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Usha Uthup, Veteran Playback Singer, Says Music Industry Has Grown By Leaps And Bounds In 75 Years

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Tryst With Destiny

Singer Usha Uthup is that rare talent in Indian music who has reinvented herself with changing times and trends, staying relevant to several generations over decades. She shares her birth year with the country she insists she grew up to love, and be proud of its culture and diversity. On the occasion of the 75th Independence Day of India, Uthup recalls how August 15 used to be bigger than any other festival, and that the biggest award she received in school was holding the Tricolour while leading the march past. Excerpts from an interview:

Being born as an Indian is always an advantage

Independence Day was a bigger festival than Diwali or Christmas and New Year’s eve. This brings me to the fact that I learned how to be secular. There is unity in diversity, and no matter how many languages there are in the country, it didn’t matter as long as you pledged solidarity to the country. It is one of the reasons why I went on to sing in so many languages. Being born as an Indian is always an advantage because we have so many religions, castes and languages. The most amazing thing about my growing years was that I never knew how it was different. I never felt there was a difference in any religion. I grew up in a Muslim neighborhood, attended a Christian school, and come from a Hindu background. Religion never mattered to us.

I am a total Gandhian, grew up with his values of non-violence

The memory which is vivid to me from my school days is the Tricolour and the respect we were told to have for it during our school days. I remember you couldn’t fold it and if you did, we would get a whack on our knuckles. Another thing that is there in my mind is the fact that Mahatma Gandhi meant independence. I am a total Gandhian and I have grown up with his values of non-violence. These are the values that were inculcated in me as a child by my father who was in Bombay Police. I remember becoming the head girl of the school which allowed me to lead the march past and hold the Indian flag which made me feel so proud. It was the biggest award that I could get.

I would like to see a free India where we are free to be united

I’m a terribly biased person, and you can quote me on that. I’m not only biased, but a compulsive optimist and I refuse to think that even for a minute, that India has regressed. But there are, there are little pockets where I noticed changes. And that would be probably in the Gandhian way of non-violence. Which really upsets me and makes me feel sad. I can really cry about the fact that why have we become so violent in every way. For the smallest of things, we are ready to slap and abuse each other. I remember a song on this occasion, “Jo kuch bhi ho jaaye, hum ek rahenge. Hum ek the, ek hain aur ek rahenge.” At the end of the day, we are all Indians. Also, in recent years the disparity is glaring which upsets me.

I would like to see a free India where we are free to be united. Even in our disagreements, we can be free to be united. To be united in our diversity is a sense of freedom. Today to be united, one needs to think so much and I don’t understand the reason behind that. If you have a different point of view, it doesn’t mean that you’re my enemy. From the way I dress to the songs I sing and the opinions I have, whatever it is, if I have a point of view it doesn’t make me anyone’s enemy. I am a very optimistic person and I am sure things are looking better for our country. Our culture is not so fragile that it can just be knocked off.

I feel that the word tolerant is almost non-existent among Indians. I don’t want to make any controversial statements, but all I’d like to say is that I want to have the freedom to be united. For me, freedom is all about being tolerant and listening to opinions about other people. All these are Gandhian values and I don’t understand why we can’t follow them anymore.

The music industry is growing by leaps and bounds

The music industry has changed like crazy. A lot for the better, which is a good thing. I think it’s an amazing fraternity that we have. I feel that the music industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, some people are making fun of it by saying that music composers are using auto tunes but then technology is here to stay and we can’t ignore it. The thing that is missing probably is the warmth of the analog, which has now become the precession of the digital. It would have been wonderful if we could have married both but I don’t think it is possible. I stood with 80 musicians and sang Hari Om Hari or One, two, cha cha cha. So you really had to work hard and do a lot of rehearsals and things like that, before you could go into the studio and record. If one person made a mistake, everyone had to do it again. So there are many wonderful things happening thanks to technology, especially during the pandemic. I have always been a person who likes to do live shows. Thanks to online platforms like Zoom, I can be a part of virtual concerts.

It has happened to me and I do feel upset but I always feel that what is meant for me, will come to me. It doesn’t matter. I do get disappointed but it’s happening to the biggest of the singers. Even when we see these songs where multiple singers are collaborating, the presence of the singer should happen based on seniority. But it so happens that we get a small appearance in it. I don’t feel bad about it as I feel it is wonderful because I like to belong. I am not a loner. I am very happy and content with the way my career has shaped up.

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