Sonu Niigaam returns to the small screen with a new talent hunt show,vision and look. He tellsPrabhjot Sohalwhat led to his personal and professional transformations
From Saregama to Chote Ustad-Do Deshon Ki Ek Awaaz,what has changed in music talent shows?
A lot has changed,sadly for the worse. Shows have become too commercial,TRP-driven,and less talent-oriented. These shows dont cater to the music industrys growth. I did the first two seasons of Indian Idol,but then I felt that the show is changing and I could not relate to it anymore. I am looking forward to a show only about music. Chote Ustad,I believe will be one such show. My fellow judge,Rahat Fateh Ali Khan,its producer Gajendra Siingh,Star Plus and I share the same vision.
What will be your approach towards the contestants on the show?
Rahat and I will be their mentors,and not just judges. I know the importance of having a mentor,since my father was one for me. Rahat too had his unclethe legendary Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There will be no unnecessary bantering on the show. I will be firm but fair.
You keep calling yourself a rebel. What are you rebelling against and why?
I am in rebellion with the Indian music industry. There should be no music in movies,which have turned music into a small element of the entertainment industry. Musicians have no independent recognition because of that. Contrary to this,musicians in the West have independent records. Lucky Ali is the only successful independent artist that India can boast about.
The volume of your work has drastically decreased. Have you become selective or getting less offers?
Both. Im more selective with work and that has led to a decrease in offers. At this stage of my career,I want to do good work with good composers. I havent worked with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for a long time. But they have not approached me. I am not the only one who has to pay the price of being selective by being isolated from the whole industry. It happens to everyone who attempts it.
You object to commercialisation of music,but you talk about the need to give recognition to artists. Will that be possible without commercialisation?
By commercialisation,I mean the trivialisation of music to generate TRP. Music should be appreciated for what it is. To appreciate music,independent recognition is important. For example,the Indore Gharana founder Ustad Amir Khan,who was one of the most influential figures of Hindustani Classical Music,was never given due recognition. Had he and others like him been offered independent platforms,there would have been scope for experimentation.
You are returning after a long stay in USA. What kept you away from work?
I have been working since the age of seven. I never took time out for myself and had never lived alone. I wanted some space to re-evaluate myself and my work. For doing so I had to get away from my usual surroundings. It was a period of self-discovery.
You come across as a changed person. Does it have to do with your phase of self-discovery?
Yes,what you see is a result of my self-evaluation. I went through a period of confusion. Probably,I am still confused. But,I have learnt to deal with things in a different way. I have found a balance between my rebellious and calm side. As far as my look is concerned,all it reflects is that I dont care how I look like now.
You are the first Indian celebrity to delete his Twitter account. Why?
For me,Twitter was a double-edged sword. I could vent my feelings,but then I was also urged to react to comments made on me. Which I later realised,did hurt people. Freedom to express is great for people who know how to restrain themselves. I could not do that. So I thought it would be best to be away from it.
What are you planning to do next?
I am in India for two months while I shoot for the show. After I go back,I will continue working on my music. I have been trying my hand at different types of music for sometime and I would continue doing that. I am coming up with a world music album. I am looking forward to a lot of experimentation.