He has been described as a gifted crooner with a unique voice, and rightly so. Whether it is a slow, romantic ballad or an upbeat dance track, the energy which he radiates infuses life into his listeners’ souls and sets their emotions aglow. This captivating artiste clearly possesses the same indisputable fervor for music as the great singers of times past such as Mohammad Rafi Saab and Kishore Kumarji. His journey in sharing his songs with the world attests to the sentiments he has expressed, that his “genuine love and obsessive passion for music is like oxygen” for him.
Given his vocal range and ability to perform in several languages, he has the versatility to sing South Asian classics, western pop music and many genres in between. With each consecutive release there is an added element of surprise, as he pushes himself to the next echelon. Thus he never ceases to amaze his audience, regardless of the country he’s performing in at any given moment. Nothing could be truer to this fact as with his newly released single Aaja, where he has attained both a higher level and intensity than that of his previous songs.
So without further ado, we welcome back Navin Kundra to the I Crave Bollywood studio for another interview, including details of his already successful new love song which is taking over radio stations across the globe, making him “an international chart-topper”, (quoted from the Coventry Telegraph). Having fun with Navin, I received both candid and cheeky responses to our questions.
Simi – It’s lovely to see you again Navin! You’re looking very handsome as always. How are you?
Navin – Thanks…you’re looking beautiful yourself! I’m doing great! Working very hard and playing hard too!
Simi – I can see that, as it’s very difficult to pin you down with all the interviews you have lined up, so thank you for taking time out to be with us. We mentioned at the outset that you’ve become quite the globetrotter, performing in various countries around the world. What has your journey been like so far in that respect and what kind of memories have you made?
Navin – The journey has been one of discovery…it’s been a wonderful realization of dreams, especially after seeing audiences around the world sing the songs that I wrote back to me – they are my best memories.
Simi – Yes, that really must be such an amazing and overwhelming feeling. Your incredibly beautiful love song ‘Tere Liye’ was released two years ago this month and has become a smashing success with dedications not only for lovers but for people we love in general because it is that adaptable. Now you’ve crafted a very different love song, your most creative, ambitious piece yet, where you promise to take your listeners on “a musical journey of a lifetime”. That is one tall order! But then again this brilliant new single – ‘Aaja’ was already #1 on the charts even before its official release on iTunes on 14 February. Amazing! Congratulations on your fourth number one single!
Navin – Thank you!
Simi – I have to tell you after listening to the full track I was left speechless. And if I can be so bold to say that it is without a doubt it is a defining moment in your career! Can you tell us how ‘Aaja’ came about?
Navin – ‘Aaja’ is a Punjabi love song unlike any you will have heard before. As you mentioned, I describe it as ‘the musical journey of a lifetime’ and I know that sounds quite dramatic for a song, but once you listen to it in it’s entirety you’ll understand what I mean. After spending 12 weeks at #1 in the Asian charts with my Hindi love ballad ‘Tere Liye’, I had a lot of requests to create something similar, and in essence ‘Aaja’ picks up where ‘Tere Liye’ left off. I’ve really experimented with my vocal style and pushed my range on this song by mixing elements of soul, qawaali and Indian classical music.
Simi – And you have accomplished it brilliantly! ‘Aaja’ is definitely a phenomenal fusion of all those elements and more! The lyrics are so heartfelt, combine them with the impressive sargam and stunning alaaps which we can feel emanating from the depths of your soul … it takes one’s breath away to say the very least!
I’d like to read you a quote concerning music from The Light Within – A Travel Log of India by Joseph L. Anderson and then hear your thoughts are on it.
“The live performance of music takes its captivating force from its ability to hold us in the moment. Live music happens now. It does not merely hang on the wall like a painting; it unfolds. Its essence is becoming, not being, it opens like a flower that blooms before our very eyes. In this way it mesmerizes us. And when it is over, it is gone. In that sense, music is so like life: we must take the joy of music as it happens, or not at all. Whether we listen or perform, we are transported, not away from the authenticity of the moment, but into a kind of trance of becoming. Music urges, no, requires us to look upon the constantly unfolding vista of the now. In this way, music consecrates the true nature of existence and affirms its miraculous blossoming depth – even as it disappears.”
Navin – Beautifully put, but I do not agree with, ‘‘and when it is over, it is gone’’ – if it connected with you, the chances are it will stay with you for the rest of your life. I can remember several live performances that I will never forget. Music is meant to be experienced live and I always try to make my live shows a unique experience for everyone. Anyone can play the songs off a CD and mime to them, it’s not far different from listening to the CD at home, but when you adapt a song, switch it up and immerse the audience in it with live instrumentation and vocals, that’s when you experience LIVE!
