Interview: Neha S Nair

[An edited version of this interview was published in Soundbox music industry magazine, in it’s April 2011 issue, in the Watchtower column on Trivandrum]

Neha S Nair is a playback singer, VJ and blogger. Her TV shows are popular among the youth of Kerala and her songs form the show Outkast Vocals is a big hit on YouTube. Neha represents the youth of Trivandrum who listen to eastern music while keeping an open ear to western and experimental music.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical journey.

My dad wanted to fulfill his wish of learning music through me and since I showed a spark at a tender age, I was enrolled for dance and music classes. I loved both the art forms equally but as I got into high school the pressure of doing well in academics became a time constraint factor and I had to opt out of dance after 8 years of formal training. This was also the time where I ventured into learning Hindustani vocals from Ustad Khalid Anwar Jaan, a Pakistani. I was also learning Carnatic from Ramesh K from the age of 6. Childhood memories are of retro hindi numbers by Lata ji, Asha ji, Mohd. Rafi and compositions of S.D. , R.D. Burman and my favourite, Madan Mohan. But A.R.Rahman is the first musician to ever inspire me to think from a more creative perspective. I would go for various singing and dancing competitions like every other child but was the only one to take it seriously after 10th grade for which I have been scolded by my teachers several times at school. Back then I used to feel frustrated and angry because I was not allowed to go for round square conferences or join basketball team and go for birthday parties only because my father never wanted me to miss a single music lesson. Even if I was sick, I was asked to sit through. But now I realize the value of all those lessons. Totally worth it! As of now I am learning from Perumbavur sir (Carnatic) and Binu sir (western) and Keskarji (Hindustani).

How did film music, Avial and VJ-ing come through? How was the experience?

As I had done my schooling in Muscat, coming to India for music was because of my dreams of becoming a playback singer. I was so influenced by 80’s and early 90’s qualitative productions that all I ever wanted to do was sing for films. But when I joined for BA music and started to learn and take music a lot more seriously I realized that music is a lot more than just recordings. I was never a Rock music fan but became one when I was exposed towards it and were given opportunities to do something creative. All the credits go to Sumesh Lal sir, the creative head of a Malayalam TV channel called ‘Rosebowl’ . He discovered the artist in me and gave me an empty space to paint in with vibrant colors of music. He gave me a chance when I was new, inexperienced, totally believing in my intuitions and ideas. I got to work with Rex and Binny of Avial for a production by Rosebowl through which they invited me to perform with the band at the India Fashion Week, Delhi and ever since have been regular with the band. I have done very few films but recording in the silent space of the sound booth is immensely toxic!

Also, I came at a time when reality shows were on a boom. So to venture into playback, Rock and pure classical was a huge learning experience for me. Mass audience would still prefer commercial music anyday as it is more easier to comprehend than understanding the complexities of quality music by bands, etc. Coming to films, I have to thank Rahul Raj sir was trusting in me blindly by making me sing for Shyam sir’s Ritu. It was a fab experience. He is extremely positive and had been my mentor at that time. Also, working for Phani Kalyan for Telugu film ‘Pappu’ was another fun filled experience. Kalyan has always been a friend so it’s very informal when I work with him.

Trivandrum has a big audience for traditional eastern music but the young generation appreciates the western music and many new progressive bands are coming up from the city. Do you see any change of direction in the music scene of Trivandrum? If yes, how is it affecting the city? How do you see the future of the music scene here?

Trivandrum by far has the best musical audience. People are very open minded. We have all kinds of listeners ranging from Carnatic to Hindustani to Rock to Metal to Jazz and even Folk. The younger generation is extremely progressive because they are more into fusion and out-of-the-box kind of creativity. A huge thanks should go to Soorya Krishnamurthy, who has successfully promoted all kinds of arts forms all over the world, beginning in Trivandrum. And on the other hand we have Alliance Francaise and Rosebowl TV promoting contemporary music that is such a relief to listen to from the roaring of reality shows now a days. I just wish that the younger lot could listen to more of classical and the older lot could expose themselves to other experimental genres like alternative rock.

You are also a VJ and hosting some music shows. How has your singing career helped doing your TV shows?

