Ace South Indian Playback Singer Unni Menon
The Ace South Indian Playback Singer Mr. Unni Menon visited Colorado for a concert organized by Kerala Association of Colorado in association with MalayalaSangeetham.Info (MSI) on 25th November 2009 at Broomfield Auditorium. Unni is a gifted singer with many popular melodies with the music directors such as Ilayaraja, AR Rehman, Vidya Sagar, Mani Sarma, Johnson and Shyam etc. He has sung over 5000 songs in all south Indian Languages and has to his credit over 500 albums of Devotional and light Music. When DesiShades requested for some time to chat with this legend, it was very warmly obliged. Special thanks to Mr.Ajay Menon of MalayalaSangeetham.info, to help with questions.
DesiShades: Namaste Unni Menon Sir, Welcome to Colorado. How did you get inspiration to get into the singing career?
Unni: I had no ambition of becoming a singer any time. I was a football player at school and was concentrating on sports. I was singing in my school and college casually, and winning prizes, but I never had any ambitions about singing. After my graduation, I started working in Chennai. After year and half, I quit my job. I did not really like what I was doing; it was not the kind of job that I was looking for. I realized that I had an inclination to music and started looking for recordings. I went to recordings and slowly got involved in them. I became familiar with all the musicians, music directors who came to the studios. One of the music directors suggested my name to a music director called BA Chidambarnath. He was once a popular director in Malayalam. (BA Chidambaranath composed the for the first malayalam movie in 1950 in a career spanning 40 years) . He has done lots of movies. He was doing a Tamil movie named "Amudum Thenum" then and he called me I was given a chance to do one song. But unfortunately, it was never released. After this I thought why not I choose this as a profession and many others encouraged me. I never went for an opportunity. They called me. I was very fortunate to get opportunities without asking. Same way I got an opportunity from Ilayaraja Sir. My name was given as Vijay by Ilayaraja sir. He didnít want typical Mallu (Malayalam) name for the singer . The movie was Kamalahasan's Oru Kaidyin Diary, and the song was Pon Maane Kopam Eno, a duet with Uma Ramanan. My real break in Tamil was in Roja. This happened in 1991-92 through A.R Rehman, the famous music director, who was then known as Dileep. He relaunched me in Roja. After this I could sing 27-28 songs for A.R. Rehman in Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam. Also for Ilayaraja, Vidyasagar, Mani Sharma. I could sing with all the popular music directors, songs with lot of substance. I did not sing many songs, but whenever I sang, they were with good lyrics and good substance. I am very happy to be part of the music world.
DesiShades: Did you get any proper training in classical music?
Unni: No, I did not. But when I decided to choose this as my career I took some training. I started working with Dr. S Ramanathan, Santhana Gopalan and many other teachers. Now I am taking lessons from Mr. Jayachandran. I feel a good knowledge in classical music will certainly help me become a better singer
DesiShades: You were interested in football and then you changed your career. Do you still miss your football?
Unni: Yes, I really miss my football. Given a chance, I want to play foot ball even now.
DesiShades: How did you feel about your first chance?
Unni: I was really scared. Because, I did not have any plans to get in, I really didnít know whether I should take it seriously. But anyway I tried it. Luckily it clicked and sang many good songs.
DesiShades: Can you please tell us about your introduction to the music director Shyam? What is his influence on you?
Unni: Actually I was introduced to a movie called "Munnettam", by the music director Samuel Joseph, who is well known as Shyam. He was the one who really supported me in my initial stages. He made me sing a track for Yesudas in this movie. But when it came out well, he thought I should credit for the song. I have a lot of obligations for Shyam Sir and AR Rehman.
DesiShades: You composed songs for a malayalam movie named Sthithi which had amazing songs. Are you still doing those kinds of projects?
Unni: I got some opportunities to compose music. But nobody is ready to pay for the recordings and the musicians. All the departments in movie industry are well paid, but the music. I donít want to compromise on the quality of the song, unless you pay reasonably well. But I am open to do good music such as Sthithi. The movie Sthithi, done in 2003, is not a commercial hit, but the songs are very popular with slow melody and lyrical values. The lyrics were by Prabha Varma.
DesiShades: You have received many awards in your career. Tell us about them and your feelings when you receive such awards?
Unni: I got two Tamilnadu State awards. This year I got three awards for my Malayalam song ĎOmkaram Sankilí. Itís a deserving award, I felt so happy to receive them. I hope I get awards for more such deserving songs.
DesiShades: What you think about the current state of the Malayalam songs? And remixes?
Unni: I donít think the remixes are a good trend. One composes with a lot of hard work, in his own style. Why should we harm that again? I am much against the remixes.
DesiShades: Dou you have any special director that you want to work with?
Unni: I sung only one song for Haris Jayraj (Vetrayadu Vilayadu) I would like to sing more for him.
DesiShades: How do you like the songs to be done? Do you prefer the lyrics first and then music or vice versa?
Unni: Initially the culture used to be like first the lyrics were given and the music was composed. But things have changed now. Now the songs are created for dance. The dance director requests for a song and they are created accordingly. The soul is not required now. I donít think anybody is initiating in bringing good lyrics and good songs. Just a song is created, you hear to it and you forget it. Old songs were different. They were more appealing and so is the reason even today we are able to remember them.
DesiShades: If you were given full freedom to do music, what would you prefer - a classical touch or the routine music with high beats?
Unni: I would like to do something different. I would like to sing a song which will be remembered for another 100 years.
DesiShades: You are an ardent lover of yoga. Can you please tell us about it?
Unni: Yes, I have seen many great people sustaining in the industry over years. Unless you have a strict discipline you canít sustain in the music field. Yesudas is an example for this. He has been successful for the past 40-45years. This is not easy. In order to succeed in music field, you need lot of physical discipline. So I do yoga. After my morning jog, I do yoga for an hour at 6:00 every morning on an empty stomach. It includes the suryanamaskaram, sarvangasana and many pranayamas. Yoga has definitely helped me in singing better because the breathing exercise clears my nasal cavities and keep it clear of infection. It helps me maintain my total health too and I feel very good after doing yoga.
DesiShades: If you have to pick one song from all your songs, which one do you prefer?
Unni: My preference is Poongkaatrilae from Uyire composed by A.R. Rehman. It is so close to my heart. I had an opportunity to once sing this song 3 times on the same stage. People wanted this again and again.
DesiShades: How do you feel in Colorado? How is todayís show going to be?
Unni: This is my first trip to Colorado. I have some limitations in this concert, mainly due to the karaoke based performance. We have to go by the tracks we have.
DesiShades: How is your family cooperating with you and be a part of your success?
Unni: My family supports me very well. My wife is a post graduate in literature and two kids Ankur who is doing architecture and Akash who is in high school now.
DesiShades: Thanks for your time, and we hope to see you visit Colorado again.
Unni: Thank you
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