Singing with KK: His was the voice that song of the love, longing and angst of a generation of music lovers

In an interview, well after he had made a name in playback singing, KK would recall being sent to music classes as a child and hating them. It seemed to him that, with their emphasis on the dos and don’ts, they imposed “boundaries” on music. The singer, who died at 53 after a concert in Kolkata on Tuesday, had grown up with music of all kinds playing in his home in Delhi. He had developed an ear and, after his decision to forgo formal training, it was that nurtured ability, as well as his innate talent, that helped him gain a foothold in the recording studios of multiple film industries.

KK, born Krishnakumar Kunnath, came to prominence at a time when the Indipop wave which, in the ’90s, had changed how music was made and performed in India, had begun to recede. Two tracks from his 1999 debut album, “Yaaron” and “Pal”, became hits, in large part because they articulated a sense of loss and longing that had instant resonance with a generation of listeners on the threshold of adulthood. His big Bollywood breakthrough, the song “Tadap Tadap” from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, had a similar effect, becoming part of the soundtrack of many a real-life story of unrequited love and heartbreak. That these songs risked becoming cliches is, in fact, a testament to their appeal.

As a performer, KK transformed his early disdain for “boundaries” into the chameleon-like ability to assume different personas and tap into the emotional core of any song. In doing so, he helped a society, arguably lacking in articulateness in matters of the heart, find words and melodies with which 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 concerts. But they always, without missing a beat, song along to his song.

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