Hariharan is back with a bang
Hariharan’s melodious voice sings the celestial music of Lahore
Text by Ashanti OMkar (www.omkari.net)
Pictures by Akin Falope (www.aworan.net)
Blessed with a cultured, tonal voice and vocal range that captivates listeners hearts and possessing the energy of a teenager, teamed with precise diction in whatever language thrown at him, Hariharan is back with a bang, on his latest project, ‘Lahore Ke Rang, Hari Ke Sang’ an Indo-Pakistani collaboration album commissioned by Sachal music (www.sachalmusic.com) – one that crosses many borders and has used the talents of leading poets, Mushtaq Soofi, Amir Khusro, Bulleh Shah, Hasrat Mohani, Majeed Amjad, Nasir Kazmi, and Tassaduq for it’s lyrical content – it is an album that is a must for every collection, as it captures faithfully, the rich tapestry of Lahore’s bustling liveliness with melodious Raags (scales) and colourful beats. The album, which was recorded in Pakistan in the Summer of 2004, features some of the greatest composers of Lahore, including Wazir Afzal, Nazar Hussain, Qadir Shaggan, and was mastered at Abbey Road studios, London. Already acclaimed and declared as a huge hit in Pakistan, it had an explosive worldwide release and is available at all good record stores now. Hariharan’s comments on the experience: “It was thoroughly enjoyable, going to Lahore, absorbing the ambience, working with such warm people and immensely loving Lahore, which is a city reminiscent of Delhi, with all its bustle and colour. Having already worked at Peter Gabriel’s studio in England, working at Abbey Road studios was a fantastic experience, as it’s the home to one of my favourite bands of yesteryear, the Beatles.”
Ananthasubramani Hariharan or A.Hariharan as he is well known, has made a rise to mega stardom in the Asian music arena, having started his career in ad jingles and TV serials; moving into the Bollywood playback singing area; singing in all the regional languages of India (especially entrancing the Tamil audience of South Indians and Sri Lankans, all over the world, with his exclusive style); releasing over 20 hit Ghazal and personal albums and even making cameo appearances in movies. His album, ‘Colonial Cousins’, teamed with childhood friend, Leslie Lewis being one of the most sought after releases when it came out, one that is still spoken about and listened to and the 1st Indian album to make the MTV unplugged mantle, taking the 2 talented artistes, Hariharan and Leslie to the MTV stage – a proud achievement for Asian music indeed. His inimitable style of singing has been copied by many, but no one has been able to encapsulate the distinctive elements that his singing brings, hence he reigns as one of the foremost singers in the market, with his fame having embraced audiences from all over the world, filling many a famous concert hall, exhilarating the revellers, be it at London’s Wembley or Alexandra Palace, Toronto’s Skydome or New York’s Nassau Coliseum.
Meeting the man himself was a real thrill, as he welcomed us to his Mayfair hotel suite, elegantly dressed in a simple black Kurta, wrapped up in a crushed gold pure silk dupatta. Hari Ji is unquestionably man of immense grace and much dignity, not to mention softly spoken, diplomatic and obviously a man of true decorum. His good breeding and polished manners immediately made us feel welcome while we made ourselves comfortable around him.
Starting off, the question of his upbringing and heritage was posed to him, he responds with a fondness in his voice: “I am the only child of 2 revered musicians, my Mother, Carnatic (South Indian Classical) musician, Alamelu Mani and my late Father, H.A.S Mani, who was also a busy and famous Carnatic musician, he was the first chief of ‘Shanmukhananda Sabha Music School’ named ‘Sangeet Vidhyalaya’ - now a leading Carnatic Cultural Sabha in Mumbai, but sadly, he passed away when I was only 8. I was born and brought up in Mumbai, although we are Trivandrum Brahmins.” He adds: “My family is most orthodox, although these days, I can’t say I am in the conventional bracket”, he laughs. “Being a Mumbai child, I was into all styles of music, from the Beatles and Abba to Pop music and even Marati Natya Sangeet! Having initially studied Chemistry and Zoology at an undergraduate level and also studying law, I never did practice in those fields, although I do know to read contracts and make sure no one screws me over from that side, when it comes to recordings or shows!” He goes on to add: “Being born into a musical family, I had my initial music training in Carnatic music from my dear Mother, but went onto follow my real passion, which lay in Hindustani Classical music, from my Guru, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, the great man who also trained famous voices like Manna Dey and Sonu Nigam – my Guru Ji perfected the ‘Gharana’ house style, and taught us about the limitless improvisation that can be sung – this is known as ‘Khayal’, a Hindi word meaning imagination, for making the notes come from the heart, imagining the sequences inducing pure creativeness.” When asked about his faultless Urdu diction which is very often spoken about, he humbly says: “Urdu is simply a beautiful language which has a tone quality that draws the ears to listen to it being uttered, whether in poetry or song, I practically lived at my Urdu Teacher’s home, until my Urdu became satisfactory.”
