Interview: Sikander Alam (Also published in Hindustan Times)
The first ever Oriya film song released on HMV was sung by him. The most number of aesthetically popular numbers have been rendered by him. He has been topping the chart for over three generations. Even after already carving out a niche for Oriya music, SIKANDAR ALAM is going strong.
Excerpts from an exclusive tête-à-tête with SASWAT PATTANAYAK:
1. What ails the Oriya music industry today?
Ans: One, We had stalwarts like Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra and Balakrushna Das. The radio listeners are still requesting for their songs. Today, there are composers with no classical background. Hence, absolutely baseless music is being produced. No sooner you leave the cinema hall than you forget the tunes of the songs.
Two, producers are addicted to making action-oriented movies, which as such do not require elements of lyricsm. They churn out songs within half an hour as though they were talking with you.
Music industry suffers from both those fronts, the music makers and the film makers.
2. So what differences precisely do you notice between the 70s period, when you were at your peak and now?
Ans: We enjoyed healthy competition. Fellow singers used to hear each other’s styles and improve their own. Musical Darwinism was not prevalent and co-operation prevailed over competition.
3. So do you think, politicisation of culture is a reality?
Ans: Very much. Lobbying is the in thing. Politics has got a lot to do with the entry of Mumbai singers into the Oriya film industry. I mean is it not absurd to imagine Sonu Nigam wins the best Oriya playback singer? Instead of awarding national singers Rs 5,000 cash which means peanuts to them, why not encourage budding talents in our very own state?
Mumbai singers with wrong Oriya pronunciation are being given offers whereas, our own singers with correct pronunciation are not even given half a chance. And this politicisation is affecting the film industry.
4. How would you describe the current Oriya film industry?
Ans: Not just the industry, vulgarity has come to be accepted by the general mass. So plagiarism rules and quality suffers. In current Oriya film industry, people deserve the kind of music they want.
5. So will international recognition forever elude the Oriya music?
Ans: As of now, yes. Film music-wise, being nostalgic about the 70s would help. As for the Odissi music is concerned, there is a systematic conspiracy to overshadow the singers. I have pleaded this matter several times with the government. There are dance festivals in Konark, where Odissi dancers are only promoted and no singers are ever brought to limelight. There is Odissi Research Foundation, where singers and composers are equally trained. But how many of us know of them?
Odissi fetching international recognition is a myth. Different states of India project Odissi as a dfferent dance form to attract investors and audience. There is no genuine concern for Odissi music whatsoever.
6. How would you envisage the future of music? Would private albums overtake film music?
Ans: The everlasting golden classics shall always stay no matter how many albums arrive. Today, composers have even put Lord Jagannath behind two-wheelers. Absurd lyrics are only complimenting more absurd singing style. Bhakta Salabega’s compositions are no more being stressed. Poor tastes are prevailing now, but people still are opting for old classics.
I do not see any chance of private albums taking over.
7. What happened to Sikandar Alam today? Is cynicism dominating over his intention to sing?
Ans: No. I am not singing today simply because I am not getting the kind of songs I would like to sing. I would not compromise to sing just for anyone offering anything building on any lyrics and on just about any music. A singer must enjoy the preferences. At least the talent must reinforce that right to choose or reject.
8. How do you suggest the young talents must be given a platform?
Ans: These bloody music producers have no considerations to utilise available talents. Where is the hope for Oriya singers? Let alone promotion, recognition is miles away. So I suggest, there be a screening test done before the proposed songs are released in order to find if any songs cannot be sung by Oriya singers. Then only you look out for Bollywood. And, this task is made easier since the present day music directors do not come out with anything extraordinary which cannot be picked up by our local singers.
9. Who have been your inspirations?
Ans: My father who never wanted any musician in family. But the first day he heard my song on radio, he asked me to pack my school bag up and take up singing as a profession. My elder brother, too, has been quite a support. And of course, my sweetheart (wife!) who is a Sangeet Acharya from Sangeet Natak Akademi is a major inspiration.
10. Is Sikandar Alam a family man first or a professional singer first?
Ans: I am a professional singer, no doubt. But when it comes to comparing with family, today, I would rate my family more important than my career.