Returning to Bollywood after 20 years with Barefoot to Goa, legendary singer KJ Yesudas says he will always remain a student
It is all about perfection and quality for singer KJ Yesudas. And we see this as the 75-year-old records a Hindi number after 20 years (the last was for Dada, in 1980). The legend, who has won the National Award seven times for best male playback singer, is voicing a lullaby in Barefoot to Goa, a drama by Praveen Morchhale. Composed by Rohit Sharma, the song, Naina Do Nyare, is inspired by Surmayee Akhiyon Mein from the film, Sadma. “The film is about two children who travel from Mumbai to Goa to find their grandmother who has cancer,” says Morchhale. The versatile singer, who had once made headlines by recording 16 songs in different languages in a single day, took four hours to complete this one.
Yesudas begins with how he is still a student. “I started learning music at the age of five. I am 75 now and I’m still learning. The big singers have always compared music to a sea and no one can drink it all up in one lifetime,” he says. The melodist shares how his father played an important role in his career. “My father told me to forget about studies. He was an actor and he couldn’t train in Carnatic music. My brothers and sisters are all singers, but he encouraged me. I had gone for a vidvaan course in Trivandrum, but because of financial problems and my father’s failing health, I had to come back in a year. I haven’t finished my course. So I am not a vidvaan, but a vidhyarthi (student),” he says.
Yesudas, a religious person who has done his share of spiritual songs, explains how music is connected to spirituality. “When you are deeply involved in something, it shows you are spiritual. We tend to believe that spirituality is separate, but it is in you. In Tamil, they say kadavul, which means god’s within you. But in our day-to-day lives, we tend to forget this,” he says. To Yesudas, music has to be felt before it is performed. Anybody can learn musical notes; what one needs to master is gammak (feel), which is not easy. “Each swara in Carnatic music has a certain feel. At the same time, Hindustani is different. A todi ragam in Carnatic becomes bhairavi in Hindustani. We should be thankful that we’ve two great music bases in India,” he says. An admirer of Hindustani, Yesudas considers yesteryear singer Mohammed Rafi as his inspiration.
While Skype and WhatsApp are the new teaching models followed globally, Yesudas still finds the gurukulam system fool-proof. “The cassette recorder will not tell you you’re wrong. There is a feel in the gurukulam system. You sit on the floor and learn from the teacher. Some western players used to place their cigarettes on the piano, but we’ll not do that. It is Saraswati to us and our culture is different,” says the Chennai-based singer, who rubbishes rumours of being choosy. “People think Yesudas will not be happy with a song and so they don’t call me. I don’t reject songs. Music comes from within and I don’t go looking for work. I don’t sign a song so that 10 lakh people will like it on YouTube. Perfection matters a lot to me,” he concludes.
Barefoot to Goa releases on April 10.
— Mrinalini Sundar