Bhupinder and Mitali Singh on the launch of the album, Ek Onkaar, in conversation with Nikhil Taneja.
This is the first time you have come out with a devotional album, in a career spanning more than 30 years. Bhupinder: I always wanted to put a tune to Ek Onkaar. The lines of the verse explains the ways of God and say that truth prevails. People have always read out the lines.. this is the first time it has been sung to music. I couldn’t do this earlier because there were no resources.. people only wanted the commercial stuff. Now, things are changing.
You innovate a lot.. you brought the guitar into ghazals. Have you done anything new with this album too?
Bhupinder: I have only used the keyboards on this. (Smiles) But yes, I was the first one to bring keyboards, synthesisers and drums into ghazals. I love instruments and more importantly, I know how to use them. I have never let their sound overpower the melody.. that has always been Indian. Even today, give me any instrument.. give me a trumpet.. and I’ll show you how to jazz up ghazals.
But the guitar is your favourite.
Bhupinder: (Laughs) Of course. After my schooling got over, I joined the All India Radio only so that I could play the guitar, since they allowed western instruments. Otherwise, such intruments were banned. I remember going into the godown of the AIR and seeing lots of guitars lying there. I didn’t even know the tuning of one.. but when I picked it, it was magic.
Your son’s a guitar player too, isn’t he?
Bhupinder: (Smiles) Yeah, we both practice together. Amandeep’s totally into rock. In fact, when I compose something, he often suggests pattern or tells us how drums could be used in it. And usually it sounds great.
Did you bring your son into music or did he show interest himself?
Bhupinder: (Laughs) I didn’t even know that he had started playing the guitar! He’s 15 years old now. I had bought him a small guitar when he was quite young. He gave me a surprise an year later by composing something of his own.
He has learnt by watching me play. He’s speed crazy.. When he plays, I keep watching his fingers move so fast. But his style is Indian like mine.. that has more soul.
So when is the family album coming out, with all three of you?
Mitali: (Smiles) We do have some compositions.. it’ll be very different.
Bhupinder: We jam a lot. We riyaaz together and we always come up with something new. It doesn’t have to be ghazals. I play the bass guitar with Amandeep sometimes and he gives me such difficult passages to play! (Laughs) I’ve never worked as hard during recordings as much like he makes me work.
After many years of marriage, do you still surprise each other?
Bhupinder: On stage, we discuss what songs we have to sing.
Mitali: But we never plan anything. We surprise each other when we are singing. Like if there’s a particular note that a song is to be taken to, where I have to pick it from. He takes it to another note, so I am always surprised by that.
Bhupinder: That’s very refreshing for us. When we are singing, it’s more like a conversation. And between songs, we discuss which song to sing next.. and people think, Pata nahin kya baat kar rahe hain.
Mitali: Sometimes he says ‘You sing this,’ and I say ‘No, I won’t.’ Yeh sab bhi hota hai. (Laughs) And we keep smiling so audience think that it’s because of the love we share.
So does the audience at your concerts enjoy your duets the most?
Bhupinder: Yes, because we have very situational songs. We sing in a way that people feel like they are a part of the song.
Mitali: We tease each other a lot on stage and the audience enjoys it.
And what happens off the stage?
Mitali: (Smiles widely) He wants to watch cricket matches, I want to watch soaps.. so we fight for the remote all the time.
What do you sing for each other?
Mitali: (Smiles) You know, he sings everything he composes, to me first.
Bhupinder: I had composed a song for her once, on her birthday.. I don’t remember the lyrics though.
Mitali: (Laughs) Yeah, he hasn’t composed for any birthday since. I remember the lyrics perfectly.. it’s a very beautiful song. In those days, he’d ask me not to sing it in public, because it was only for me.