Dubai has seen my growth: Sonu Nigam

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The singer will be performing at a concert in Dubai on January 10, 2020.

The singer reminisces about his first visit to the city over two decades ago, as he reflects on his career and life in a candid chat with City Times ahead of his concert here on January 10, 2020.

Fans here are looking forward to your show in January. They have often heard you perform here. What can they expect from this concert?

I’ve been in the business for so long that it’s very difficult to answer this question. Earlier I would say, ‘we will do something different’, but after a point, you stop planning. You just want to do your best. I don’t think I’ve ever been this busy in my entire life as I’ve been in the last two years.

I have been going crazy nowadays. When I come to my house, when I sleep on that bed, it feels like a luxury. I’m sleeping in flights, and various hotels. So, living out of my suitcase basically. So, that means I’m performing a lot! I’ve been doing shows back to back. I was in Istanbul, then Dhaka, then last night I came to Dubai, that was the only night I was free. After a point you realise that you don’t need to really plan too much, as long as you are giving it your all.

And thankfully, by the grace of God, my career has been so amazing, the repertoire is such, that I only get to sing 15% of it in every show, the remaining 85% is still untouched. Because, what can you offer in a three-hour show? How much will you sing?

As you must have noticed, I don’t really come to Dubai very often. I like to preserve myself. People come thrice a year, or four times a year. I haven’t been here in the past two years. So when I come back, I like to come with a renewed vigour. My whole enthusiasm is also refreshed! My approach to the concert is refreshed. So what you guys are going to see in January, is going to be my best. We will leave it up to the Almighty. I don’t think human beings have the strength or power to promise too much in life. But I’ll do my best.

How do you as an artist make it (a performance) fresh for your audience every time?

Gratitude, thankfulness. Mine has been a very extraordinary life. And I would be a big loser if I’m not thankful to God, so I keep thanking God multiple times a day and that’s what keeps me happy and refreshed.
Because when you are thankful for what you are doing, you are happy, and even if you are busy, that’s what you wanted. You wanted people to love you, to appreciate your work, that’s how you started. Now, today I work for myself. It’s not to please other people. So I am busy, but I’m also in a very happy space, and that’s what keeps me always enthusiastic about my schedule and my work.

What is it about Dubai and performing here that you love the most?

Many things. First of all, as Dubai has seen my growth, I have seen Dubai’s growth. When I came here in 1994, this was not the Dubai I saw then. And when my father used to tell me about Dubai, when he used to come in the 1980s for his concerts, that Dubai and today’s Dubai is different.

So Dubai has grown from the first time I came here 25 years ago – with Anu Malik. I remember that me and Farah Khan had gone to Meena Bazaar together, and I didn’t have money to pay the taxi and Farah said ‘main pay karti hoon’. Mujhe bahut achcha laga (laughs)! So I would save money at that point!
Back then we used to shop for gold. Earlier the whole fantasy of being in Dubai was ‘gold ki shopping karenge‘.

So my memory of that Dubai is different. Tab main jawan bhi tha. Bahut ladkiyan bhi mujh pe girti thi so I used to love it! I had a couple of ‘scenes’ over here (we remind him jokingly that his wife may be watching the Facebook Live, but he laughs it off). She knows. I’m not embarrassed about it, I’ve always had a very nice, beautiful relationship with people. I’m not a crass person with a notorious reputation. All my people are proud of me, the way I conduct myself.

The good thing about present Dubai is the multicultural part. People come here to work hard, to make something of themselves. So, if you have that mindset, and if you are good at something, you will be good at almost everything. If you’re a loser, if you’re lazy, if you don’t want to work hard, baap ki kamai pe aap chal rahein hain, then you will only listen to bad music, read bad books and watch bad films!

If you are good, if you have channelised your energy into being something, and you’re working hard, you belong to a more evolved mindset. I can see that mindset in Dubai. When I perform, the audience feels mature and evolved. Nobody will tell you what I’m telling you right now.

The audience also has a character. Every artist commands an audience of his own kind. If I’m a ‘kachcha‘ artist, if I’m a superficial artist, if I’m a shallow artist, if I don’t work hard on myself, but I have superhit songs. I will attract (that kind of audience).

There are people who do that, I don’t need to name them. There are people who are lousy singers and they have superhit songs. They come (on stage) and dance and lip-sync. That’s fine, God has given everyone something they can make money out of. And they will attract the same kind of audience.
When I go anywhere, whether it’s Russia, America, Singapore, Canada, I’ve seen the audience is always really evolved – sur main gaate hain woh! So I always feel that the credit goes to the audience for getting me and the credit goes to me for getting them! Dubai main mujhe yeh milta hai. I feel people are evolved.

What are the changes that you have seen in the music industry in India and what do you like/don’t like about it?

I don’t think that we should ‘not like’ anything. Every phase is good. The thing today is that the personal touch of a producer, of a music composer, has gone. It’s a corporatisation of music. So music is made by music companies, sold by them. Who is going to compose, who is going to sing is decided by them. They are the ones who will say ‘this is my artist, we will make him/her big, we will give her/him a show to do, we will take 40 percent.’ So this is the system.

Do you feel some creativity and freedom has been lost in this process?

Yes, but I believe that whatever is happening is fine. If I were a music company I would probably do the same thing. They want to make money. And if they have a favourite person who they want to work with, who might not be a good singer, could be one of their family members, they’ll make sure that they popularise the person, they make them big. But that’s okay. One must rise above all this. I know this is how the music industry is changing. What is up to me is to keep the integrity of my music. If I am doing well, if I perform like a lion on stage, if I sing and people can cry after listening to my singing, then I’m doing my job. I don’t need to see what other people are doing.

This year, I’ve been singing on stage for the last 42 years, professionally. I came to Mumbai in 1991. It’s been 28 years…who gets such a long career? And I’m still raging like a bull and working hard. I’ve seen my father once in the last two months, and my father also likes it this way! He knows I’m working hard. Who gets such a fulfilling career?

I don’t sing that much today because I don’t think I should stoop down to a level where I’m given residuals. They’ll give the best songs to their own singers. They’ll give me the songs that either no one will be able to sing, or the ones that are not important. So I don’t do that. What is the need to sing for anybody?

I work out of choice now. What’s happening in the industry is their business. They treat us with respect, we meet amicably, with love. We don’t work together.

How do you feel about your video Fire In The Sky (with Polish singer-actress Natalia Lesz) garnering more than two million views?

Today views are bought. And we don’t want to go down that road. What’s the point? It was such a nice feeling to have organic views like this, with no PR effort.

Fire In The Sky is becoming famous through word of mouth. See, this is the kind of work I want to do, which people will remember. I did an album called Classically Mild in 2008, which may be not that commercially known, but singers practice on that album. When they meet me they say, ‘we’ve become big doing riyaaz (practising singing) on that album.’

What is your message for KT?

It’s my pleasure and honour to be at the Khaleej Times. Suhail Galadari, thank you for all the help and support, all the warmth that you have given to our concert, and to us. Thank you.

SONU NIGAM LIVE IN CONCERT

Sonu will soon regale UAE audiences with his concert on January 10, 2020 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Tickets start at Dhs95 and are available at www.meraticket.com.