He is a gifted singer with a dual voice. His cherubic countenance perpetually sports a million dollar smile. For more than a decade, he has performed semi classical and light music with elan.
During the time of music videos in Indian television content, a video ‘Aisa Bhi Kabhi Hota Hain’ surprised viewers as the young singer had this unique ability to switch male and female voices, with both tuned to perfection.
Mumbai-based artiste Sairam S. Iyer in conversation with A.Radhakrishnan on music and his special talent as a singer.
How would you describe yourself?
I am quite an easy-going person, with a carefree, live in the present kind of an attitude.
Tell us about your family and the influence they had on you.
I hail from a typical Thanjavur TamBram family. My parents have passed away. Dad was an artiste on stage — acting, singing and dancing and so I guess I inherited those genes from him. My mom was a housewife but also liked singing to some extent.
My dad, an academician never forced me into anything but insisted that we three brothers should have a degree just to fall back on in case of any hassles in life. Very encouraging, as far as art forms are concerned, he never stopped me from pursuing any art form. I was the only one who took the plunge. With no sisters in my family, I guess the desperation of getting a female in the family got into my system through my vocal cords. I decided to be singly happy and I’m sure it shows.
What does music and singing mean to you? How many languages do you sing in?
It might seem clichéd but I can’t think of life without music. I’ve sung in Kashmiri, Oriya, Bangla, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati. I can sing English songs and I have even won prizes at the University level.
When did you discover your dual voice talent? Was it a natural transition? Can this be cultivated or is it inborn?
As a kid I had a very sweet voice and probably sounded like a girl singing. Even when singing the male song, a Rafi or a Kishore. So, this went on till my adolescence where every boy goes through voice change transition.
For about a year and a half or so, my voice was quite shaky. I would go to my pooja room, sit and cry to myself and my God, asking when He had to take it away, why did He give it to me? And I used to croak and record into a tape recorder. I had those recorded Walkman then. I would play it to myself and this went on.
But I guess this process of trying to rediscover yourself and trying the various facets of your vocal abilities is a point in time. I have to thank the Almighty because I could somehow tap that part of my throat from where I could get back the sweet voice as well, while I was getting the base of my voice intact, which you can hear me talking in.
Are both the voices tuned to perfection? Is it strenuous?
To sing right, especially after you are a grown-up is a challenge in itself. As a child, you have no inhibitions; you just try to replicate and sing but the more you learn about music, you are expected to sing it right. You will be naturally in tune but the minute you get to know what is sa re ga ma pa, and the science behind it; that’s when you get a little conscious.
How long can this dual voice last? What do you do to maintain it?
Irrespective of your age or time of your singing, if you are not hurting your voice; if you maintain the right amount of rest and have practice sessions and are at ease with yourself and your surroundings, I think the longevity of your voice also is assured and the overall health also matters.
Who were your gurus?
Apart from my father, I learnt my initial music from the late Smt. Sita Rao. I learnt choir conducting from the late Kanu Ghosh, the legendary choir conductor and went on to learn a little from late Pandit Ramesh Nadkarni, who encouraged me to sing in both male and the female vocals.
Then I learnt light vocal from Marathi music director late Kamlakar Bhagwat and Achyut Thakur at the University of Mumbai. At Sangeet Maa Bharati, I did classical diploma under Pradeep Chatterjee and did light vocal under late Pandit Drubah Ghosh, a well-known sarangi player. Now I learn from gazal singer Ustad Moin Khan who calls himself Mohan Khan.
Your singing inspirations, both male and female?
My greatest inspirations are Lata, Asha, Mohd. Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna De, in that order.
BMG Crescendo signed me up for my first formal solo album Aisa bhi kabhi hota hai released in 2000. I was chosen as the Ubharta Sitara, the rising star for the new month of the millennium by MTV.
How did MTV help?
MTV added the glam quotient. At that point in time, when it came to music channels, B4 u music and MTV were happening and essentially dedicated to music. Pop music was getting popular in India when my album got released, but unfortunately BMG Crescendo, had their own internal issues and had to wind up. I was unfortunate that I had signed up during the tumultuous times of the company and couldn’t reap the benefits of my album.
They couldn’t promote my album much, but MTV played my song for a month and I guess my song was even chosen to be played in the entertainment channels of the flight. That was huge. Though many companies wanted my song on their list, BMG could not match up with those demands and I had to lie low. My other songs with beautiful compositions from the album too went unnoticed, but MTV did their bit when I was the Ubharta Sitara.
How much riyaz do you do?
For me riyaz (practice) is not a one-time affair during the day and it doesn’t have a specific time because my schedules are also very haywire. Whenever time permits and I’m in the right mood I start off. I put on my tanpura on my mobile even when I am driving. I use it on my Bluetooth device. It’s playing and I am singing… so that’s the best part of it.
How would you describe the audience here and abroad?
I have performed over 2500 concerts all over the world. India has many States, with their own individual cultural background and tradition. It is not homogeneous. All over the country the reception and the kind of songs they expect from you are different. But it is nice. The audience abroad is comparatively a little more polished I would say. All the audiences overall have been very kind to me.
As a performer, how important is it to play to the gallery?
It is very important. People have come there spending time and money for you. They have come there specially to listen to you and to enjoy. For an artiste to be in tune with the audience, you need to know how to balance the act of the classes and the masses. So though I have a set of songs which I would prefer and I love to sing those, at the same time I have also learnt the knack of playing to the gallery.
Are you religious or spiritual? How has Satya Sai Baba of Putaparthi helped you in life and career?
I wouldn’t say I’m religious; I’m spiritual. People get confused between the two. Religious is more to do with austerities and stuff which is stuck to a specific religion.
For me Sathya Sai Baba is God. He is my anchor. I don’t want to try and force anyone into it but for me my own personal experiences have been nothing but divine. Essentially it has helped me understand myself more than I would have otherwise. It helps me so much to stay grounded in life and to understand every day, that this life is extremely fragile. So, I have learnt to live in the present and enjoy every moment of it.
What is happiness and passion to you?
Happiness is to be able to do what I love to do best. Happiness is now. Looking at the twinkling stars, the flight of birds or spending time with like-minded friends.
My passion is my music and the art forms that I have indulged in. I’m passionate about everything that I do.
Do you believe in fate?
Yes. I can’t deny it because you see there are many people who are good at something but it’s not that you are always successful by the standard of the masses. So, I believe in the law of karma and fate does work there and you never get more than what you deserve.
What is humility to you? How humble should a singer be?
I think it is the essence of an artiste. It helps you relate to people. The minute you start thinking you are above somebody means you are demeaning someone else.
Do you keep expectations in life and profession?
I used to but then again life had its own ways of teaching me to accept things as they come. If you don’t keep expectations, you are a lot lighter. Life taught me, do your best and leave the rest.
How important are promotions and marketing?
They are very important for an artiste. There are so many platforms which are coming up every other day. So, if you want to be presented before the masses, promotion and marketing do play a role, but then if you don’t have the basic content, then it doesn’t matter.
Are you your own critic?
I am my biggest critique and I don’t forgive myself for my faults.
What is the best compliment you have ever received?
There are many, but something that touched my heart was when the celebrated film music director, Anil Biswas called me the Eighth Wonder of the World.