It happens very rarely that I come across a voice that wows me completely. A voice that sounds amazing with or without the accompaniment of musical instruments. A voice that gives me goose bumps. It took just one listen to Dum Maaro Dum‘s Te Amo to get me totally and utterly hooked. Why? A contemporary feel, a melodious composition and, quite simply, a song I still can’t get out of my head. I found myself bowled over not only by the song but also by the male vocalist in the duet version. The air of romance, the sentiment of devotion and lyrics that make you want to fall in love; the voice in question belongs to none other than Ash King.
Ash King’s is a name not unheard of amongst the British Asian music scene and it’s also a name which is very much up and coming in Bollywood. Having sung the soulful Dil Gira Dafatan in Delhi 6 and also parts of the title track of Anil Kapoor produced Aisha, King has worked with industry great A R Rahman and also critically acclaimed music composer Amit Trivedi.
I had the exclusive opportunity to speak to Ash King, my singer of the moment. Read on to find out what he shared about his journey to Bollywood playback singing and his experiences there in.
How did working with AR Rahman come about?
I was introduced to AR Rahman through a friend for a project he was working on at the time. As we worked in the same industry, it was almost inevitable for us to meet. When I first met him, he asked me to sing something on the spot. I sang a piece in English. He asked me if I could sing in Hindi and I said, quite honestly, that I couldn’t speak Hindi. He then went on to ask me whether I knew any Hindi. I confirmed that whilst I watched Hindi films occasionally and understood the language, I couldn’t speak it myself. He asked me to sing some Hindi words in a tune of my choice. It was after this that AR Rahman became confident that I could perhaps sing in his forthcoming film. He then asked me whether I would like to do just that. It was AR Rahman that gave me the vision to have a singing career in Bollywood.
As you weren’t accustomed to the language, did you have to take any extra measures to improve your Hindi diction?
Yes I did get some help in that area. The song, Dil Gira Dafatan, in Delhi 6, included words that aren’t commonly used and were words I hadn’t heard before. I took help from others who had encountered similar problems and it was, for some time, like the blind leading the blind. The lyricist of the song, Prasoon Joshi, helped me out when he came to Chennai where the song was being recorded. I also called my friend, Jatanil Banerjee, who is an Indian classical singer to get some advice and help from him.
Were you scared to make an entry into Bollywood?
Yes, very. This was my first song and I didn’t know a word of Hindi. I had expected that I would learn the language as I got older. Although I understood it, I wasn’t able to speak it fluently at all. This coupled with the fact that the song was an AR Rahman composition… It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been in that position. AR Rahman is a big name for a reason. His arrangements are amazing. To compare it with someone in the West, it would be like debuting with Quincy Jones. I wasn’t sure about my accent either and the song was in pure Hindi/Urdu. I was expecting my first song to be similar to Te Amo in that it would include some lines in English. When I was in the studio, I heard the guide vocal’s version of the song which was recorded to show me how it should sound. It was amazing and it made me feel very nervous. I’m not a classically trained singer; everything I have learnt has been by ear. However, when I first heard the final version of Dil Gira Dafatan, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
How did it feel that your first song was going to be re-enacted on screen by Abhishek Bachchan, who comes from Bollywood’s first family, so to speak?
Let’s just say it was as if a lot of dreams came true at once. I always wanted to sing in films but I thought it was something I would do when I got a bit older. I used to listen to AR Rahman’s music when I was a child and that includes his South Indian compositions, even before he was known by Indian cinema. The fact that Abhishek Bachchan, son of Amitabh Bachchan, was in the film was a really big thing too. Sonam Kapoor also said that she liked my song. Rakesyh Omprakash Mehra, the producer and director of Delhi 6, showed me pictures of the scenes of how the song would be shot. Prasoon Joshi, who did the screenplay for the film, was also a contributor. It wasn’t just about Abhishek, many people contribute to a film.
Tell me a little about Te Amo from Dum Maaro Dum…
Pritam, the music director of the movie, personally asked me to sing the song. I hope that the song makes people feel positive about falling in love. Singing is so much more than a career when you can touch someone through your music.
As the song’s popularity gathers momentum, especially as the Dum Maaro Dum released yesterday, how important would you say picturisation is for any given song?
Well, we live in a video age and its imperative for every song to have an accompanying video. Picturisation has the power to alter our emotions and appeal to our senses. The appeal of Bollywood is that it taps into the two senses of sight and sound. As well as this, you have to give credit to the costumes, the cinematography and also the creative ideas behind the song. There is so much involved in the picturisation of a song. It’s not the same as a music video. The coming together of image and sound is the catalyst to the audience members being caught up in the moments of a film or a song.
Given the choice now, would you prefer to sing in English or Hindi?
I would say Hindi. Although singing is still about the same thing, no matter what language, I feel I can be more versatile in Hindi and, more specifically, in Bollywood. When singing in the western world, the production expects you and your music to fit into a certain mould created by the non-musical people. In contrast, Bollywood allows you to be a part of the bigger picture. Personally, I’m not looking for fame and a lot of the English music I’m offered is geared only towards getting prominence. I need music to appeal to my heart.
Would you say living in London has been a hindrance somewhat?
No, not at all. Every situation has its own positives and negatives. Yes, if I was living in India, I would be more familiar with the Hindi language, I would be exposed more to the right people and this may mean I would be singing more songs but I would also be one of the millions trying to fight my way in. Being from the UK, I have different influences. There is great talent in the UK but it’s almost as if they are still trying to find out who they are. I would say, here in London, there isn’t much in the way of creative guidance.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make it to Bollywood as a singer?
Be unique and value who you are. I believe that people will always come to you for your uniqueness and, ultimately, it won’t matter whether you’re famous or not. For example, Amy Winehouse can’t be compared with anyone else. The same goes for Jamiroquai. Others may come out which sound similar to them, but they will never be the original. It’s important to be distinctive in Bollywood especially and this individuality could simply be the difference in the sound of your voice. It’s not good for the mind to start competing with others. It might result in you trying to be trendy and you have to understand that trends come and go. I’ve been in this industry a long time and I pride myself in being one of the most accessible artistes around. I’ve never been signed to a record label but I’ve worked with the likes of Lady Gaga, AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi. I’ve also had a number one in the UAE and been a part of the Cirque Du Soleil. I’m in a good position for people to let off steam or ask for advice and if they need me, I’m there.
Finally, do you have a message for your millions of fans out there?
Millions? My message would be “Where are you?” (Laughs) No, I don’t have fans. I know I have fans in some of my family members but that’s about it. It’s the actors, actresses and trendy singers that have fans; I’m just a playback singer. To be honest, to those who have gotten in touch with me through Twitter and Facebook, I want to say I truly appreciate it. I’ve never released an album or my own video. I haven’t given people that much in comparison to other artistes. I appreciate what I have but I definitely don’t have millions of fans!
As I argued that he does have “millions of fans”, I was left thinking how an artiste who is so established, so gifted in his art and most definitely going places, can be so modest and so down-to-earth. In my heart, I would like to believe it is this very humility and unpretentiousness of Ash King that signifies the unwavering confidence of a singer who is so obviously a rising star. I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that I feel proud to be from the same city as a person and a performer who has reached such heights. I thank Ash King for sharing a snippet of his life with me and hope that those who have read this far have found the same inspiration from him that I very clearly have.
Follow Ash King on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iamashking
Facebook page of Ash King: http://on.fb.me/g3VMEO