I started off as a VJ and it did not help my singing career at all because I ended up getting more VJ-ing offers and also was called to act in films and advertisements. Eventually with Outcast Vocals and Piano sessions with Stephen Devassy, that were featured on Rosebowl, I got noticed as a singer more than a VJ. But I love doing both though I feel more confident as a musician. The ‘In conversation sessions’ I did was a very good experience as I got to interact with musicians of all kinds from Sivamani to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan to ‘Sam Smala’ to young budding talents. I learnt a lot from just listening to them! And another accomplishment in my VJ-ing career was my first ever show which happened to be first ever Telethon – ‘Thank You A.R.Rahman’ where Rosebowl played 100 best songs by the legend and I was hosting it. Thanks to Kadamba Rajesh, my producer for giving me that opportunity.

You blog about many issues in your personal blog, which is a rare thing among people in the music industry. How important it is for a musician (or an artist) to respond to socio-political issues? Do you think expressing yourself in a public space like blog would effect your career in music?

If I wasn’t a singer I would have been a journalist because I feel that is the best medium to project our views. So I decided to blog about whatever I felt about what’s happening around the world. I think it’s every human being’s duty to remain informed about what’s happening and to contribute to it in whatever small possible way. I wish I could do a lot more that is action oriented than just removing my frustration through the blog, inshallah! I hope to make an impact through my views someday. My western sir has always said that we can become a good artist only if we are a good, well informed human. There are people who have expressed their dislike towards my career just because I am open about my views but it doesn’t matter because it’s better to be honest than being a hypocrite. Nothing can effect your career if you are ethical towards the society and work. One should not live in the fear of losing work but in the adverse effects of being ignorant.

You sing for Avial, a rock band. There was a time when Rock music was considered evil or indecent among many in our society. Do you think it has changed?

I don’t know if Rock was considered evil, but was definitely not so popular as it is now. People have learnt to open their minds and we can see an increase in the Rock culture nowadays especially among youngsters. But there are many who live under the wrong impression of rock being all about head banging and walking around like a crazy person who parties and swears all the time. It’s an absolute cliche!! Rock can be just as subtle as eastern music and can at the same time give you an adrenalin pump. If you hang around with Avial band itself you will realize how less they talk and how more they speak through their music. The cliche about Rock musicians being high on drugs and having a rugged lifestyle is totally untrue. True (rock) musicians are very much ethical, who don’t believe in using inappropriate language on the stage and who work very hard in sounding extravagant every time.

Popular concepts of music still revolves around film music. Do you see any changes there? What hope do the independent music and musicians have in Kerala?

Popular music has always been filmi music but it hardly stays around for a long time. Sound programming is at it’s peak now and melody has been given less importance now. I don’t even know if the songs made today will be remembered in the next few years. But it’s more easy to understand, glamorous and more fast paced in terms of it’s release and promotions. Where as, bands take almost 2-3 years to come up with an album and another 2 years to popularize through live gigs. But the scene is changing. We have Amit Trivedi in Bollywood who has elevated bollywood music to another level through Dev D, NOKJ and Prashanth Pillai in Malayalam who has broken of the typical commercial line up with City Of God. At the same time, Motherjane did an OST for Malayalam movie “Anwar” and Avial has also done an OST for another Malayalam movie “Salt N’ Pepper”. So film music industry has also begun to ape towards greater heights in terms of qualitative music. Independent musicians don’t anyways work for commercial hype. They just want to be part of good music that will be etched in our hearts for a long long time. So whether they being commercially acclaimed or not doesn’t really matter to them.

You have also sung in Telugu. How was the experience in singing in a different language?

I have been exposed to other languages like Bhojpuri , Gujarati, Marathi and Arabic during my school life but singing Telugu for a film was super fun. Firstly, the composer, Phani Kalyan, is a very good friend of mine so I was comfortable working with him. Secondly, being a Malayalee, Telugu is very easy and cute to pronounce. With the help of Kalyan, it went on very smooth. I’m looking forward to singing in more languages!

What are your upcoming projects?

I have sung for Biji Bal in Aashiq Abu’s ‘Salt N’ Pepper’ which happens to be a duet with the legendary singer P. Jayachandran. Apart from that I have a few concerts lined up, both classical and with Avial, the band. I may even be getting back as a VJ with Rosebowl for another music based show.

Interview with Sindhuja

I don’t really need to introduce Sindhuja to any of the music-blog-hoppers. She is a wonderful singer and a perfectionist in music. Audio India has posted an interview with her today. Go check out the interview. Excerpt below.

sindhuja What do you dislike the most about music blogging?

