Ash King is a Singer of Bengali Gujarati Origin based in London. He made his first bollywood debut recording for Delhi-6 with A.R. Rahman at Rahman's personal studio. Till now he is the one of the Most Successful and Talented Singer reigning the 21st Century. So if you think you know all about him, you may be wrong. Time to know him perfectly.
Interviewed By- Anuvab Kayaal & Shayan Sachin Basu
Q: Tell us something about your childhood.
A: Growing up in England, I was exposed to a mixture of cultures. I grew up listening to different types and genres of music because my dad used to sing and compose in different languages.
Q: Your father was also a singer…
A: My father, Shankar Ganguly, was one of the few true artists that I have come across in my life. His artistry was pure artistry - not painted by any commercialism. I can’t think of many people who are like my dad. Everyone else at some point compromised for money or for fame. Though there is nothing wrong with money or fame but I guess it’s just a different way of thinking. Well, I don't think I am, as artistic as my dad was. I will never be.
Q: How was your life back in London?
A: Growing up in London, I got a different social life. I’m not talking about musical exposure, but whatever I am came from the life I had in London. It has a huge impact on what you become. Your experiences reflect on even the smallest of things like which kinds of clothing you prefer. Encountering such a vast variety of cultures… African, Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi - all these different cultures cohabiting.
Q: What about your personal life?
A: The culture is different there. Coming to India, I saw that the culture is more strict and disciplined. So in some ways I really look up to the culture here. On a different note, the thing I noticed here was the way people dedicate themselves
to things they love; to art and craft. It’s simply amazing. For example today I practiced for six hours straight- never would have done that back in London.
At the same time someone like me don't have the identity that you have - because if someone asks you what are you; you say “I am an Indian”. If someone asked me, and I say that I am an Indian, they will probably say, “NO! You are British”. If I proclaim being British to a Brit, they will say “no, you are an Indian!” So one thing you guys have is a strong identity, which I really crave, because it would have made me a lot more confident.
Q: So how do you deal with this lack of confidence on stage?
A: At this moment, I go step by step. I just do the show. When I was at the show yesterday,(Rhapsody, Calcutta Medical College) believe me or not, I didn’t know how the show was going to turn out. I am always unsure whether the crowd would like my song or not.
Q: Is it stage fright?
A: No, not stage fright. I am comfortable on stage. However as the singer I want to know that if I sing something like ‘Tee Amo’ is the audience going to like it? So these are the small things that go on in your head. However if you look at someone like Raghu Dixit - one of my favorite singers- he sings his own songs. He is a strong identity and he doesn’t care, and that is simply amazing. The way he connects is something that I really admire. Anyway my angle for show is “entertain the audience”. I want to ensure that everyone enjoys for the time they gave me.
A: Actually I went to college but didn’t study. I used to focus on some subjects in certain classes, but I was mostly into music. So I used to sing in the canteen - try a new song here and there. This is before I was seen as a professional. I used to visit my friends in universities and attended a few lectures a couple of times. I used to sit there and see what it felt like. I was totally confused, but I used to go nonetheless to hangout and mingle because I myself never had that university life. So I really liked to blend in and be a part of their gang rather than being some foreign guy who is like an untouchable celebrity. So these days whenever I go to a college, I try and become a part of the crowd.
Q: When did you start your musical career?
A: When I say musical career, I refer to when I started singing. I was about eighteen. I was doing retakes in college and I thought that this is very befitting for me. Actually at that time my mind was a bit clouded, so I couldn’t study and thus I decided to start a career out of something where my passion lies.
To top it off, my dad really wanted me to become a singer and he was ecstatic when I finally did. The real problem was guidance. It’s not like you do this degree and you become a singer. A lot of people think that just by learning Indian classical music you become a playback singer. If you notice, most of the playback singers cannot sing Indian classical music at all! To be a commercial or Bollywood singer is totally a different thing. Not having any guidance at that time I just started making songs myself.
Then I got my big break from A. R. Rahman, in Delhi 6. However I didn’t sing that song at my performance in Nil Ratan Sircar medical college fest because it was not a commercial song and as I said I never know what my audience wants to listen to. So at my performance I sang all different genres and at the end I sang a few lines here and there. However I was surprised that they all knew those.
Q: So was music the only option for you or do you had some other hobbies?
A: To be honest yes - that is the only thing that I focused on. Apart from that I had to learn how to make tea and cook a bit (laughs)
Q: From Ashutosh Ganguly to Ash King. How did you get this name?
A: It’s purely to do with the fact that I am from England. When I first started, I didn't have any plan to sing in Bollywood. It’s because I don't speak the language. Again the people there changed Kolkata to Calcutta, Mumbai to Bombay and Ashutosh to Ash. As for the ‘King’ part, it’s a different story. A lot of my friends were Caribbean. So it was a common term of endearment for them. Like ‘man’, ‘dude’, or as you guys say ‘dost’, ‘yaar’…they sometimes refer to each other as King. So, when my first song was being released, a song called ‘Look For Me’ they said “we need a name for you on the CD cover”. They also said that ‘Ashutosh Ganguly’ was not that interesting. So one day I was getting my haircut from a guy named Chris Jones. He’s from Guyana. He was talking to me and I was engrossed in some other thoughts.
