MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

India has more than one billion people. It also has the biggest film industry in the world, and one of the biggest stars of that industry is Kailash Kher. He's recorded 300 songs for Bollywood films, written more than 500 jingles for TV commercials. He's sung songs in 15 different languages, and he is a judge on the Indian version of "American Idol," "Indian Idol."

But Kailash Kher is also a man on a mission to expand the soundtrack of India today to include more appreciation of different genres. He's doing that with his soulful lyrics and Sufi-inspired songs, and he is topping the charts while doing that.

Now with his band, Kailasa, Kailash Kher has released his first international album, "Yatra: Nomadic Souls." Kailash Kher and Kailasa have traveled all the way from India for a six-day concert tour through North America, and they were kind enough to stop by NPR's Studio 4A along the way for a live performance. We'll be speaking with Kailash Kher and two of his vocalists, Naresh and Paresh Kamath. Welcome, everybody, to the program. Thank you so much for coming.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KAILASH KHER (Musician): Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Would you start us off with the hit single from the current album? And I'm not going to pronounce it. I'm going to ask you to do that for me. It's:

Mr. KHER: "Teri Deewani."

MARTIN: Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Teri Deewani")

Mr. KHER: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: That was "Teri Deewani," which translates to "Your Insanity." I love the story behind this song. I understand that this became your most popular song in live performance, but you never recorded it. Why not?

Mr. KHER: Yeah, because when we were starting my career with Naresh and Paresh, I requested them to join me for live performances and they played with me for the first time in live concert. And that time I sang this song right there, I had no idea what I'm singing, what kind of words I'm putting in. And the song was quite well taken by audiences. And then Naresh and Paresh suggested that let's put this song also on the album.

MARTIN: I have to say that the sound - that your sound - the sound of this album is different than one that many Americans might be used to hearing associated with Indian music, if they're familiar with Bollywood music or if they're familiar with, say, Punjabi music, which is the kind of music you might hear at a club or at a wedding. But I wanted to ask, what is your inspiration and motivation for wanting to do this kind of music because you're very successful...

Mr. KHER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...doing what is currently commercially popular.

Mr. KHER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is it that or is it that you're just bored by it or is it that you just you feel so deeply that you want to share this? Tell us why you're inspired to do this?

Mr. KHER: See, since my formative years until now, I have been - a certain way I've been brought up and the kind of music of films in Bollywood is producing, it's not always that I'm hooked to that, because I have seen much more culture and art in India than Bollywood, so that fascinates me a lot. And day-to-day's life, all the experiences of my life, they inspire me a lot, the kind of life there because there are so much diversity in life and so much to learn, and that becomes my inspiration.

MARTIN: Paresh and Naresh, can I ask, I'm not sure who wants to answer this, you're brothers.

Mr. NARESH KAMATH (Producer, composer, musician): Yeah.

MARTIN: And we've heard that you were in a rock band before. This is a bit if a change for you as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. N. KAMATH: Oh well, I'll respond to that one.

Mr. PARESH KAMATH (Producer, composer, musician): Me too.

MARTIN: Well you feel you're going to smash a guitar or something? Just every now and again you say now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. N. KAMATH: No, see in India there are a lot of singers, you know, that we would hear and, you know, felt that the kind of music they were producing wasn't up to the potential in the - the guy is way better than the music that he actually came up with. You know, we felt that about a lot of singers. There's this one guy called Daler Mehndi who's really popular and really commercial too, you know? And I thought he was just a commercial singer who couldn't really, you know, really sing. And then I went to a concert of his...

MARTIN: We never have that here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But anyway, Naresh, you were saying? Mm-hmm.

Mr. N. KAMATH: So I heard this guy live once and, you know, at sound check, he really sang and he was doing all kinds of stuff with his vocals and I thought like (beep) well when people heard this - I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. N. KAMATH: I wasn't supposed to say that, but that's what I said to myself at that time.

MARTIN: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Me too.

Mr. N. KAMATH: So when I heard this guy I said, bleep, you know, I'd like to produce someone like this, you know? And to show this side of his music to everybody and not just the commercial, you know, thing. So, you know, that was there in the back of my mind for a lot of years. And even though I was into rock music, I knew that we could marry the two things and, you know, and have like a new sound and stuff. So one fine day, man, God just made this happen.

You know, I got this CD with Kailash singing on it and he was singing some of his music with the tabla backing and he's playing with the harmony and (unintelligible) just sounding and I heard this voice and I was like man, wow, I'd like to do something with this guy. So we ended up producing, you know, some music behind that vocal and just as blown as I was by his voice, he was blown to hear his voice, you know, with that kind of music back. And he said wow, you know, I just sang with Tabla and this is what these guys have done. So it was like mutually, like, you know, we really wanted to meet and take this further.