Apart from the usual gripe about people not following “netiquette” or not being frank while leaving feedback etc., the one thing I feel is that blogging (or any kind of performance for that matter) makes you more audience oriented and so you tend to focus less on your own growth as a singer. I saw that happening to myself. When blogging was new to me, I would crave for comments on my blog- I think that’s natural. It became more of “how will people like this and how many comments will I get?” rather than “how well have I actually sung this and how better can I get at this?” For a time, singing for me became synonymous with recording and blogging. Rather than spending an hour practising, I’d spend the time recording an easy number, mixing and putting it up on my blog. And that meant instant “success”. Getting encouraging feedback sometimes made me complacent.

I think its very important to be ambitious and keep pushing your limits. I don’t really regret all of that though- its all part of growing up. I don’t deny that an artist always needs an audience- I agree with that 100%. In fact, through the blogging medium itself, friends have pointed out flaws in my singing that I might have missed myself and I’m really thankful to blogging for that. But at the same time, I believe an artist shouldn’t get too lost in display of talent and miss out on doing a reality check on herself from time to time- realize her limitations and work on them diligently. Or may be all this applies to just me… :-/

Interview with Vidyu

Could you please share any unforgettable musical moments or concerts that you had?

An unforgettable musical moment for me was when I sang in front of Yesudas when I was in High School and he was sitting right next to me while I stood in front of the mike. Was I nervous!!! But as soon as I was done, I got to talk to him and I vividly remember him being appreciative and saying “take care of your voice, please start learning classical music, don’t eat ice-cream!!!”

Singing with Abhijeet in Kansas I would say would be the most unforgettable concert for me.

Vidyu needs no introduction to those who have been frequenting to music blogs. Read rest of the interview with Vidyu at Audio India.

Interview with Meera Manohar

Continuing the series of interviews with music bloggers, Audio India has posted an interview with Meera Manohar. Check it out at Audio India.

You do live shows with your band. What are the challenges of singing on stage?

Live shows are way so different than studio/home recording. The thing I love most about stage shows are the vibrancy and on the minute improvisation opportunities that comes with it. Of course, no retakes whatsoever–so one take, and either you make it or break it 🙂 Getting a feel for the pulse of the crowd/listeners is a challenge and might even change with every other song in a live show. Stage shows are tough, extremely enjoyable, and a very beautiful experience. Learn so much with each and every show that I do. [Read more…]

An American Malayalam Professor

Check out this interview (courtesy: Asianet) with Prof. Rodney F Moag, who has been teaching at the University of Texas, Austin. See how he speaks Malayalam with ease, considering that he is a foreigner. Check out his profile at Kerala Tourism website. He is also a country music performer. See his music profile at his music website.

(Thanks to Uma for the link)

Sara Raza Khan – Pak Ki Mallika

[Today’s is a guest post by K K Moidu].

An hitherto unknown Sara Raza Khan of Pakistan was in the limelight recently for her participation in the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009, where she lost but impressed all, writes KK Moidu.

Teenager Sara from the city of gardens, Lahore, Pakistan, is the first Muslim girl to take the big leap by competing in a musical reality contest like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009, in spite of stiff opposition from people of her community.

Although, Sara didn’t win the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009 trophy, her mind-blowing and soulful performance will surely take her a long way. Her great voice and expression not only placed her among the top eight contestants in the prestigious contest, but she also won plaudits from all corners. Sara was eliminated in Episode 37, on Nov 7. She talks about her dream to become a legendary playback singer. Here are some excerpts:

Who was the first to recognise your musical talent?

My lovely mother recognised my musical talent and motivated me. My best music teacher Sir Abdul Rauf, encouraged and supported me by training me in classical music.

What is your background in music?

I have no musical background, I am the first girl in my whole family to learn classical music. I want to be successful with my God-gifted talent.

I started learning classical singing just two years ago from Sir Abdul Rauf, a teacher at the prestigious Al Hamra Arts Council, Lahore. After a month’s training from a sincere teacher like Sir Abdul Rauf, I got a chance to perform in front of General Pervez Musharaf, former president of Pakistan. He appreciated me a lot and also invited me to his birthday at the President House. After that people started recognising me, I got many opportunities for anchoring, singing and also performed in many live shows on different TV channels.

Tell us about your selection to Sa Re Ga Ma Pa?

Legendary singer Ghulam Ali Sir selected me for the audition of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa from Lahore as the only and first girl from Pakistan (Pakistan Ki Beti which now known as Pak Ki Mallika).

What were your relatives’ and neighbours’ reactions to your participation in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge?

