'Technology can change but emotions remain the same’: Singer Sukhwinder Singh on the future of Indian music

Delivering hits after hits, the renowned playback singer, who was recently in Dubai, recounts his decades-long career in Bollywood and beyond

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Sukhwinder Singh in Khaleej Times office, Dubai. Photo by Neeraj Murali
Sukhwinder Singh in Khaleej Times office, Dubai. Photo by Neeraj Murali

Somya Mehta

Published: Tue 19 Sep 2023, 5:01 PM

Among the most renowned singers in the Indian music industry, Sukhwinder Singh’s name goes hand-in-hand with chartbusting hits and heart-wrenching melodies that stand the test of time. With a career spanning several decades, the singer has left an indelible mark on Bollywood and continues to reinvent himself as an artiste. His ability to infuse emotion and energy into every note has made him known for his unique style of playback singing, winning several accolades, including the Oscar for Best Original Song for the song Jai Ho from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The song, composed by A.R. Rahman with lyrics by Gulzar, not only brought the singer international recognition but also showcased the global appeal of Indian music and talent.

In a conversation with Khaleej Times, the singer recounts his path-breaking journey, from the nostalgia of the song Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se to the evolution of Bollywood music and the tech-infused future that lies ahead.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q) How has your experience in Dubai been?

I love this place. It’s incredibly peaceful, secure and beautiful. The people are amazing. The food is amazing. What’s not to love?

Q) Do you enjoy listening to Arabic music or follow the local music here?

Local music here inspires me a lot. I’ve been listening to Arabic music since my childhood for a specific reason. Arabic music has a rich history. What’s particularly interesting is its use of chromatic scales, in the sense that it beautifully combines emotions like pain and dance, which can be found in Sufism. It’s quite rare, and you can only find this kind of music in the Middle East.

Q) You’ve been in the music industry for over three decades, witnessing its evolution and the emergence of new artistes. How do you view this change?

Music can change, but emotions remain the same. The way we feel happiness or sadness remains the same. The only thing that changes is the technique of making music. We now have digital tools and advanced techniques, but we shouldn’t forget that we produced timeless music like in the albums of Mother India and Pakeezah and that too, without digital technology. Even in the next 5-10 years, we’ll see new ways of making music, new technology, and that will keep changing. But the underlying emotions will always stay the same.

Q) Chaiyya Chaiyya is one of your iconic hits from the ’90s. Did you anticipate its enduring popularity when you were creating it?

One thing that’s rare is that this song is popular across all age groups. Even when it released, it was very popular among children. I believe this song is genuinely blessed. I remember when I was sitting in a theatre for the movie premiere, Lata (Mangeshkar)ji was also invited to watch Dil Se. I was sitting behind her, and for the first time, I saw a boy and a group of dancers, and Malaika Arora, dancing on the train. There was something so captivating about that visual and melody coming together. I instantly made a prayer at that moment. It made me so happy to see the great Shah Rukh Khan dancing to this song. And that emotional connection is still strong, even after 25 years. Same happened with Jai Ho.

Q) Jai Ho became a global hit and acted as a bridge between India and the world. How did that energy come together?

Initially, I had no idea that we were recording that song for a Hollywood movie. When A.R. Rahman came to me, he didn’t mention anything. While recording the song, Gulzar saab asked me why I was using two microphones, as we usually use just one. I explained that I wanted to dance while recording the music, so if I moved from left to right, I didn’t want the mic to miss any word. I even took off my shoes and started jumping, and my sound engineer recorded it that way. It added a lot of variation to the song. Two days later, Mr Rahman called me and told me that the song had been selected for Slumdog Millionaire. At the time, I had no idea that it would go on to become what it did. And that’s how it happened. The connection of the song is so immense. I remember I was in Italy and someone came up to me and asked, “Do you sing?” I said “Yes.” They asked, “Jai Ho?(laughs). So, I just ended up singing and almost 100 people gathered around. Everyone started creating music with whatever they had in hand. It became almost like a concert. That’s the power of music.

Q) A throwback video of Javed Akhtar and Jatin-Lalit creating Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon was recently doing the rounds on social media and many fans commented saying the soul of Hindi film music is missing. What’s your take on this sentiment?

There’s a saying I’d like to share, ‘The world is known for special people, and special people are very few.’ While it’s true that we now hear a lot of artificial and aggressive music, not everyone is doing that. In the next two months, two of my private album songs are going to be released, featuring good music. I’ve used digital tools and AI, but the melody and basic singing style are still there. So, good music still exists but maybe the frequency of it is not the same and these are far and few in between. But we should focus on the good songs and leave the rest.



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