MARTIN: But, Naresh, I wanted to ask you though that, you know, just like some people who are hip-hop heads might, you know, R&B, of course, is still popular but some people think well that's my parent's music.

NARESH: Yeah.

MARTIN: And so at first was it a tough sell for you to think, oh that's my parent's music? That's not cool.

NARESH: Oh, not at all. Not at all. Because I mean Kailash, as much as people talk about him as being Bollywood right now, he's not. You know, he wasn't. He actually - he came down to Bombay to make his own music, not to do Bollywood. Bollywood just happened and that's what actually kind of struck us because it was so much more folk and so much more rooted to, like, Indian traditional music and, you know, stuff that's not the Bollywood.

Mr. P. KAMATH: And, Michel, yeah, I know what he's saying, you know, the kind of vegetables you didn't like as a kid?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. P. KAMATH: But your parents keep telling you like, wow, this is really good and now, you know, when you're a little older you actually appreciate that kind of stuff? It's almost like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're in NPR's performance Studio 4A. We're having a live performance with Kailash Kher and Kailasa. That's a hit band straight from India and they're talking about their new international album "Yatra: Nomadic Souls." Yatra means, Kailash?

Mr. KHER: Yatra means journey, travel and every life, every human being is in journey. We born, we die and the life is kind of a traveling from the childhood to the end of body, you know, and end of life.

MARTIN: And this is sometimes a sensitive topic, but many of your songs are described as rooted in Sufi folk music. And Sufi is, of course, a branch of Islam that focuses on the mystical dimension. Does faith play a role in your music?

Mr. KHER: Oh, let me correct Michel here.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KHER: Sufi's nothing to do with any religion. It's just a humanity and it's based on imagine. So it's the playfulness between the God and the soul. I write - I'm very much influenced by that kind of belief because that talks only about love and pure love with humanity, with purity, with sincerity, with honesty. And it's all about love, but in a very, very intense form.

MARTIN: I see. Well, I appreciate your correction, which is made in love, I know.

Mr. KHER: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, will you sing something else for us...

Mr. KHER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...that perhaps incorporates the idea that you're trying to impart to us.

Mr. KHER: This is the song which actually, I didn't know what reggae is. But when I compose this tune and Paresh made it - produced it in a reggae style so it became really popular and we would like to perform that.

MARTIN: All right.

(Soundbite of song, "Dilruba")

Mr. KHER: (Singing in foreign language)

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: That was "Dilruba" from their new album "Yatra." Dilruba means beloved. Well, you've been very generous with your time and we've loved visiting with you. But before we let you go, we have to ask what it's like being a judge on "Indian Idol"? We want to know which judge are you most like, Simon, Randy, Paula? Who's the new Paula? Who's the new Paula?

Mr. KHER: Actually, I haven't seen "American Idol," so I really don't know what.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: I thought there were 12 people on Earth that had - don't act like you don't watch it. Don't act like you don't watch it because you know you watch it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KHER: But Paresh and Naresh told me that Simon...

MARTIN: He's the mean one.

Mr. P. KAMATH: No. No. He's not like that.

Mr. KHER: Yeah.

MARTIN: He's not the mean one?

Mr. P. KAMATH: He's like Paula.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're like Paula? You're the nice one? Paula's gone. I don't know what that means. Sorry, I'm not going to go there. We're not going to go there. So of all your many life experiences, I mean writing jingles and writing for these big movie productions and now you're touring with your own band...

Mr. KHER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...what is next?

Mr. KHER: Oh, next actually, as usual, in India television industry is quite big. And I keep getting offers for being judge in another reality show or something like that. Maybe I'll take up one because I need some money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't see how after all those films. Well, thank you so much for joining us. We have loved seeing you. Good luck to you. Do you want to sing another song for us before we let you go?

Mr. KHER: Yeah. Thank you. Definitely.

MARTIN: What are you going to sing?

Mr. KHER: "Naiharwa."

MARTIN: "Naiharwa."

Mr. KHER: This is a spiritual song and I would like to dedicate to all the listeners of NPR.

MARTIN: All right. Kailash Kher and Kailasa joined us from Studio 4A here in Washington, D.C. They came to us all the way from India. They're making a North American tour in support of their new album "Yatra," which translates to Nomadic Souls.

Thank you so much for joining us.

(Soundbite of song, "Naiharwa")

Mr. KHER: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Naiharwa")

Mr. KHER: (Singing in foreign language)

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