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Dr. K. J. Yesudas

::The Musical Yatra of the Celestial Voice:: Interviewed and Written by Anu Gopalakrishnan
Padmasri Dr. K. J. YesudasDressed in an immaculate white on white, Dr. K. J. Yesudas has been entertaining us with his melodic voice consistently over the last 50 years. As a monk who worships music, Yesudas’ struggle and his success have both been written about in equal vein, across many vernaculars. The only consistent singer to have ensured every song touches our soul, his “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni” sends a magical spell down our spine. Every concert of his is incomplete without a standing applause that comes straight from the listener’s heart. Welcome to the singer, a musician par excellence who was delighted to visit Michigan and speak to

In his exclusive, enchanting chat with Anu Gopalakrishnan (’ Raaga WCXI 1160 AM), the conversation with Dr. K. J. Yesudas moves beyond his grand musical repertoire as he speaks more about his initial years, his passion, his 50 glorious years, and the future of music stressing on why “Bharatiya” (‘Indian’ness) becomes significant outside India.

Padma Bhushan Dr. K. J. Yesudas has recorded more than 40,000 songs for many languages including Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Gujarati, Oriya, Marathi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tulu, Russian, Arabic, Latin and English through his long career.

:: Excerpts from the interview ::

Padmasri Dr. K. J. YesudasA hearty welcome to Michigan! How do you feel about 50 years of beautiful music?
Thank you for welcoming me. I have never counted my years of singing. Of course, I keep counting my level of knowledge. Music is an ocean that cannot be measured. It takes more than one life to even understand a part of it. Nevertheless, audience has given me a lot of confidence and encouragement. What I am today, I owe it to them and to god’s grace. It takes a long time for students pursuing music to understand that.

Tell us about your initial years.
I started learning music from the age of 5. I am 72 years now. And I will place my hand on my heart and say that I still have long ways to learn about music. One thing I learned from my young age, music should not be regionalized. Just because I am from Kerala, one should not stereotype music as south Indian or North Indian. Music is god, it is eternal and it reaches beyond the superficial self. Like every musician in those times, I had my struggle too. That’s what makes success interesting. My younger age was filled with a curiosity to understand my audience and to learn music. I wanted my music to be deep rooted culturally.

"In 2006 Dr. Yesudas sang 16 film songs in four South Indian languages on the same day at AVM Studio, Chennai."

When did you know that you were born to be a singer?
Whatever I am, it is because of my parents. Most importantly, my father who was a stage actor and singer knew very well that if his child had a taste for music, he would make sure the child would learn music the proper way. I see parents today get their children into so many things, testing what they are capable of. It is good but not to the point of stressing the child out. See, my mom was a little against me when it came to singing as a career. Our Christian cultural beliefs didn’t allow for music to be a man’s career. My dad was my staunch supporter. He knew how to channel and focus my voice towards one goal.

How have your parents been instrumental in shaping your career?
I love this question. The reason I say that is today, parents don’t realize the inherited taste of the child. They go about throwing their children in various activities without realizing what the child is all about. They don’t observe the child, his/her capabilities. I strongly believe that all parents should understand the child’s aptitude. My mom was worried about my future. She always thought, how will this boy survive by just singing? She was worried about my education. My father was not worried at all. He understood me completely. He wanted me to have my basic education and learn music the proper way. Think about it, parents at one point thought computers or medicine would be the right thing for their child because it pays well. Is this what the child is really capable of?
Your magnetic voice has graced so many songs. Tell us about those powerful vocal chords?
I attribute my voice to god’s grace. I will use a simple example, when a woman is pregnant, she is often told by elders and parents to eat well, not to stress, maintain good habits, hear good things, see good things, look at cute baby pictures etc…only then, they say beautiful, healthy babies are born. Likewise, when you have a natural good voice, maintain it with good food habits, don’t eat nasty foods. Voice practice becomes very important every single day. Voice should be treated like a gunman’s barrel. Clean it every single day. One month you don’t touch it, it rusts. So will your voice. As a singer, we have a responsibility to entertain our listeners. It becomes my duty to maintain my voice.

Initially he struggled a lot for a break and suffered many hardships when he roamed around Chennai looking for an opening, living mainly on tap water and faced rejections from music directors and AIR
(All India Radio) Trivandrum. But young Yesudas patiently endured and persisted to achieve his life's goal.

Do you intentionally choose songs with a classical base?
Just like basic education is a must for any career path you choose, basic knowledge about music is a must when you have to sing good songs. When you have a natural aptitude to sing, singing becomes a little easy. I am not saying it is very easy to gain overnight success. Nothing comes instantly for a musician. When you know the basics of music and when you know your heart and passion lies in singing good songs that mean something to you, and when you want to learn more – classical will help sustain your longevity in your singing career.
Over the past several years, what kind of changes did you see as a singer and a musician?
I don’t look at it that way. Everything that is created will be destroyed. That is the cycle of life. Think about the Hindu mythology and the triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Srishti, Sthithi, Samharam the three aspects of Universe). That’s how change is. It is constant. Whether it is life or music, I acknowledge all kinds of music. Imagine a home, after 50 years or even say 100 years, you will demolish the home completely or make changes and remodel your home. Does one complain then? Likewise, everything needs to be fine-tuned. Criticism stems from each one’s taste. The audience is too varied and diverse and they will have their own reactions. Carnatic/Classical music is very old – the tradition travelled across Himalayas to Kanyakumari. Naturally, there will be different changes that happen along the way. It is same as language. And music is a language. So Carnatic should not be associated with any particular state or region. It makes me sad. It is “Bharatiya” music. Every musical strain has the “sa ri ga ma pa da ni” in it.

