KK during a perfomance in Dubai in 2019
KK during a perfomance in Dubai in 2019 Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Krishnakumar Kunnath, or KK as we knew him, has a musical legacy few could match.

Being a pioneer of pop music in India, his transition from advertising jingles to being noticed by musical genius AR Rahman is the stuff dreams are made of.

KK in a file photo Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

As Bollywood, the musical fraternities and fans come to terms with the devastating loss of KK at age of 53, the tributes by those who knew him well collectively recollect his passion for live musical performances, many of which brought him to our shores in the UAE, one most recent as last month with a concert in Dubai.

In one of several interviews with Gulf News, KK had spoken extensively about his love for the stage. “I don’t get nervous at all before a stage performance. I love the stage. Sometimes, I feel I was born for it. The energy, the excitement and the passion on stage is unbeatable.”

Starting out in the early 90s, it was his breakthrough album ‘Pal’, which hit the charts in 1999, coupled with his gut-wrenching take on the ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ ballad, ‘Tadap Tadap’ (that same year), that really brought KK into the spotlight.

Even as KK built a name for himself in Bollywood, his love for independent music stood strong through the decades despite the struggle artists continue to face in India for finding an audience for private albums.

“Yes, albums are difficult to do,” KK told Gulf News in 2019. “People are living life on the fast lane; they wouldn’t have the time or inclination to go through an entire album. So as an artiste you are better off doing a single and put your everything in that one song. When we started off in the 90s you had the space to do your own album. But now with so many new music directors and new singers coming up every year, it is very difficult for independent numbers to get noticed.

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KK in a file photo Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“Also, the amount of money Bollywood pumps in to promote a song is quite difficult to match for an artiste. Having said, things are opening up and the space for young artists to put out original content is expanding. YouTube and other social media outlets provide a good opportunity for really talented singers to get noticed. As an artiste you can give it your best and put it out on a public platform and hope it connects with the audience.”

And it was his Bollywood music that drew KK wide recognition with hits such as ‘Tu Aashiqui Hai’ (‘Jhankaar Beats’), ‘Tu Jo Mila’ (‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’), ‘Zara Sa’ (‘Jannat’), ‘Awaarapan Banjaarapan’ (‘Jism’), ‘Khuda Jaane’ (‘Bachna Ae Haseeno’), ‘Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai’ (‘Gangster’), ‘Aankhon Mein Teri’ (‘Om Shanti Om’), and more up-tempo ones such as ‘Dus Bahane’ (‘Dus’), ‘Indiawaale’ (‘Happy New Year’) and ‘Tune Maari Entriyaan’ (‘Gunday’) — a “mixed bag” he says he’s enjoyed performing in the last 25 years of his musical career.

However, in recent years, KK had joined a collective voice of industry veterans who lamented the loss of a good song and melody while making way for the remix revolution in Bollywood.

“The late 90s and early 2000s were the era of change in Indian film music and I was a part of it. A lot of new music directors, singers hit the marquee during this time. Also there were well written songs with a huge audience connect,” he told Gulf News in 2019. “There are some great numbers now as well but most of the music is rhythmic, with nonsensical lyrics and they don’t belong to the movie. They are inserted in the film only as a dance number, but I guess that’s what the audience wants. It is a demand supply thing and things are much more commercial now. People are looking at things from a coloured glass, which must change.”

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KK performing in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

It was this philosophy in heart that KK continued his journey in the music industry, leading him to Kolkata this past week where he was booked for two concerts. It was while performing at one of the events that he suddenly fell ill and returned to his hotel. As his condition worsened, he was brought to the CMRI hospital in the city and declared dead.

The police is currently investigating the cause of death even as condolences pour in from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bollywood heavyweights Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan and his music industry colleagues ranging from Sonu Nigam to Armaan Malik.

KK is survived by his wife and two children.