Tuesday, June 05, 2012

SPB Saar

I've been listening to the voice of S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, or SPB, ever since I was 11, when Ek Duje Ke Liye came out (in 1981); and even though I wouldn't count him as one of my favourite Hindi singers, he will remain one of the landmarks of my growing years. Much later when I came to Madras, in 2001, he became my favourite Tamil singer: I didn't have to know the language to sense the magic he infuses into compositions, especially those of Illayaraja. And after watching him perform live in a few concerts that I was fortunate enough to attend, I became a devotee.

To me, SPB is South India's Kishore Kumar: one can try to be him, but one can never be him. Like Kishore Kumar, he effortlessly throws his rich voice into the microphone, making even difficult compositions sound easy to the ear. I've had the good fortune of listening to the live renditions of Ilamaiyenum poongatru, one of the masterpieces of Illayaraja, and Swasamae swasamae, one of the last brilliant Tamil compositions of A.R. Rahman before he went became global and stopped making meaningful music. And no party at my place is complete until I force my guests to listen to Sippi irukkudu muthum irukkudu and Illaya nila. Search for these songs on You Tube, listen to them, and you will know what I mean.

I am writing this post because SPB turned 66 yesterday, June 4, and a tribute is in order considering he has enriched my stay in Madras. But why I really feel compelled to pay him a tribute on his birthday is not because of the Tamil songs that I happen to admire, but because of his Hindi songs that mark my childhood as well as adolescence. True, he is not my favourite Hindi singer -- even SPB won't fancy himself as a singer of Hindi songs -- but some of his Hindi songs brought about a rush of adrenalin back then and they do so even now with the same intensity.

Some of these songs are:

1. Mere jeevan saathi (Ek Duje Ke Liye)
2. Hum tum hum do raahi (Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya)
3. Dekho dekho yeh to kamaal ho gaya (Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya)
4. Paagal dil mera (Aaja Meri Jaan)
5. Aaja meri jaan (Aaja Meri Jaan)
6. Idhar dekho, udhar dekho (Angaar)
7. Yeh mera dil (Gardish)

I watched Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya, on video (which had just come to India), when I was in class 6. Even to my young mind back then, the song Hum tum hum do raahi denoted ultimate romance, and it does even today. If you happen to fancy someone but are unable to convey your feelings, play this song -- executed impeccably by none other than R.D. Burman -- and you might succeed.

SPB and R.D. Burman were always fond of each other. R.D. Burman, when he was going through his lean phase, was hired by Gulshan Kumar to produce an album called Aaja Meri Jaan. To sing the title song of this album, R.D. invited SPB. It was a song R.D. had already sung in Bengali with Asha Bhosle -- Tumi koto je duure -- and he now wanted SPB to sing the Hindi version along with Anuradha Paudwal. SPB found the song difficult and when he begged to be excused, R.D. told him, "Bloody fellow, that's why I called you from Madras. You can do this!" The song was recorded.

Somewhere down the road, Gulshan Kumar, the juice seller-turned-music magnate, decided to scrap the album. Instead, he made a movie called Aaja Meri Jaan to launch his brother in the film industry but retained the R.D. Burman-composed title song in that film. Such humiliation contributed to the fatal heart attack that the out-of-work R.D. Burman was to suffer soon. Gulshan Kumar did not live for long either: he fell to the bullets of contract killers soon after.

But S.P. Balasubrahmanyam lives on, hale and hearty. Touch wood. He is one of the very, very few surviving links between the various eras of music that I've lived through since my childhood. He lives in the present day, and yet is the active ambassador of the eras gone by. Therefore this tribute.


Unknown said...

Lovely tribute. Yes, I feel the same way about SPB too - he's the only living link to my favorite music.

Sepiamniac said...

