Indian pop icon Usha Uthup, who has wowed her audience with her pop, filmi, jazz, and playback singing for decades has now created a new record – this is the 50th year of her career.
Usha began her career at a night club in Chennai in 1969, shifted to Kolkata later that year and began singing at ‘Trincas’ bar and restaurant in Park Street, which held live floor shows.
Now after having sung in more than 13 Indian and eight foreign languages and becoming a name to reckon with, she says has no regrets about starting her career as a “night club singer”.
If her husky voice is a trade mark, so are the fresh flowers in her hair, her trademark big ‘bindi’ and her rich Kanjivaram saris, which she wears to all her live programmes, even abroad.
The Park Street diva, who was talking to reporters on Tuesday, said she is happy that she had started as a night club singer where there are no second takes.
“I am happy to tell all of you that I did not start as a playback singer. I started as a night club singer and I got the opportunity to playback because of that. In live singing there is no second take. If you have one take you had better be good, perfect,” the 71-year-old singer of the blockbusters “Hari Om Hari” and “One two cha cha” said.
Usha said she always finds more energy in live performances than in playback singing.
“In playback you get many takes, till you get it perfect. So singing live is always much much better for me than to be able to do playback singing,” she said.
However, it is also true that “One hit song in Bollywood gives me 325 shows. But the magic of the stage is something totally different,” said the 71-year old, who got the best female playback singer award for 7 Khoon Maaf in 2011.
Asked what was her USP to become a popular singer, Usha said “firstly I owe my success to the fact I am an Indian.”
The second USP remains that she had been born into a family that was deep into music.
“… I keep saying music has no barrier of caste, colour, creed. But the most important thing is you sing in the language of people – I found that while singing,” she said.
Usha has sung in 16 Indian languages, including in Hindi, Bengali, Gujrati, Marathi, Konkani, Telugu, Dogri, Khasi, Sindhi and Oriya. Among the foreign languages she sang in are Spanish, French, german, Zulu, Swahili, Sinhala, Ukranian, Russian and of course English.
Naturally she had many anecdots to share. Usha recalled she had sung Rabindranath Tagore’s popular song “Purano Sei Diner Katha” at ‘Trincas’ in 1969 to an audience which comprised Leftist stalwarts Jyoti Basu, Somnath Chatterjee and several other luminaries.
“As I went on singing everyone clapped, everyone was happy, everyone present then sang along with me. I busted the myth that Rabindra Sangeet cannot be sung at night clubs or cannot be sung with a guitar,” she said.
She had also seen Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Bengali matinee idol Uttam Kumar, Bengali actress Supriya Devi and film maestro Satyajit Ray at different times among her audience at ‘Trincas’.
“Trincas changed the misconception among the people about a bar and they began expecting clean, wonderful entertainment. They found that a night club can also become a family place, a place for everybody,” she said.
Asked if she found any change in the profile of the audience in live music programmes in nightclubs and bars of the city now, Usha said, “I am a compulsive optimist. I never think about the bad side at all – you may find a few bad people but that is not the situation.
“There must be one or two bad eggs in the basket, but that is not the whole of Kolkata. The culturally conscious Kolkata I know,” she said.
‘Trincas’, which is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year, expressed happiness over its long association with Usha, who sang there for the first time there on October 1, 1969.
There will be live performances by Usha on September 27 and 28 in the same place, it said.