Daughter of a Tamil Brahmin family, Queen of Hindi pop

by Ana Lopez

Katha Collage -Kajal Ojha-Vaidya

(Part: 1)
Name: Usha Uthup
Venue: Studio Vibration, Radhanath Chaudhary Road, Kolkata
Time: 2023
Age: 75 years
To go up and down like a rising wave
Khilati Kali Sa Khila Rup
Jane kab kaise kahaan
Haton se fisal jaye jaise
Pour the incense
nce in every lifetime
Comes a love like this
I need you, you need me
Oh my honey, can’t you see, and Hari ॐ Hari
You all remember this voice. A film called ‘Pyara Dushman’, in which Kalpana Iyer’s cabaret became very popular. It was the time of 1980. Bappi Laheri’s career was at its peak then. Thus, from 1965-66, R.D. Burman started giving Hindi cinema music a new look. In which, I got a chance to sing for the first time in a film called ‘Hare Ram Hare Krishna’. I didn’t think that the opportunity to sing with a popular and famous singer like Asha Bhosle would open the doors of Bollywood for me, but not only did the song get a lot of praise, it became a hit among the younger generation. Perhaps because, at that time, more than 30 years had passed since independence. A generation grew up that was attracted to the West. Western clothing, music and also the wires of the ‘hippie culture’ flowed through that time.
The way a dark, brooding voice entered Bollywood music at the time was somewhat surprising and relatively unrecognisable. It was the time of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. It is not wrong to say that these two sisters ruled the Bollywood music industry! The careers of Kokilkanthi singers like Suman Kalyanpur, Vani Jayaram wrapped up before they even started. I had no idea that I would get any chance in Bollywood… By the way, I had no intention of making a career in Bollywood. Surprisingly, I didn’t even think of pursuing a career in music!
Today at the age of 75, I have sung songs in 16 languages. Including Indian languages ​​like Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Assamese, Oriya, Gujarati, Marathi, Kokani, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Tulu and Telugu, English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Sinhwali, Swahili, Russian, Nepali, Arabic, I have also sung in languages ​​like Creole, Zulu and Spanish. Today I have released more than 43 albums with more than 150 popular songs.
I was born in 1947. At the time of India’s independence. It was the 60s when I started singing. Shankar Jaikishan, Laxmikant Pyarelal, S.D. Burman and Naushad, the popularity of songs in Hindi cinema was based on Khayyam’s fans. This was the time when R.D. Burman was also struggling to become an independent musician. Mahmud Saheb gave his first film as an independent composer ‘Bhoot Bangla’ (1965)… The film was not a big success, but in 1966, the film ‘Tisri Manzil’ brought R.D. Burman gave a new identity, and also gave Hindi cinema music a new, fresh tone.
Hindi pop, was a new concept when I started singing. It was the time of film songs based on ragas of classical music. The word ‘disco’ was looked down upon… every disco as if it was stealing foreign tunes, opposing, criticizing and criticizing the film songs of other musicians.
Audiences also do not particularly accept such songs. I didn’t even know that I would be able to sing, and that too on a public platform.
I was born in a Tamil Brahmin family in Madras (now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu. They were four sisters and one brother. Uma, Indira, Maya and Usha. A brother named Shyam. My father was in the police. We lived in Lovelane Police Quarters in Bychalla and all of us siblings studied in St. Agnes High School. Both my sisters sang well, but I was kicked out of music class. Our music teacher felt that my voice was too hoarse and unfit for music. However, there was a musical atmosphere in our home. My parents used to listen to Kishori Amonkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib and many other classical musicians. Radio Ceylon played regularly in our house. We were all huge fans of Amin Sayani. Along with this, Carnatic music and Western music were also heard in our house. My father was a fan of Kadhatri music. Elvis Presley and the Beatles were very famous at that time. We had gramophone records in our house. My father LP. Bringing records. We all used to listen to music together. Sometimes we brothers and sisters danced to the tune of that music…
SMA by our side. Pathan lived. who was the then police commissioner. He was very close to our family. We are four sisters and they have only one daughter Jamila, so Jamila used to spend half of her day at our house. Seeing Jamila, I also started wearing salwar kameez. His father was also a music fan. He advised my father that my voice is different than others, but if it is cultivated properly, I can become a singer like Gangubai Hangal and Mogubai Kardikar. He alerted my father to the depth of my voice. My father agreed to teach me classical music and my musical training began for the first time.
However, I have never been self-conscious about my looks or voice. My parents never compared my looks with my other sisters, maybe that’s why I was full of self-confidence. My sister had decided to make music her career. During that period, Radio Silone held a contest to give new voices a chance. When I was nine years old, my sister took me with her to the Radio Ceylon contest. Although I was much younger than the rest of the contestants, I got a chance to participate in the contest and sang a song called ‘Mockingbird’, which was more like a ‘rap song’ of today. Amin Sayani played a snippet of the song on Radio Ceylon and I got a chance to sing a commercial for a milk drink (like Bournevita) called ‘Ovaltine’.
After that, a flurry of songs based on jingles and western tunes erupted. In the same period, I started getting offers for public shows (stage shows). I started getting invitations to sing in many prestigious night clubs in Mumbai.
The kind of songs I sang, it was natural that everyone expected me to wear western gowns and fashionable clothes… My father sat me down and explained, ‘There is no dress as sexy as an Indian dress. A saree has beauty, elegance and yet sophistication. You may go to sing in night clubs, but I want you not to leave our traditional dress…’ His words had a deep impact on me and I started singing Western music and Hindi pop songs with a Kanjeevaram saree on my head. Gradually it became my identity. My identity with wearing a saree, beautiful traditional jewelry and a gajra on the head, a big chandlo and beautiful eye make-up started to become popular not only in India but also abroad.
So much so that when I was invited to sing at the Parisian club ‘Moulin Rouge’, the waitresses and all the women who joined me on the rhythm that day wore sarees to match my outfit! (Sequentially:)

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