Image Credit: Supplied

Krishnakumar Kunnath, or KK as we know him, has a musical legacy few can match.

As one of the early pioneers 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.

But 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.

While the pop movement in India died somewhere between the mid 2000s and Bollywood, KK is one of the few iconic singers who continues to keep the flame alive. Ahead of the February 23 concert at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dubai, Gulf News tabloid! talks to KK about new music, Bollywood remixes and how does he keep the passion alive.

Q: Tell us what you’ve got planned for the upcoming gig and how different is it going to be from your most recent one with Shaan last November?

A: This concert will happen at the Hard Rock Cafe, so it is a closed space. It will be more up close and personal and I can take requests from the audience. Also it will be a solo show, so I have more time to do more of my songs than in the previous concert with Shaan.

Q: Do you still get a case of nerves before you step up on stage?

A: No, 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. It’s all very informal backstage with the band members. We just do a high — five before going on stage.

Q: Audiences are largely enthusiastic at live performances, barring that handful of badly behaved who make a nuisance of themselves. What is the worst you have faced and how did you deal with it?

A: That will have to be my first ever live performance in Mumbai in 1999. I had to perform at The Independence Rock at Rang Bhavan, which was the cult event for hard-core rockers. I was scheduled to go on stage just before the closing act of the most anticipated hard rock band, Millennium. But since I was coming from an earlier concert from the outskirts of the city and was running late, I was made to go up after Millennium had performed.

My album ‘Pal’ had just released then and I was a newbie, completely unknown to the audience, which comprised rock and heavy metal aficionados. The band had already started playing ‘Aap Ki Dua’ just as I got off my car and I started singing from behind the stage. The audience couldn’t accept a Hindi song in a heavy metal concert and a few of them threw bottles at me. Even though I was just starting my career, I was completely unfazed and threw the bottles back at them. I persisted with the song and by the time I did my next song ‘Pal’, the audience was completely silent and I knew that I had won them over. That is when I realised that stage shows are where I belong. I am a very different person on stage. I wasn’t going to give up on my first ever concert mid-way, even if some people were throwing bottles at me.

Q: Are you working on any new music?

A: It will be a single, not an album. I am working on a single and will release it this year for sure.

Q: During recent interviews with the band Junoon and singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, they shared the struggles of producing a private album during the age of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple, etc, that seem to focus on singles. What are your thoughts on this?

A: Yes, albums are difficult to do now. 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.

Q: The other challenge that perhaps private albums face in India is the juggernaut called Bollywood. How do artists compete with that?

A: I agree. 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.

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.

Q: As a veteran singer who’s been through the highs and lows of Bollywood’s musical journey, what’s your take on the endless remixes that continue to repackage old classics?

A: I personally don’t like the idea of remixes, but I have to admit some of them do work. I guess remixes are easier to do since they are tried and tested songs repackaged. But, purists like me prefer original work to remixes.

Some remixes have given a new lease of life to old classics, which might have been lost to this generation. But, I also find a few of them downright cheap. I think we need a fresh approach, else the creativity is lost.

Q: Do you sometimes miss the music from the early 2000s that perhaps had more bang for its buck in terms of shelf life, compared to the millennial approach to music?

A: 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.

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.

Q: If there’s one era in music you could be reborn in, which would it be and why?

A: I will stick to do music from my generation. It was a great time to belong to the music industry then. There was wonderful camaraderie. I made some good friends and shared excellent vibes with most of them. I don’t want to change anything about it.

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Don’t miss it!

KK Live in Dubai is being staged on February 23 at the Hard Rock Cafe, Dubai Festival City. Tickets starts at Dh150 and are available online. Doors open at 7.30pm.