Well! Reactions of my relatives were a mixture of positive and negative comments. But the majority were extremely happy and excited for Pakistan Ki Beti, and now in Pakistan, people are excited and warmly welcoming me. And one more thing, my country is also very happy that it appreciated me and motivated me a lot.

What was your experience in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa like?

It was really awesome, superb, outstanding, mind-blowing history. Ya, it was! Because I just dreamed to be in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and when it really happened, I thank the Almighty and the audience for their prayers.

Tell us about the judges and audience?

All the judges of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2009 are very sincere, talented and motivating persons. They all are very successful in their fields and I want to work with them.

Audience! wow! I think that it’s really very astonishing for me that the audience from all around the world loved me, appreciated me and blessed with their votes and prayers. I was very attached to my viewers and I am taking a lot of beautiful memories back with me! The way the audience chanted my name, took my autographs, also wrote plenty of mails to me and all these memories always make me emotional. I pray to God that all the viewers always love me and remember me! I am sure that today all India Loves Me!

What do you plan to do now?

My future plans are to learn more classical music, be a great playback and live show singer, to earn a lot of respect and be one of Allah’s favourites.

What is your biggest dream?

My biggest dream is to be a great singer and earn money and fame to make my elder sister the happiest woman in the world. I also want to help those strong women, who are divorced and are alone with their little babies at a young age.


Thilakan: Master of Expressions

Today’s is a guest post by K K Moidu, who is working in The Gulf Today newspaper published from Dar Al Khaleej Group, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. He reports Entertainment news, local news and writing cinema features, profile, movie reveiws, Television programmes, artistes interviews etc. In this post, Thilakan, one of Indian cinema’s finest actors, speaks to KK Moidu about his personal experiences in showbiz.


A two-time National Award winner for film acting, Surendranath Thilakan, was in town recently to receive an award for his lifetime achievement and contribution to Malayalam cinema at a star-studded AMMA Award function held at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. This rare honour came at a time when the thespian is facing a boycott from those of his ilk following a war of words. An acclaimed actor, known for speaking his mind, Thilakan has just chosen to ignore the industry reaction but alleges that the actors’ guilds were being used to safeguard the interests of a few people. He has said this before and in September, except director Thulasidas and some small-screen artistes, none of the Malayalam film industry personalities attended his daughter’s wedding. But even his detractors cannot deny the fact that he is a brilliant actor.

In his own estimation, the creative freedom that film-makers give him has helped him breathe life into the characters he portrays. Osteoarthritis has imposed physical limitations and he has fewer assignments now but he still managed a national level special mention performance in 2007 for Ekantham. Even the film technicians’ guild, MACTA, made an exception recently and honoured him though he is not a technician. His boundless talent is likely to bring him into reckoning once again. In an acting career spanning over five decades, he has gifted the audience many memorable characters. The first screen character he portrayed in 1973 mouthed famous lines from Shakespeare’s works like Hamlet’s words “to be or not to be.” He fondly recalls the dialogues as well as each frame of that film. In the climax, after both the character’s father and sister die, he wonders aloud “Two deaths for one love, so how many deaths for love since the beginning of the world.”
Continue reading Thilakan: Master of Expressions

Dinesh Ghate speaks

Those of you who have been frequently visiting this blog would have read my post on Dinesh Ghate, the man who is on a mission to honor the musicians ignored in the film music industry of India. Dinesh runs a magazine that celebrates the musicians who worked in the popular songs whom we never knew about. I had a chance to have an email interview with Dinesh (thanks to Pradeep for his help with this) and here it is.

Q] What is the idea behind Swar Aalaap? What made you take this initiative to introduce those unsung heroes of the popular music to the public?

I am a musician right from the childhood. I always listen to the good old songs and apart from the singers, I have been thinking about the music part that has created the magic mood of a song. So when I became a musician (playing Octopad) I wanted to give credit to the legendary artistes who were instrumental in the songs. Also with the help of Swar Aalap, the musicians come in contact with each other through out the country, because music is a universal thing.

Q] How did you go about collecting the names of those musicians who were not even mentioned in the original credits?

As I’m regularly doing music shows, everybody knows about Swar Aalap and that has made it easy for me. Now a days senior musicians also give good response and information. And I am always busy with searching for original musicians.

Q] How is the response from the film music industry? Do you think this would make them rethink about giving proper credits to the solo instrumentalists?

The response has been very good from across the country as well as abroad, but not from music industry here.

Continue reading Dinesh Ghate speaks