It’s been two hours since he is talking to the press about his new label and album Hazir 2 – a collaboration with Ustad Zakir Hussain. A Hariharan’s enthusiasm is contagious as he settles down for an interview talking about Magic Records and his run in the film industry
What was the idea behind starting your own music label – Magic Records?
The idea of having a music label was always at the back of my mind. Since we have ‘In the Mix’ studio and production lineup already, it became easier to start the label. For years, the sale of alternative music has gone down and with the evolving digital space; it is easy to support alternative music. The idea is to have a credible catalogue and Magic Records will stand for good music
Would you be signing artists to the label or would it be restricted to your production?
We will definitely be signing good artists to the label. Both my son Akshay and I will produce the artists we like but we are not looking at it as a completely commercial venture. We will only sign the number of artists we can manage.
What are the marketing and distribution plans in place for Magic Records?
We have signed a contract with New York based Royalty Network with the founder Frank Liwall as the publisher of Magic Records. The music will be distributed globally through the Krian Music Group label. Physically, we will market it through wholesaler Pritam Musicals, who will distribute it throughout India.
What took you over 15 years to release Hazir 2 with Ustad Zakir Hussain?
Zakir bhai was busy travelling and I got busy with my romance with film music and shows. It took us 20 years to think about Hazir 2. In the last five to six years, I have been having this call of concentrating on Ghazals because that’s my home ground. My last album was Waqt Par Bolna, Lahore Ke Rang in Pakistan and in between I sang for Zakir ji on a Symphony he had composed in Washington and that’s where the idea of Hazir 2 was born. Last year, we finally started the album and released it through three concerts – Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.
The album was released by the maestro Balmuralikrishna in Chennai, Shiv Kumar Sharma ji and my Guru Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan Sahab in Mumbai.
As it was more of track recording this time, did you miss the spontaneity?
Not really! Because Zakir ji and I jammed when he was in India… and we are used to the headphone world, it is a space we go in. Even when I am singing on a headphone, I sing like I am singing in a concert.
Do you agree when observers say that the audience for Ghazals is shrinking?
No, I don’t buy that. You can also ask any of my contemporaries, there is definitely an audience for Ghazal music. In Indore, I have performed for 10,000 people with not a single seat empty, at Kolkata it was raining badly the last time I performed and still the show was houseful.
But today Ghazal is not on your face like film music. Which radio channels play Thumri or Classical music or which television channel show videos? So how do you expect it to be among people? But that doesn’t mean they don’t listen to Ghazals. I don’t buy it for a cent that there is no audience for Ghazals.
As you are yourself a composer, how receptive are you of idea while singing for another composer?
I sing the tune as it is presented to me and then I start improvising with the embellishments. I always start a song on a simple note to let people hear the tune first and then bring in the improvisations. Slowly, as the song progresses, I build my sangatis, and harkats. At the end of it, you should sound yourself without disturbing the composer’s tune.
What is your view about today’s film music? Are you choosy about your songs?
The sensibility of film music is going down in terms of musicality and lyrics. It’s more foot tapping than anything else. But the beauty about audiences is that they find their own music. If one genre becomes too cluttery, they will just move over.
Film work comes to me more from the South and Marathi industry than Hindi. I don’t identify with the songs or phrases sometimes and don’t take it up. What has happened is that songs have become very high pitched for no rhyme or reason because they think singing high and loud is energy! I do record 3-4 songs in a month and that’s enough for me. I have my peace with the concerts.
You worked on selective film projects even when you were at the peak of your career …
I did Colonial Cousins at a time when I was at the peak in Ghazals and film music, both in South and Bollywood. And then Colonial Cousins happened and took me away. From 1996 onwards, I missed out on film songs as we used to do 2-3 shows every week. South got very busy with me recording almost 4-5 songs in a day. And Bollywood moved on… nobody waits for anybody here. Also in Bollywood they record in the last minute, they don’t plan it and that was my problem. I couldn’t schedule myself and did loose many good songs.
Do you regret it today?
I would have been happy doing those songs but there is no regret. You are meant to do certain things and there has never been one dull moment!