KOCHI: After having sung in 17 Indian languages, eight foreign ones and with performances across several national and international music events, it is surprising to hear Usha Uthup say she still gets nervous. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she says. “I was nervous during my first show and I am still nervous after thousands of shows,” says Uthup, who will be conducting an online masterclass on the art of stagecraft, organised by Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa), Bengaluru on Saturday.
Recalling her ‘magical years’ during the late ‘70s, Uthup still maintains a soft corner for her professional shows at clubs, from Chennai’s Nine Gems and Bangalore International Club to Trincas Bar in Kolkata and Talk of The Town in Maharashtra. These, she believes, laid the foundation of her musical career. In a journey that spans more than 50 years, the versatile singer has enjoyed three things very much. “First is always the applause. It is more intoxicating than the six bottles of whisky. Second is the success I had in Nairobi, Kenya when I met the then President Jomo Kenyatta who offered me the key to Kenya for singing Malaika,” says Uthup.
The pandemic affected all artistes, including Uthup who had to apply brakes on her performances after her last show at Jodhpur in March 2020. “It was a terrible time. The entertainment industry has been hit badly. If I don’t earn, my technicians also don’t earn since they depend on daily wages,” says the singer, who managed to find a ray of light in this bleak situation.
“I am a compulsive optimist who managed to create a way when there was no way. I have used digital mediums to perform in virtual shows, singing songs, sharing motivational talks with the help of my technical team and managed to work with what we have,” she adds.The growing language wars in many states, for example, the anti-Hindi sentiment in Tamil Nadu, has opened up room for debate. As someone who has performed in different Indian languages like Tamil, Kannada and Hindi, the singer also shares her views.
“This is a non-issue to me. The point is to get yourself heard. Although I speak many languages fluently, I think in English. At the same time, one needs to widen their horizons and learn more languages. In that case, there is no need to oppose any language. That is why music is the only thing that transcends beyond languages,” she says.
When it comes to performances in namma ooru, many are close to her heart. But one stands out most.
“My all-time favourite show in the city was with Dr Rajkumar, singing the famous song Huttidare Kannada Nadalli Huttabeku,” she says, but not before signing off with a line that indicates how deep her love for music is. “A song is always much bigger than the singer.”