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Kannada Playback Singers Treated Badly  - Some True Facts about the Music Industry
Harish Mattur - Bangalore

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A top music director of Kannada Films goes to Mumbai to record the songs for his films. This is not because Bangalore has not got good recording studios; but just because he wants Bollywood playback singers to sing his songs. He not only pays the singers of Mumbai a huge paycheck, but also fixes the dates for his next recording with the same singer in the next month. For a Kannadiga this must be like adding insult to an injury. The singers here in Bangalore are struggling to find work while the singers in Mumbai work overtime, so that they can sing songs in four languages! (Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil).

In Bangalore, we have some of the best recording studios like Prasad Studios, Akash Audio Studio, Ashwini Studio , and music director Hamsalekha's studio. These studios are equipped with the latest recording equipments, consoles and mixing facilities. We also have very good sound engineers who are also talented and experienced. Musicians here are not bad either. Although a music director normally records his songs in Bangalore, the singers who sing the songs are either from Mumbai or from Chennai. The history of kannada cinema reveals the fact that most of the playback singers we had were not from Karnataka. Ghantasaala was from Andhra, P. B Srinivas was from Orissa, S P Balasubramaniam from Andhra. 

P. B. SrinivasMusic Director and Singer - Guru KiranLyricist, Compser, Music Director - Hamsalekha
P.B.Srinivas, Guru Kiran and Hamsalekha - Different generations

But during those days there was no film activity in Bangalore. A music director had to work from Madras. It was the home of all four film industries Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Most of the music directors and singers then ,were used to work in all four south indian languages. But things changed in the eighties when Bangalore became the center for kannada film industry. Although we have a lot of talent here the producers and music directors insisted on using the experienced singers from the other states. So this became a trend until some new breed of singers came to the limelight in the early nineties.

Kannada Singer: Rajesh KrishnanRajesh krishnan was one of those talented singers. In the year 1994, I had seen Rajesh for the first time during a recording session with music director Hamsalekha. Tall, and handsome, Rajesh looked like a typical south indian film hero. When I heard his voice i knew that he would make it big. His voice resembles the voice of the great playback singer Dr S P Balasubramaniam. Rajesh has sung some wonderful songs in kannada like "Sum sumne" from the film" A","Premachandrama kaige siguvude "from the film" Yajamaana", "Usire Usire" from the film "Huchha", "Nooru janmaku nooraaru janmakau" from" America America". Probably he is the best playback singer we have today. 

But things started to change when Rajesh started getting offers from telugu. Even though he got some decent songs to sing in kannada, the introduction of bollywood playback singers to kannada films was a jolt to him. Today he is very popular in Hyderabad. He is even acting in a telugu film as one of the lead characters. Although Rajesh gets to sing some songs in kannada, now he knows that the best songs will be sung by the high profile singers of Mumbai.

Another singer Rameshchandra (whose voice resembles that of Yesudas) made a very successful debut with the hit single" O Mallige", was also badly treated by the film industry. Now a days he hardly gets a song to sing. Hemanth of "Preethse Preethse" fame is a favorite among some music directors. Among female playback singers of today only Nandita (a former software professional) and Archana Udupa seem to have the confidence of the music directors. Some young and talented singers like Lakshmi (EE touchli eno ide, film Dham), Ashok Sharma (Tirupati tirumale venkatesha, of movie "Friends") and Chetan (a favorite in the Hamsalekha camp) should be encouraged by the film fraternity.

Although we must encourage singers like Sonu nigam, Udit narayan and Shankar mahadevan to sing in kannada it should not be at the cost of kannada playback singers. When I spoke to some music industry experts, they feel this is due to audio companies. Now a days an audio company is not prepared to buy the music rights of a film unless and until there is a song sung by a Bollywood singer. They feel that people buy cassettes only if there is a song sung by them. The fact is that the producer pays a bollywood singer 10 times more than what he pays a Kannadiga. That means that the music production costs increase substantially. Ultimately number of cassettes and CDs which are sold have not increased at all. 

So it means that the audio company which coughed up a huge amount of money for audio rights has to incur the losses. Producer Rockline Venkatesh sold the music rights of his film Ondaagoona baa starring Ravichandran and Shilpashetty for a whopping price of Rs 40 lakhs. Incidentally this film reunites the two former inseparable duo of Ravi and Hamsalekha. We have to see whether the duo can repeat the magic of Premaloka and Ranadheera again. Singers like Badriprasad have openly criticized the partiality of the music industry. Badri a very good singer was forced to sing track songs as he had no work. 

Tamil music director A R Rahaman is an exception though. He is the one who gave our very own Bangalore girl Vasundhara Das a big break. Her song Shaka laka baby was a huge hit all over the world (mainly because of Bombay Dreams). Rahaman in his career spanning 12 years has given a lot of newcomers an opportunity to showcase their talent. Like him we need somebody to encourage the young singers in Kannada. To an extent Hamsalekha is encouraging young talent. But when it comes to giving them a break the decision is left to the producers.

Bangalore has got everything, music recording studios, technically sound recording engineers, talented musicians, singers and music composers. Unfortunately the music industry here has its own constraints. There are a handful number of people who encourage young talent. Very few music composers believe in a Kannadiga singers (they argue that Udit narayan and Sonu nigam who do not even know to speak a couple of sentences in kannada can render songs better than any other Kannadiga!) Maybe because of these people, Karnataka has never produced a great playback singer like Dr Rajkumar (Rajkumar basically sang limited number of songs, as he used to sing mainly for his films only; though later he started singing for his sons films). As an eternal optimist and a diehard music fan I just hope things will change in the coming years. That's all we as kannadigas can do. 

I hope that one day there will be a music director who calls up a Kannadiga and says" this is the best song of the film, you sing the song for me". and the lyricist says" thank god I need not write the lyrics in Hindi for you"!

- Harish Mattur, Bangalore

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