Simi – And having experienced your music live, I can definitely say it is something that is very special and unforgettable. And yes you certainly do rock the house, getting your fans involved, making it a unique experience. You’ll be interested to know that I’ve done my homework and with a little digging found out from a reliable source that your musical career began very early on with a hairbrush for a microphone. Care to elaborate?
Navin – Doesn’t everyone do that??? Or is it just me? (Gulps)
Simi – I’m pretty sure you’re not alone on that one, but that was an interesting way of not elaborating on it. We’ll discuss it off the record later. (Laughs) This next two-part question was actually one from a fan. Brittany wants to know, “when you sing I have noticed that your accent changes between English, Hindi and Punjabi – why is this? Also, when people sing in another language why do they sometimes pick up the accent?”
Navin – Well Brittany, the importance of accent differs from east and west. For example, in Asian music, it is essential that all words are pronounced correctly with perfect diction. This takes a lot of practice and there are so many subtleties in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi pronunciation that the slightest difference can change the meaning of a whole word, line and sometimes even the whole song!
However, in the west I find that the less perfect the pronunciation, the more effective it sounds. Take for example, Amy Winehouse, Kings of Leon or even Michael Jackson, they all sing English but their accents are very different and sometimes you can’t even understand what they’re saying but it just sounds right sonically and musically. In that sense, there is a lot more freedom in the west.
Simi – Interesting, I never thought of it that way before. Now I won’t ask if you have your voice insured, but are there any exercises you do before singing so that you don’t strain your vocal chords?
Navin – No, I don’t do any specific exercises to maintain my voice, I am just constantly using it and sing a lot so that helps keep my vocal chords conditioned.
Simi – Yes, I can see how that would work too. (Smiles) I know there isn’t a set way to write/compose a song but can you give us an idea of the process you go through – (lyrics or melody first or is it different each time?) As a writer I know it’s difficult to just sit down and think of something to write about without some kind of idea to begin. Is it the same with song writing?
Navin – I believe that the best song writing comes from inspiration…you have to feel it to write it. There is no set way, sometimes the lyrics will come first as in ‘Tukde Tukde’ and other times the melody will come first like ‘Aaja’. For me it’s always been an organic process and in many ways, a song can write itself if you feel it. Sometimes I will sit with my guitar and play a few chords together and let my voice find its place amongst those chords. It’s amazing how when doing that, often words and melody come out simultaneously.
Simi – Oh wow that must be amazing! I hope one day I can be privileged enough to be there when you’re creating a new song and experience that firsthand. Do you ever get writer’s block and if so, what do you do to overcome it?
Navin – I do sometimes and the best remedy is to leave it and move onto something else then come back to it. It’s never worth trying to force writing or thinking too hard about it because it will show when the listener presses play.
Simi – Absolutely, as it does when reading a novel where the writer did such. And I would imagine there wouldn’t be as much emotion or power behind the project either in that case, leaving it flat. I’d like to switch gears a bit here. Now obviously singing acapella is different from having accompanying music. How easy or difficult is it, because you make it seem so effortless, to just break out in song on the spot, esp. when it is a request (no preparation)?
Navin – Singing acapella is much harder than with accompanying music because you have nothing to guide you or pitch you – there is nowhere to hide. It’s just about practice.
Simi – Very true. Now with several of your songs you have accompanying music videos. How are those different/similar to performing live on stage?
Navin – They are worlds apart and the main difference is that when you perform live, you only get one shot. The minute you walk out onto that stage, you’ve got to own it and there is no going back. If something goes wrong, you have to deal with it there and then so performing live is always the hardest. With a music video or indeed in a recording studio, if you make a mistake, you can always retake and retake again until you get it right. That’s part of why I love performing live so much…the thrill and adrenaline rush is something that you just can’t experience anywhere else!
Simi – It sounds like a thrilling roller-coaster ride of emotions. Ok, some less intense questions. If your life was made into a movie, what actor would you want to portray you?
Navin – Wow, interesting question! I actually have no idea…who do you think would do a good job?
Simi – I was thinking Shahid Kapoor perhaps.
Navin – Hmm Shahid could work! But I don’t think he’s built enough to play me though! (Laughs)
Simi – (Laughs) Oh right. (Sighs) Well then, we’ll just make sure that it’s written in the contract that Shahid has to bulk up beforehand if he wants the part. (Smiles) What are your favorite love songs in Hindi and English (male vocal, female vocal and duet)?
Navin – ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ from Guide, ‘Tujh Mein Rab Dikhtha Hai’ from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and definitely ‘Tumhi Mere Mandir’ from Khandaan. I also like ‘Always and Forever’ by Heatwave, ‘My Cherie Amore’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston and ‘Just The Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars.
