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Sonu Niigaam

Mumbai artist fuses Indian classical music and Western-style pop

By Alex Zivojinovic

Classically Mild
By Sonu Niigaam (India)
(Self published)

Unless you speak Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi, you may not have heard of Sonu Niigaam. But the 35-year-old, multilingual Bollywood singer has been a pop sensation in India ever since the release of his 1997 album, Sapney Kii Baat.

The Mumbai-based artist’s latest recording, Classically Mild, is a spiritual fusion of Indian classical music and Western-style pop. Songs such as Sochta hoon main and Soona soona are characterized by Niigaam’s smooth Hindi verses; uplifting vocals and rhythms complement his soul-searching lyrics. The album follows his 2004 English-
language debut, Spirit Unfolding.

Niigaam’s official website boasts that he is in and out of the recording studio in less than 30 minutes and has recorded almost 10,000 songs. Legend also has it that the prolific performer and his father used to sing with celebrated Indian “playback” vocalist Mohammed Rafi on stage when Niigaam was a boy. In fact, when he first started his career, he was best known for providing pre-recorded songs for Bollywood’s film stars to lip-sync on the big screen. This summer, Niigaam is expected to release an album in tribute to the late Rafi, the greatest of the film industry’s playback singers, in collaboration with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

His breakthrough came singing Yeh Dil Deewana in the romance-drama film Pardes (1997), which established him as a bone fide Bollywood heartthrob. Niigaam was also a judge on the hit talent show Indian Idol and the host of his own radio show called Life ki Dhun with Sonu Niigaam, which attracted listeners from across South Asia.

Musicgoers on this side of the pond would find it worthwhile tuning into Niigaam, too.

Recommended listening:

Colours of Love (2007)
Chanda Ki Doli (2005)
Yaad (2004)

Alex Zivojinovic is a freelance writer in Toronto.
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