In an interview, long after making a name for himself in playback singing, KK would recall being sent to music lessons as a child and hating them. It seemed to him that by emphasizing the do’s and don’ts, they were putting “limits” on the music. The singer, who died at 53 after a concert in Calcutta on Tuesday, had grown up with music of all kinds played in his home in Delhi. He had developed an ear, and after his decision to forgo formal training, it was this nurtured ability, along with his innate talent, that helped him gain a foothold in the recording studios of several film industries.
KK, born Krishnakumar Kunnath, rose to prominence at a time when the Indipop wave that in the 90s had changed the way music was made and performed in India was beginning to recede. Two tracks from his 1999 debut album, “Yaaron” and “Pal,” became hits largely because they expressed a sense of loss and longing that resonated instantly with a generation of listeners in threshold of adulthood. His big Bollywood breakthrough, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s song “Tadap Tadap” had a similar effect, being part of the soundtrack to many real-life stories of unrequited love and heartbreak. The fact that these songs were in danger of becoming clichés actually speaks to their appeal.
As a performer, KK transformed his early disdain for “boundaries” into a chameleon-like ability to take on different personalities and tap into the emotional core of any song. In doing so, he helped a society, arguably devoid of articulation in matters of the heart, to find words and melodies to do so. His songs became an important part of the emotional trajectory of a generation of music lovers who, he once admitted, did not always recognize him when he performed in concert. But they always, without skipping a beat, sang along with her song.