When a newbie enters the world of Bollywood playback singing, it is inevitable for the already established names and the loyal fans to be a little apprehensive. The singer in question will also perhaps be experiencing nerves and anxiousness. Ash King knows this all too well. Born and bred in London, the singer has most recently lent his vocals to Dum Maaro Dum’s Te Amo along with the much-loved Sunidhi Chauhan. Having worked with AR Rahman, Lady Gaga and Amit Trivedi, it seems his talent is one we will be seeing more of in the months and years to come.
I got the exclusive chance to speak with Ash King about his entry into the world of Bollywood.
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?
I had to get some help with the pronunciation. The song, ‘Dil Gira Dafatan’ in Delhi 6, included words that aren’t commonly used and were words I hadn’t heard before. 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 nervous 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. 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.
AR Rahman has a work studio and a home studio in Chennai, both being state of the art. Not all singers have the privilege to go to his home studio but I was invited there along with Javed Ali who sang ‘Arziyaan’ and Mohit Chauhan who sang ‘Masakalli’. When I first went in to the vocal booth, all of the other artistes present also followed me in. I wasn’t aware that they had done so until I noticed them sitting at the mixing desk. This doesn’t usually happen as its not normal practice to have other singers in the same session. It made me very nervous but they all wanted to know what I had to offer and see what I could do. Having said this, hearing the final version of ‘Dil Gira Dafatan’ has got to be 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. However, it isn’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, 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. The visuals help a lot. For example, if you take 5 images of someone you love and play sad music in the background, you will feel sad. On the other hand, if you put happy music in the background, it will warm your heart. In the same way, 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. When image and sound come together, that is when you get caught up in a moment.
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 mold created by the non-musical people. In contrast, Bollywood allows you to be a part of the bigger picture.
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.
The one thing I would say can be seen as a difficulty is that the industry comprises of many middle-men. For instance, if I say that I want to work with AR Rahman, there will be five people in between that I need to get through first. These people pretend to be producers, singers or general industry know-it-alls but they are actually just opportunists. There is a lot you experience as an artist and a lot of politics which takes place that the people don’t get to see. “People don’t see struggle, they see results”, this is a quote of mine. I live by this quote even though I’m not a philosopher. I am the kind of person who is always trying to contribute to the bigger picture.
What has the reaction been from your family, your friends and those around you?
Not much really. I think everyone’s used to this kind of thing in my household because the last seven generations of my family have been in the music industry. My house is like a live musical. Ever since my parents have settled in the UK, it’s been about music and food. (Laughs) When someone comes to my house, they know that we will be talking music. My dad might talk about a composition or we might sit down with my guitarist and make some music. It’s like having an open house for all musicians. It was expected that my career would also be in music. I’m a singer so I sing! (Laughs) You may have to ask some of my friends for a better answer because, to me, my life hasn’t changed that much.
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. 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) 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!
What more could the audiences ask for? An artist who is humble, sincere and focused completely on the talent he can offer and the music he can touch people through. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to Ash King, the star of tomorrow. We look forward to his forthcoming projects and are sure that we will see his name more often following the success of ‘Te Amo’. You can Follow Ash King on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iamashking and his facebook page: http://on.fb.me/g3VMEO.