On the composer who has the ability to bring out the best in all the artistes he embraces, AR Rahman, Hari Ji tells: “I had met the then very young AR Rahman in Mumbai, for a recording just one month before ‘Thamiza Thamiza’ happened (the critically acclaimed song from the film ‘Roja’, that gave Hariharan his biggest break in the Tamil industry, where he remains a firm favourite) and after the recording was finished, he told me about this Mani Ratnam film and the rest, as they say, is history, as the film was a national hit, bringing me to the forefront in the South and North of India, brought many accolades and awards and AR Rahman has saved many special songs for me, including my personal favourite, ‘Uyire uyire’from ‘Bombay’. The song never won any awards, but is a firm favourite of many of my fans and subsequently, I was getting flown to Chennai for recordings left, right and centre, which has made my Mother extremely proud, as she never expected that I would make such an impact on the Tamil audiences. AR Rahman set a new trend in Tamil film music and also changed the face of Bollywood music in his unique style of recording, which focuses on tapping into the improvisation skills of the artiste, be it Lata Bonsle, Lata Mangeshkar or SP Balasubramaniam where he records many variants and the singer only knows what the final mix would sound like when it is released – a buzz in itself.” On asking of a rendition, he immediately sang a few lines of ‘Uyire Uyire’, to our immense listening pleasure – this man is amazing live, on stage, but even more remarkable just a few inches away singing acapella – simply delightful!
Hariharan, who just turned 50 this year (and celebrated in style, both in Mumbai and Chennai with spectacular star studded concerts), has been happily married for 21 years, to his beautiful wife, Lalitha and has two sons, Akshay, a 6 foot tall 18 year old and Karan, who is 12. When asked the question of how they met, he recollects: “We had an arranged marriage, having met over a glass of orange juice in a 5 star hotel in Calcutta, where originally Tamil speaking Lalitha was born and bred. I had flown down to meet her and I was captivated by her mannerisms, she was and has remained the same person, intelligent, simple but outspoken and modest. She not only takes care of our sons, but also plays a big part in my management and also produces my live shows, where she co-ordinates the lighting and sounds. Though she and the boys are in Bangalore at present, while I am on projects abroad, they will be back with me on my return, at our home in Mumbai, where my elder son is starting higher education soon.”
On his projects at hand, he tells of another album that is in production: “Like ‘Kash’, which was a huge success as a millennium gift to me fans, which was out in 2000, 5 years later, I am on the verge of finishing a new album called ‘For you from me’, which I am hoping will be something my fans will love – It has a jazz vibe, fused with Urdu lyrics, which is going to be different, that’s all I will say for now, the rest is left to listening to it when it comes out. I also plan to do some touring, as the touring bug has hit me again and I love the live experience.” I am sure many of his fans will be queuing up for tickets, as it’s been a while since Hari Ji has performed big shows in the UK, although he does many chamber concerts, as he has been doing for over 20 years, to exclusive audiences. His message to his fans remains, as has always: “Keep listening to good music, and hope to see you all at my shows, when I tour, as it is the platform where I can connect with each and every one of you, on many levels, even though I am on a stage which is many meters away. God Bless you all”. Saying goodbye to this sweet, enigmatic person was indeed tough, but the memory of this interview will indeed linger in our hearts and does the promise of seeing him again, on a live stage.
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