Ik Onkar. The phrase is of supreme importance to the Sikhs. For Harshdeep Kaur, the importance of the phrase goes beyond just the religious context. It is the rendition of the devotional piece that starts thus, in the movie Rang De Basanti, that really kickstarted Harshdeep’s musical career. The lady also decided to name her debut solo album as a composer by the same name. Since her song in RDB, Harshdeep has created an identity for herself in the industry as a sufi singer, and has delivered some beautiful songs in the genre. This last week in particular has been extra special, with two big releases (Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana), and lovely songs in both. We decided to chat up with the songstress, and we give you what we found out.
To start at the beginning..
I was four years old when my father Mr. Savinder Singh Sohal discovered my singing talent. I was watching a movie and singing along. He was amazed to know that I could sing in tune. From then on he started training me.
Your first claim to fame, MTV Video Gaga, happened in 2001. Your first playback stint happened two years later, and a proper break three years after that with RDB. Tell us a bit about that journey, which finally ended at your tryst with ARR?
It’s been a beautiful journey. My family has always been a constant source of support to me. I recorded my first playback song at the age of 16. The song was Sajna Mai Haari from Aapko pehle bhi dekha hai. This song happened while I was in Mumbai to record my first solo album Romantica for HMV. After finishing my school, we shifted to Mumbai where I completed my graduation and started singing for various music directors. The most important milestone of my career came when I met AR Rahman sir while he was doing the background score of Kisna in Subhash Ghai’s studio. He liked my voice and I got an opportunity to sing in the background score of Kisna. Later he called me to sing Ik Onkar for Rang De Basanti.
Though you have recorded only 4 songs with ARR, you have been part of his concert group for a long time. How has the experience of working with him been?
It was my childhood dream to sing for AR Rahman Sir. I’m lucky that my dream came true 🙂 I was approached to be a part of Rahman Sir’s 2010 Jai Ho World Tour. It’s great to be in the presence of Rahman sir.
You came out with your debut album recently, Ik Onkar. How has the response to the album been?
This is my first solo venture in the spiritual music genre. I have also composed for this album. It was an honor to have Rahman sir launch my album on the auspicious day of Baisakhi, which also happens to be my parents’ wedding anniversary. I would like to thank Rahman Sir, who is the inspiration behind this album as it is an extension of what everyone has heard in Rang De Basanti. I am glad that people from all religions have appreciated this album. I am happy that people from all over the world have bought the album and liked my work.
You are one of the few people who were part of both seasons of Coke Studio at MTV. Quite evidently Season 2 fared better than the opener. As an artist, how different was the experience for you in the two seasons?
I was a big fan of Coke Studio Pakistan and was elated when I got a call to be part of Coke Studio India. It was great to work with Leslie Lewis. He gave me complete freedom to choose my song. I decided to sing Hoo, a Sufi kalam written by Sultan Baahu.
Season 2 was a different concept altogether. I was lucky to be part of two episodes. One with Hitesh Sonik (Hey Ri, a Meera bhajan) and the other one with Amit Trivedi (Nirmohiya, a Punjabi jazz song). I am glad that both the songs are being liked by everyone.
You have sort of found a niche in the industry with your specialization in Sufi. While that has earned you much recognition and a USP, do you see it turning into a disadvantage at any point? Bollywood has no dearth of artists falling prey to stereotyping.
I love singing good music….does not matter what language or what genre it is. I have sung songs like Kateya Karoon on one hand and a typical Bollywood song like Jhak Maarke on the other. I believe the Sufi tag has come as an advantage to me, as I was already singing for Bollywood.
Having started off composing, do you plan to get more active in that area? A movie composing stint may be?
I have composed a few songs, but those are limited to just my album. At present, I would only like to focus on singing.
A lot of your contemporaries have been making inroads into other languages, have you considered venturing out of Hindi and Punjabi?
I have already sung in various languages, including Tamil Telugu, Marathi and Oriya. I am lucky that I have also sung for Hollywood in Danny Boyle’s film 127 Hours.
You have been seen to be very active on the social media space. Thoughts on its impact on artist life in general, how it has changed things for you?
I feel that the social media has given a direct link to the artist to reach his/her audience. It’s a great way to connect to people and get their first-hand reactions on your work.
A word on the reaction to the two big releases you had this week – Jab Tak Hai Jaan, and Luv Shuv..? How would you compare the experience of working with ARR and Amit Trivedi?
I am extremely happy with the response that I am getting for my songs in JTHJ and Luv Shuv… I’m also thankful to the social media because of which I’m getting direct reactions from people all over the world.
It’s always a learning experience to work with talented people like AR Sir and Amit Trivedi. Both of them are extremely humble and have a unique style of creating music.