SPB oh yes; evergreen voice. My personal favs are idu oru pon maalai from nizhalgal and va vennila from mella tharathadu kadavu.
However, i have never been a fan of his hindi songs, mostly due to his heavy southie accent. Have to listen to a few songs you have mentioned. Thanks for the perspective

You must listen to this song, I am sure you have. i guess this would be ranked among his top 10 bests ever


He is a good actor too. Maybe among the few singer-actors like Talat and kishore. Definitely good, though.

Ek Talib said...

Nice post sir!

1. Hope you know SPB has also the world record for the most no. of songs sung by any playback singer..over 40,000 i guess..which means he has many many wonderful songs to his credit and not just the ones you have listed! i always felt he is gifted to have an ilayaraja (also my fav singer janaki whom i extoll so high along with spb), and ilayaraja was gifted to have got a singer like SPB, this duo has given us so many musical treasures. This inspires me to write a post abt him and also list my personal favourites by the duo.

2. As Ms.Sepiamniac rightly pointed out he is also a very good actor. But not just that, he has also proved himself as a music director in the movie sigaram(composed music, sung and acted in the same movie). My favs in the movie is itho itho en pallavi and vannam konda vennilave. if someone can help you with the meaning of the lyrics of these songs that ll be great.

3. Once I happened to see an interview of spb, and he said how he never took any special effort to groom his voice, never quit smoking/drinking or eating ice creams. more importantly he never learnt classical music yet can produce intricate bhrugas with so much ease - definitely god's gift!

4. Thankyou for the ur favs of hindi songs done by him - i knew only of ek duje ke liye! and one song from saajan! will listen to others too!

Dhanasekar S said...

Nice post, I appreciate your effort on dedicating a post to great singer like SPB, but
//A.R. Rahman before he went became global and stopped making meaningful music.// I find this irrelevant here.

Dhanasekar S.

Subhakeerthana said...

S.P.B has an alluring stage charisma. He has an astounding capacity to elevate an ordinary show into an exceedingly exciting one even at this age. When he takes centre stage, he notes that he hasn’t been trained in music in the conventional sense. It is not just his stupendous singing but the conviviality he percolates, the zealous harmonic interludes, the support he gives to the other musicians before a live audience, the manner in which he inspires other crew members to match his emotion and energy levels that make a SPB concert, a delightful experience. :) He is always the best!

Anonymous said...

Great singer that too without any formal training in music.
He also reminds us(north Indians) of our 'Meine Pyaar kiya' days :)

ரவியா said...

Lovely tribute ! My souvenir too. I still remember his first song he sang for MGR.

Sudeep said...

Dear BG,
While the album seems to have been largely forgotten, it did/does exist - I have it, it's a two CD album.

Anonymous said...

i was not born when ek duje ke liye came out.... however as tere mere beech mein (sad).... tugs my heart even now when the the adolsence dreams of love have long been dismissed by the practial and rational mordern world...and this definetly has to everythin with spb's magic....and for some years now in chennai)even wen i understand almost no tamil,its illyaraja and spb.... who have made me love tamrind city much more than ever intended to do.... out of context....but jus want to tel u i too almost agree "tera mujh se hai phele ka nata koi".....is kishore kumars bestsong.....

Deepa Nagaraj said...

Hi BG,
A good tribute to SPB, and you could connect with him through ur words, despite being a non-tamilian. SPB, who shot to fame after the classical rendition in Shankarabharanam movie, has remained a hot fav even to this date. Nobody can beat the SPB-Ilayaraja duo songs which was also a part of my growing years. My hubby, who does not give the devil his due, is an ardent, hardcore fan of SPB, and in ur words, worships him. Yes, he is a smoker/drinker, an overweight person, but his voice overrides all these negatives. Above all, he is a 'bindaas' man, humble to the core and approachable.
And, one word about AR Rahman. What you have said abt him is true. He used to make soulful music in early 90s, but his Oscar song 'Jai Ho' does not stand anywhere near his earlier ones. I've not cared to listen to that song even once, as I believe the Oscar panel has limited knowledge of the Indian music. The Oscar tag does not elevate him, and Ilayaraja is still above ARR.(according to me)