Simi – Great choices! Oh wow I haven’t heard ‘Always and Forever’ in such a long time. What a beautiful song. I’ll have to YouTube that one after we finish here. What are your favorite Bollywood film/Hollywood films?
Navin – Bollywood is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge and Hollywood is Rocky I II III IV & V!
Simi – I’ll agree with you on DDLJ but not so much on Rocky…sorry (Laughs) Although in all fairness I have seen a couple of them. Favorite author/book?
Navin – Roots by Alex Haley
Simi – Hmm, very interesting. I wouldn’t mind discussing that book with you at a later date. Any phobias?
Navin – Just of creepy crawlies and stinging buzzies!
Simi – I’m right there with you on those. Do you have a collection of something special?
Navin – Memories & Fan mail
Simi – Very nice; I’m sure they make your journey special indeed. What attracts you to a person?
Navin – Their eyes and their soul
Simi – Haan, and very often we can see what’s in a person’s soul through their eyes. You’ve described yourself in the past as emotional and restless. Restless in what way and how emotional are you?
Navin – Restless in the sense that I have so much I want to achieve and there always seems so little time to do it all in, so I feel restless. I am happiest when I am busy working and doing what I love, that is when all concept of time disappears for me. Yep, I’m quite an emotional guy…can’t you tell from my songs? (Laughs)
Simi – There’s no doubt about that. You certainly make all your lady fans melt when they hear that incredible voice of yours filled with so much emotion. You’ve also described yourself as a shy person. How is it possible to get on stage and perform in that case or like actors, do you get into character and be someone else besides Navin while performing?
Navin – Yes and no – I always say that as a person, I am Navin and when I step on stage or behind the microphone, I become Navin Kundra. Both are a part of me, yet one appears larger than life and the other is just me. I don’t know how that happens; it’s not a conscious thing.
Simi – Oh, I like the way you describe it. Kind of reminds me of a Norman Peale quote. He said, “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” And you certainly do have what seems to be an inexhaustible amount of energy both on and off stage. I remember asking your manager Nyrone when we were in Toronto for desifest last year, if you are always this full of energy because I was watching you bounce from performing on the stage to backstage interviews to meeting your fans and he gave me this big smile and vehemently nodded as if to say, “Yes, without a doubt!” It was just amazing watching you up close like that. Speaking of which, you’ve been invited back to Toronto for desifest 2011.
Navin – Yes, it will be on 28 May at Yonge-Dundas Square and I’m really looking forward to it.
Simi – As am I. It’ll be even more amazing this year with Aaja for certain. While on the subject of stunning poetic lines, what do you think is the most beautiful or meaningful expression one person can voice to another?
Navin – I am here for you.
Simi – Without a doubt I wholeheartedly agree with you. And since we hear that you’re on the lookout for your mehbooba, what do you think is the key to a woman’s heart?
Navin – Hmmm…I don’t know. Perhaps I should ask my Mehboobas! (Smiles)
Simi – I think that would be a good idea actually. You may receive some interesting replies. On that note, unfortunately the time has escaped us already. Is there anything else you would like to say to your fans before you go?
Navin – Yes, I used to believe that something would give way in life to help all your dreams come true but now I know that you solely have the ability to make your dreams come true. Whatever it may be, empty your mind of all the doubts and reasons why you can’t do it, and just focus on doing it.
Thank you for supporting me, your support has been absolutely incredible and I am thrilled that we have reached NUMBER ONE again with ‘Aaja’ not only in one chart, but in the iTunes World Charts, the Buzz Asia Charts and the Sunrise Charts. Every day you give me a reason to wake up with a smile and I hope I do the same for you.
If you’re feeling the new single ‘Aaja’, please take a moment to get an original copy of it from iTunes or Amazon or any other legal download site – I can assure you it’s much more fulfilling to own and listen to an official copy with crystal clear sound than it is to bear a low quality illegal rip. I have lots more new music to come for you, so stay with me…Peace & Love
Simi – Yes, please do get an original copy of Aaja from iTunes, Amazon or any legal download site. Navin, you definitely do give us a reason to wake up with a smile every day by sharing such an intimate and beautiful part of who you are through your music. I’m sure all who have been deeply touched by your songs are truly grateful, happy and proud to be on this fabulous journey with you! We’re certainly looking forward to the continued success of Aaja and the releases of all your new music yet to come. Thank you once again for taking the time out of your extremely hectic schedule to be with us. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Navin – My pleasure as well. You’re welcome and thank you Simi!
Here’s where you can get your legal download of Aaja!
After experiencing this “musical journey of a lifetime” … Please take a moment to vote for it on the various radio station charts and request it on your local stations too!
Also, please vote for Navin in the Best Alternative Act category of the UK Asian Music Awards
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