So he says, “Ash, King, are you listening to me?” and I was like,”Oooh! Ash King, that’s a cool new name.” So mainly it was for branding.
Q: So did you ever think that this name will be accepted because you had this at the back of your mind that India has a traditional culture?
A: Yeah, absolutely. When I came to Bollywood, I had no idea if the name will catch on. I told A. R. Rahman my name was Ashutosh Ganguly. But he previously knew about me as Ash King. He liked the name and so he kept it for my song, and the name did quite well because for some reason it just stuck around in their head.
Q: So when you were singing the song with A. R. Rahman, were you nervous?
A: Of course. Just hearing his name, I got nervous. A. R. Rahman is a really great person. Nobody has reached that level and for me he is the greatest. So, at first when I went to sing with him I was really worried if I could deliver what was expected from me. I was wondering, why he had called me to sing his song.
Q: And you sang in his personal studio…
A: In his home. At first I didn’t think he would ask me to sing Indian songs. I thought he had called me to sing the English parts. However I was proven wrong right away because the song was in Hindi and Urdu. I really had no idea at that time what to do. So they started recording the song and A. R. Rahman himself came and recorded me on the fourth time. He really brought it out of me, because before that I didn't know what my singing style was. As for Bollywood my experience was restricted to Kumar Sanu, Kishore Kumar and Udit Narayan.
Q: So in 2008 the song was recorded. How was your journey in Bollywood after that?
A: The song was released in 2009 and in January 2011 was my second recording - the song “Suno Aisha” with Amit Trivedi. However I was in England at that time and I recorded it myself. I had no idea what I was doing. However it ultimately ended up with Trivedi singing most of the song and there were parts where he kept my voice. The feel was good but my pronunciation was all over the place.
Q: So, can you speak Bengali?
A: Ektu bolte pari (laughs).
Q: In your home did you speak Bengali?
A: Well my mom’s Gujarati and dad is a Bengali and I used to speak in English. So it’s a trilingual conversation. On the contrary my sister used to speak in Gujarati or Bengali depending on what language she is spoken to. Again my Mom also spoke in Bengali and my dad sometimes composed in Gujarati.
Q: Again your grandfather used to teach music in Tagore’s home. Did he ever influence you?
A: Well not so much. I think my singing in high octaves might be the only thing that was influenced by him, because the Ustads used to sing Tagore’s songs at that high range. Recently they released recordings of my grandfather’s Tagore songs online. Also I would be recording some with my band when I get back to Mumbai. I wanted to sing it in the college but I didn’t anticipate the reaction, so I dropped the plan.
Q: If you are given a choice between singing in Hindi or Bengali, which language would you prefer?
A: Bengali is sweet and Hindi has some intense phonetics, but at the end of the day both are languages. I think people these days spend more time on Hindi songs but again I am not saying that Bengali songs are not that popular. It’s only that I sing mostly in Hindi, and yes given the opportunity I will love to do Bengali songs. Again it all boils down to a something called ‘Business’.
Q: What would you say about the song “Jeno Tomari Pashe” with Somlata?
A: Somlata sang really well. It is also one of my favorite vocals by her. I would prefer Indian female vocals in any most song, and Arindam killed it with that composition.
Q: So what are your more recent indulgences?
A: For now I’m adapting myself to Indian culture. I have been living in Mumbai for some time now. I have composed in Bengali and Punjabi, and I am trying the same with Hindi however it is not that easy.
Q: Can you tell us something about the Pop culture in India? How is it different from the Pop culture back in England?
A: The pop-cultures in these two countries are totally different. In India, Bollywood is the Pop culture. The thing about independent music is that the production quality lacks. Maybe the singers are good, music is good, lyrics and all things are top class; but that thing about reaching out to the people, about earning a living - it cannot be guaranteed. So here in Bollywood we do impress not only the audience, but also the industry. What will you do if you are not given a song to sing?
Q: Is there someone whom you admire as independent singer?
A: Being an independent singer now and at in the sixties is a big difference. That is why I really admire people like Raghu Dixit, Papon and Havil (a Malayali band). They pulled it off without any patrons. Also I would say that if you embrace social media in a positive way it will be really helpful, because you cannot deny its power in this 21st century.
Q: So a last question. What is your message for the youths who aspire to become singer? Good singers like you?
A: Thanks for the question. So if you want to be a singer like me, I will say “good luck” (giggles).
Actually there’s no point being a singer like me, because I am what I am and you might be someone different from me. Maybe one day you will surpass what I have done. Actually what you guys need to learn is how to be a good singer in your own space. Also you need to have that uniqueness in your voice which will help you earn a special place in the audiences’ mind.
Understanding certain aspects like the trend, the audiences, and also the device through which your voice reaches people is also really important. How your voice will be after it is recorded is what you should focus on. If you have these senses you can be a singer. I would suggest that you not be a commercial singer unless you have a purpose. Purpose is really important. Lastly don’t confuse passion with desperation. There’s a very thin line of difference which you need to sort out as quickly as you can.