Dr. K.J. Yesudas who is a down to earth, humble person strongly believes in Shri Narayana Guru's principle of 'One Caste, One Religion and One God for all'.

As a successful singer, how do you interpret success?
All religions, including spiritual books and saints say the same thing. We just interpret it differently. Each religion may have its own language, but in the end eternity is god. God is spread over everything. As a singer, I have realized that I have to learn from everywhere. Success means forgetting the “self”. Egoism and arrogance of knowledge can be very detrimental. As a natural singer, one should observe and increase knowledge. I try my level best to do that. Masters come in different stages. I had the privilege of learning from the greatest of greats. Whether it is music or exercise or yoga, a good master, a ‘guru’ becomes essential. As I said earlier, my learning continues. I learn from children too. Remember Lord Shiva in the Hindu mythology took advice from his son Muruga (karthikeya). Where are we as humans?
Padmasri Dr. K. J. YesudasWhat do you think about today’s children, their talent? How important is classical training?
Honestly, everything is like fast food. Today, people are looking for instant gratification. Easy money is what everybody is looking for. Don’t take me wrong, drug peddling, cheating too is quick money, bad money. I am not saying anything different. I will still stress on how sweat and hard work will always pay off. There are no short cuts for a musician. You might click in one contest, but if you don’t understand the basics of music, you will not attain success. No wonder you see multiple singers all over the place. My advice to children and their parents is – observe around you and inside you. Ask yourself; am I capable of the struggle? Can I get my hands dirty? Can I sweat it out? There is an old vernacular saying, you can’t get a fish out of the water without making your hands wet. When you struggle and consistently work hard, success tastes very sweet. There is happiness in sharing that. As a child, you should pursue your passion as duty with focus and integrity. Never lose sight of your goal.

And what happened to your dream to start a university for music?
How did you know? That will remain a dream because I still think I am a student. From the age of five to 72 years, over 60 years have gone by and I am still touching my heart and telling you “I am nothing in music”. I am still learning. It is very hard to be a master. Students think 2 or 5 years is a good preparation time and that they could master it. I had two students who wanted to learn from me, they ran away in two years. Not because I was strict, because music is hard. You need to sweat it out. I will be satisfied if I get even one student who will not mind sitting under a tree and learning with focus and a proper mind. This goes back to the “Gurukulam” concept. You hardly get to see those kinds of students. You see youngsters wanting to learn music because they all want to be stars, earn money instantly.

Padmasri Dr. K. J. YesudasYou have always been propagating “oneness” in music. Is it because of any personal experience?
Yes. I do have lots of personal experiences. I am sad how musicians are branded as North, South, East and West. Why is it so difficult to understand that we are all Indians? We shouldn’t separate ourselves. Music has no language.

I had this lady in the airport checking my boarding pass and she questioned me with excitement “Are you Yesudas, the real singer?” Then, immediately, she asked me “Are you a South Indian singer?” I replied by saying that I am a singer from India. People today have become far more sentimental about language.
You are here in Michigan after a very long time on behalf of Kalakshetra – The Temple of Arts. What can the audience expect?
I am so thankful to Kalakshetra members for helping artists and for celebrating art. I am very happy to hear about the artists fund to help old and aging artists who have sacrificed their lives practicing traditional forms. I will be singing classical music until the half time and will also be singing Hindi songs. I will supply what my audience wants. Just like you get to enjoy dessert after a sumptuous meal, likewise, the concert will start with classical followed by songs from other languages. I would love my audience to be patient no matter where they are from. I am here to sing for them and it is my duty to entertain my listeners. I am very delighted to perform in Michigan. Thank you to Kalakshetra and for sharing my thoughts with the listeners.

"He has won the National Award for the Best Male Playback Singer seven times (the most by any Indian singer) and the State Award for the Best Playback Singer 43 times, which consists of awards by the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal"

Dr. K. J. Yesudas - His voice has catapulted many soul stirring numbers. His honesty and depth of knowledge in music is very humbling. With a string of chart busters and awards line-up, the singer is striving hard to preserve the sanctity of true natural vocal music in the ever changing world of digital sounds. Here is a singer, a musician par excellence who has tasted success and who completely and truly surrenders to the audience. A beautiful human being, a magical singer, a great father and a dutiful son, Dr. K. J. Yesudas is indeed an ever shining and magnificent gem from the sparkling crown of the Indian music industry. Click here for the event details.
Interviewed and Written by Anu Gopalakrishnan (RJ Rockin’ Raaga WCXI 1160 AM, Sat 1:00 – 2:00 pm)  |  A exclusive

About Kalakshetra – Temple of Arts - Since the inception of Kalakshetra in 2008 the group has been striving to introduce the value of art in its true form of Indian school education by focusing on the element of discipline, respectfulness, traditional and cultural values. This year Kalakshetra has decided to bless the students with the presence of a great genius Dr. K J Yesudas in their very first effort towards honoring the maestros of Indian classical art forms. The desire is to share part of the event proceeds with the needy stars of yesteryear's; that have thrived to make a living by pursuing a career in Indian traditional art forms.
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