these songs are something she is in awe of today, but that there was no thought yet of doing an album when, five years ago, Deepak and she made a few ghazals just for creative satisfaction. “We recorded one every two years,” smiles the singer. “But after listening to these two songs we had done, ‘Raaton ko Chain’ and ‘Yeh Aasmaan’, the thought finally came, ‘Why not do an entire album?’”

Recording ghazals was traditional enough vis-à-vis a pop album, but Shreya also decided to go pure in the genre, which was creditable yet commercially risky. “Yes,” she smiles. “I was inspired by Asha Bhosleji, who had sung it all, film songs including cabarets, and then Marathi natyasangeet (semi-classical theatre music) and then ghazals. I had to explore my roots as a classically-trained singer as much as possible. The calmness, theherav (placidity of the song) and the exploration of the compositions were important.”

For this, Shreya actually sat and sang on a rug in the studio, and the songs were recorded only on a theka with the tabla and tanpura. “That left me completely free to sing as if on stage, using the skeleton of the compositions to put in every possible variations and nuances in each song,” she explains. The exercise, states Shreya, took her nostalgically back to her childhood days of riyaaz on the tanpura for two hours daily. “Today, thanks to time constraints, I do this with an iPhone app!” 

Anointing the six ghazals on the album are a nazm (‘Shamma Jalti Rahi’) and a geet (‘Maahi Rok Na Aaj Mujhko’) that is “almost like a Meera kirtan”, both intentional additions for variety as in most such albums. The decision to come out with a physical CD in these days of almost defunct physical sales was another challenge. “Humnasheen was my baby-step that also helped me understand the market,” agrees Shreya. 

Music today

“Today, I know what I have to do vis-à-vis the music company’s promotions, and also realise how many people truly love and follow me on social networking sites. The downloads of Humnasheen on iTunes and similar sites have been gratifying. I have also done my own research on traditional genres that have archival value and I am thinking what I should attempt next,” she smiles. 

On the film front, Shreya is singing for almost every composer. She makes a special mention of Shantanu Moitra’s Bobby Jasoos and Vishal-Shekhar’s Happy New Year. After major triumphs last year like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela – Ram-Leela, Aashiqui 2 and several other movies, Shreya has scored this year in Gunday, Main Tera Hero and other films. The singer is also recording a lot for regional cinema.

How particular is she about the words of a song in the Baby Doll-anything goes era? “I will not sing double-meaning songs and worse,” she admits. “There were some lines in ‘Chikni Chameli’ from Agneepath, for example, that I made sure were modified. It’s simple — we are not like the West yet! There is a social responsibility that all artistes have. We Indians still have a comfort level in being covered. If that is not going with the times, then so be it. Worldwide, we are being increasingly respected and honoured for our cerebral qualities and that’s the way it should be! I am not insecure, so why should I sing such attention-grabbing songs?”

Having performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London once, she is set to do so again soon. “It’s a humbling experience just thinking that I am performing on the same stage as legends from India as well as all over the world,” she says. And in her own way, Shreya does not restrict such solo concerts to her own work but includes immortal songs of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle and even famous ghazals in her stage repertoire.

After all, music is an ocean, and Shreya wants to go boldly into deep waters.

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