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Kailash, the singer with the open-arm throw

columns Updated: Oct 23, 2010 00:46 IST
Amitava Sanyal

If one maintains steady friendships, one can spot the enemy better. That was Kailash Kher’s oracular reply to my query on why Sony Music has come out with what promises to be the ‘Complete Works’ of the not-yet-40 artist. Surely we haven’t heard the last of this rough-hewn genius. So why such a semi-retrospective now? Well, you know the reply.

What’s hidden in tiny print on the back cover is that the three-CD collection comprises three albums by the band Kailasa, which includes Paresh and Naresh Kamath, Sanket Athale, Sameer Chiplunkar, Sankarshan Kini and Tejasvi Rao — that is, apart from Kailash himself.

If there’s one thing that binds the three albums apart from Kailash’s voice it’s the stubbly singer’s picture with one arm (or both) waving free, as if calling out to a stray cow. The pose, which is threatening to become the first signature pose of a singer, has not only been repeated on the collection’s cover but has also graced another album released at about the same time, Aye Khuda.

To those who have been following Kailash’s music since ‘Allah ke bande’ in the 2003 film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai 2, ‘Complete Works’ is just about putting all eggs in one basket. And the basket comes at a friendly price.

But to those who have only followed his filmi output, it’s about discovering songs the singer possibly treasures the most. Living in the shadow of Bollywood, most of our singers only dream of albums in which he or she has so much control on the music and production. Kailash is a rare one who has balanced Bollywood and independent albums with such success. (Even Rahat Fateh Ali hasn’t tasted so much success with his non-filmi albums.)

With its acoustic strumming and aalap-like introduction, ‘Teri Deewani’ is probably the song that delineates what Kailasa started out as. It’s also the song that launched the Sufi empire now lorded over by Sony Music. The approach continues in the lullaby-like ‘Chaandan Mein’, which lent its title to the band’s second album.

‘Saiyyan’ from the third album Jhoomo Re is, for me, the peak the band has reached yet. It fuses harmonium with a funky tabla and the usual lobby-music strings in a tight mix. All the songs highlight the quality that makes Kailash’s voice special — a pitch-perfect mix of classical wizardry and folksy earthiness.

The second album, Aye Khuda, is misleadingly subtitled ‘Kailash Kher & Others’. Of its 15 filmi songs Kailash has sung only five. And the ‘others’ include singers of the stature of Rahat Fateh Ali, K.K., Shreya Ghoshal, Anand Raaj Anand and Ustad Rashid Khan.

Of Kailash’s five, ‘Kaisi hai yeh udaasi chhai’ from Karthik Calling Karthik mesmerises with its lurching, tambourine-marked rhythm. Sukanya Purakayastha’s foil in the song is marred by her stiff Hindi pronunciation.

Rekha Bhardwaj’s ‘Badi dheere jali’ from Ishqiya, a rare film song set to raag Lalit, is one of the most haunting scores composed for Bollywood.

Ustad Rashid Khan’s ‘Manwa’, paired with Dibbendu Mukherjee’s Gypsy King-ish gibberish in Arup Dutta’s 2009 film, Morning Walk, is a disastrous mix. ‘Aaoge jab tum’ from Jab We Met worked well, but maybe the Ustad could be more choosy when wandering into the filmi realm. He owes it to his fans.