Sonu Nigam
Sonu Nigam

By Asjad Nazir.

One top of the world.


Having conquered Indian cinema and the live arena in a big way, it was inevitable that
singer Sonu Nigam was going to cross over into the western mainstream.

After several interesting collaborations in the past, including with Britney Spears, the versatile artist teamed up with a multi-award winning dream team for his steps onto the global stage with recently released solo single Hall Of Fame. The English-language number, featuring MC Yogi, appears on b2 Music’s second instalment in its genre-defining compilation album series, Billboard Presents Electric Asia.

Eastern Eye caught up with Nigam shortly after a sold-out arena concert to talk about what he describes as his best single, musical journey, inspirations, fearless approach and more.

How do you look at your remarkable journey in music so far?
I am perhaps the luckiest and happiest musician on this planet. My journey seems to be never ending, always opening up newer avenues, giving me different challenges and the opportunity to experience newer happiness. I’m perhaps the only musician of this generation who has seen the metamorphosis of music and the business in the past
three decades.

And you have seen a lot of changes…
Yes, the emergence and gradual decline of television; the emergence and then
aggrandizement of social media meant my journey took a myriad paths. It saw
me singing cover versions and songs in multiple regional languages, to singing for
films in India, hosting the biggest musical show Saregama on TV, initiating and judging
Indian Idol, X Factor, Lil Champs, Chhote Ustad; featuring in some of the most popular
music videos and coming out with the biggest selling albums in India; to revolutionising
show business in India with upping the scale of musicality to music production.

You have also done some amazing collaborations. Which ones come to mind?
Experimenting with symphony orchestras from UK and then India, collaborating with Britney Spears, Chaka Khan and Jermaine Jackson (on a tribute to Michael Jackson the year the latter died). Also, being the first and only collaboration with the late Aviici and
another single with KSHMR last year.

What other highlights do you recall?
Being nominated in the shortlist of the Academy Awards for the first film that my erstwhile partner and I composed music for in the beginning of 2015.

Acting in films and a short film, doing TV commercials, writing lyrics for songs that were
composed and produced by me. I think life has indeed given me a royal treatment. How does it get any better?

Throughout your career, you have have maintained a high standard and not slipped into a comfort zone. What keeps you so passionate about music?
It’s just the way I am coded, I guess. First of all, I am the kind of person who doesn’t take
anything for granted. I lead a life full of gratitude and appreciation towards the cosmos. Moreover, I also understand that if you have to lead a fruitful life, the only thing
that is in your own control is your own hard work and efforts. Everything else is God’s blessing, luck, fortune and karma. I try my best to be self motivated, and keep my eyes, ears, mind, soul open for everything I see around me, and all that I see and imbibe becomes my teacher and inspiration.

Does performing live keep you energised?
It serves more than one purpose in my life. First, it is not easy to perform live. Second, when people expect so much from you as a singer, it becomes your duty to live up to their expectations. That’s what inspires you to keep working hard on your music, voice and fitness levels. And if you are fit as a fiddle, you automatically are energised.

You have also remained very humble and grounded. What is the root of that?
Again, I say, maybe this is the way I am coded. Our family came from a very humble background. I am the second-generation singer in my family, who otherwise was known for its aptitude for academics and government services. Music became a profession
from my father and mother’s generation. We didn’t have any godfather or backing when we
came from Delhi to Mumbai to become singers.

I guess I still haven’t lost the appreciative and sensitive Sonu yet in the lunacy of celebrityhood.

The new album Electric Asia Volume Two

Is it fair to say you are fearless when it comes to your musical choices?
Absolutely, bang on. Over the years, after having interacted with music lovers, musicians and connoisseurs from all over the world, I have concluded that people start developing a feeling of ownership for the genre they follow or listen to. And, in some cases, they hate anyone else barging into it, however good he or she could be. They look at it like a trespass into their zone.

And, as an artiste, initially you are discouraged from being courageous. Not every time, but a lot of times I have gone through such rejection. But that doesn’t pull me down from keeping on widening my horizons.

Today, what is your main musical motivation?
I am one of the directors of this wonderful company called ITW Playworx Music, where we are trying out a lot of new ways to enhance the experience of music and music consumption. Indeed, that’s one of the biggest motivations today for me.

You have become pickier with the project you choose to do. What does a song need to have for you to say yes?
I have been in this business for way too long to succumb to situations where people do not have the IQ and integrity to match mine. What is the point of reaching a destination if
the journey was cringe-worthy?

Genuine artists and genuine souls are what it takes for me to be a part of a project.

What did you like about Hall of Fame?
We were doing a couple of songs in Philadelphia for Jim Beanz. I then requested him to make a song that could explore my voice prowess and was also an inspiration to people. When he came up with the song in front of me I instantly fell in love with it. Then, as I sang the song, I realised this was the best I had ever sung.

Tell us more about the experience of making it?
I had just finished one of my biggest world tours called Klose To My Soul in America and Canada when my close friend, composer Shamir Tandon, facilitated through his team, a recording session with Jim Beanz in Philadelphia. Jim is a talented guy and I really enjoyed working with him, but there was this one song I wanted him to crack as I said, that would be out of the world. He did, and then came the role of my brother from another mother, Nick Rajsakha, who introduced me to (producer/engineer) Jason Goldstein who completely changed the song by bringing in the vibe that works in the current scenario. MC Yogi
added his elements into the song, which made the song even more happening and the result is for everyone to see.

Who are you hoping connects with the song?
My son Nevaan is an amazing singer and well-informed about the current English music scene. He only connected with the song after Jason changed its vibe. That’s when I knew
we are on the right path.

Does this mark the beginning of a new chapter for you?
Everyday unfolds into something beautiful for me. This gives me the kind of butterflies in my stomach that are exotic to me.

What is the plan going forward?
The next single immediately.

Who would you like to work with?
David Foster, because he is someone who gives class to an artist. Otherwise, in the current music scenario, DJ Khalid or Marsh Mellow.

What are your big passions away from music?
Staying fit, reading, driving, travelling and praying to my within.

What most inspires you today?
The realisation that I am alive and how.

What is your opinion of film music today?
Film music keeps changing from time to time. In India, it’s going through a phase where there’s very good production; once in a while we also have some extraordinary songs. So I’d say these are good times for new singers.

What is your opinion of the remix culture of taking classic Bollywood songs and redoing them? 
I’m against nothing, except over doing it.

What advice would you give singers following in your giant footsteps?
I am still learning – it’s a statement and advice too.

Why should we pick up the new single Hall Of Fame and album it is on?
There has never been anything like that in the entire world ever.

Finally, give us a message for your fans.
Thank you family, for your love.

  • Hall of Fame and Billboard presents Electric Asia Volume Two are both out now,
    available on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify.