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My tryst with the Maestro
Singer Usha

8th July 2003
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Usha, who started singing songs for films with Chitram, is now a household name not only in AP but also among all those people who listen to Telugu music. Within a short span, she has captured the hearts of music lovers throughout the globe. Here she shares her feelings and experiences of her tryst with Maestro Ilayaraja in her own words.

Singing in the music direction of Maestro Ilayaraja is a cherished dream for any aspiring singer. After all, how many singers get this opportunity? That I was on cloud nine when I was invited to Chennai to sing two songs in Sambhu under the music direction of Maestro Ilayaraja, is just a modest way of putting my feelings. Elated, excited, nervous, oh! I underwent a whole gamut of feelings until I actually met Ilayaraja garu in person.

Ilayaraja had listened to a couple of songs I sang under the music direction of Bhava Tharani, who happens to be his daughter. When he was looking for a budding female singer in Telugu to singe some songs for Sambhu, Kula Sekhar garu referred me to him. When I met him, Ilayaraja mentioned to me about the songs I sang for Bhava Tharani.

I had been to Chennai a couple of times and tried to meet him in person but in vain. Now it was a privilege to meet my favorite music director Ilayaraja as a singer. As a person he is simple, unassuming and very jovial.

The recording was supposed to be conducted at Prasad Labs, Chennai where Ilayaraja has a special room for his own use. (He actually has his own studio in Chennai that was under renovation then). The walls of his room were adorned with the photos of Lord Ganesh and Ialayaraja's gurus. As soon as I stepped into that room, a current of tranquility passed through my body. I was later told that not everybody is allowed to enter that room.

I was very nervous, not sure as to how this great person would talk to me or treat me It's very natural to be anxious, meeting a person who is renowned throughout the world. But Ilayaraja's down to earth composure and a cool attitude buried my anxiety even before it blossomed. Without me realizing, we were already into a conversation.

When I asked him how he had developed so much interest in music, he amazed me with answers that were subtle and simple, just like him. His favorite music instrument is harmonium. And the magic he does with his favorite music instrument leaves one charmed. He played a tune on harmonium and asked me what music it was. I said that it's a folk tune. He played yet another tune and asked me to identify it. I said that it's a western tune. Then he played the 'Nagumomu' tune in a traditional way. Only then I realized that the tunes he played earlier were also of Nagumomu, but in folk and western formats. The way he added new colors to the already known tune in such a quick and short time was amazing.

Ilayaraja is a legend in music. In his earlier days, he used to write notes while playing his harmonium. Later on, he used to compose tune while looking at the harmonium to make sure if he is using the correct notes. Now, he composes his notes without even looking at the harmonium. He is that adept with harmonium now. I believe he re-records the entire movie in one day (with a morning 7 to evening 7 call-sheet), which is almost an impossible task for any music director. That shows his expertise at it. For the film Sambhu, he has composed new music for the songs that were already picturized using the music composed by another music director. Ilayaraja's compositions gel so well with the songs that one can barely make out the difference now.

Talking about the new trend in Telugu film industry these days, that music for Telugu films should be given only by Telugu people, he commented that music does not have any linguistic barriers. Anybody who composes music should make sure that music is born, but not made. On other language singers, he said that as long as the singers pronounce the language properly anybody could sing in any language.

Initially I was supposed to do just one song 'Kalalo Choosindi'. After listening to that melodious song, he offered me to sing another song - 'Buttabomma'.

The kind of enthusiasm he has for his age [I guess he is above 60] is remarkable. When I was singing 'Buttabomma' song, Ilayaraja showed the enthusiasm he needed in my voice by jumping and singing the song the way I was supposed to sing it.

While we were working on these songs, a producer came over to the studio to show a song pictured on Ilayaraja's tune. Ilayaraja invited us to have a look at it. The picturization of the song paled in comparison to Ilayaraja's rich composition. The song was a classical song and sadly the picturization could not do proper justice to it.

As some memoirs, I took some photographs with him and his room. He was so sweet to allow me to photograph him. While we were being photographed, he cheered us up saying "Smile, smile!"

I used to listen to music since I was a kid. Back then I just used to listen to the songs without paying much attention to the music director's name. It was only with Abhinanadana that I became knowledgeable about the singers and music directors. After listening to the melodious score of Abhinandana I could totally relate to most of his older compositions.

Back then, it was just hero and heroine who became popular with the films. But today, because of the exposure a movie gets, thanks to the media, almost all the technicians are becoming popular and known to common man. Also, people have started noticing the people involved behind the screen.

People brand me as melodious singer. I would like to sing all types of songs but for that to happen, music directors also need to give me a chance. Given some opportunities, I am sure I can sing any type of sing. Ilayaraja is one music director who has given me a chance to experiment.

Ilayaraja also mentioned to me the usage and importance of natural sounds, like a bird's chirping, while composing music. He said that Mother Nature provides us with a variety of music that when used in songs they add to the effect of the song.

Ilayaraja's style of working is different from most of the music directors today. In just one go, he judges if the singer sang the song the way he wanted to or not. He not only gives suggestions for improvement but also encourages with a good and valuable feedback quite unlike the music directors today. Working with him is fast and fun.

Its really been a great pleasure working with him. I thank for giving me an opportunity to share my experiences with my friends and fellow visitors of

As spoken to: Jeevi
Content editing and enhancement: Sreya Sunil

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