She will hark back to a time when nightclubs were abuzz with the latest English and foreign language hit songs, setting the stage for the Indian live music scene
Recreating India’s glorious nightclub era of the 60s and 70s for the millennial generation of today, is our powerhouse vocalist Usha Uthup. Her performance is the latest from the Paytm Insider Jim Beam Originals stable. One of the greatest names to have contributed to the Indian English music scene that developed from nightclubs, Usha’s is a voice that has resonated for over 50 years.
Incredibly versatile with a rich contralto range, Usha’s has been a voice so unique that it seamlessly spans pop, rock, jazz genres across a multitude of languages. This Padma Shri is as comfortable belting out an Aretha Franklin number as she is while matching pitch with Freddie Mercury’s; she can bring depth to an Asha Bhosle song and breathe in soul to every song she sings. Having started her career at a nightclub in erstwhile Calcutta, Usha’s has been a name and a voice to reckon with.
“I’m so delighted to be a part of Jim Beam Originals presented by Paytm Insider and grateful to be able to showcase the nightclub scene. This is where it all started in India. This is where I started over 51 years ago. And I am fortunate to be able to tell the tale of how it all began and the journey it has taken to reach where we are today. Most people know that I started as a nightclub singer, not a playback singer. I’m probably the only one who has been doing these classics over all these years, right up till today,” says Uthup.
Usha may have moved on to playback singing from her nightclub days, but she can still mesmerise a crowd with songs that were club hits five decades ago. When she started out singing, Usha effortlessly sang the popular hits of the time like Besame Mucho, Quizas Quizas, and O Malaika. “I still sing some of them in my setlist. Even Jambalaya, which is the first song I recorded on a single. I proudly continue to identify as a club singer,” says the legendary singer, who has had to shortlist 150 songs before downsizing and finalising her final setlist for Jim Beam Originals.
The iconic singer, who wears her unconventional voice and musical persona on her Kanjeevaram sleeve, has earned a massive fan-following over the years. Attributing that to the honesty in her voice, Uthup says, “I always believe that a song is bigger than any singer. Each singer brings their own identity to it. Every song sung is a memory that has tremendous recall value. For me singing any old or new song, for example Skyfall, would be an extension of the same passion I’ve had all these years, of wanting to get to the audience’s heart. Music is not my business; communication is. And the best way to get to your heart is through music. The songs I sing at Paytm Insider Jim Beam Originals are all close to my heart. It will be a mixed bag, but you’re going to love it.”
While her setlist for the performance is a mixed bag, it is also testimony to her own illustrious that has been non-conforming from the very beginning. Uthup’s image as a silk sari-clad chanteuse with a booming voice and a penchant for jasmine hair adornments, has been as much a part of her superstar package as has been her multi-lingual discography. “Retro is where it’s at. It doesn’t matter how much time has gone by. Some of these songs last a lifetime and more. Kids today are still doing Santana. Youngsters still love listening to Pink Floyd. They love everything that’s old and retro. And my setlist will be a heady mix of old and new, with something for everyone,” she adds.