Talented duo Roop Kumar and Sunali Rathod may be world-renowned live performers, but they are also mesmerising in the studio and have collectively released an unforgettable array of timeless classics during their distinguished careers.
Their most recent studio collaboration was acclaimed ghazal album Zikr Tera, which was so well appreciated that part two will be released later this year.
Eastern Eye caught up with the husband and wife team in central London recently to talk about their new albums, studio work, music, romance and more.
You are known for your live performances, but what is it like being in a studio?
Roop Kumar: The studio is totally different because it allows us to do retakes and re-dubbing, so we have the liberty of doing things in our own time. When we are on stage, it’s a different ball game because you can do whatever you do only once, whether it’s good or bad. If its good people will appreciate it, clap and will do everything for you. In the studio we are at ease. If you don’t want to do it on a certain day, you can push it back to the next.
Sunali: My forte is definitely the stage, because I don’t sing Bollywood songs and the only time I go to studios is to record ghazals for my own albums. Being in the studio is a different feeling, but definitely the live audiences give me the biggest high. When they cheer for you, clap for you and appreciate your songs, it’s really heart-warming. It is a great sense of accomplishment. Being in front of the live audiences and them appreciating you is the best.
You are so in demand on the live circuit, so how do you find time to record and produce songs in the studio?
Roop Kumar: Normally the live concerts happen on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. So we are free for the rest of the week to create.
Tell us about your recent album Zikr Tera?
Roop Kumar: Our recently released album called Zikr Tera was dedicated to (singers) Jagjit Singhjee and Chitrajee. We are now working on Zikr Tera part two, which will be released in November or December. It is another ghazal album.
What has the experience of recording the latest album been like?
Sunali: Zikr Tera was definitely a special album for me and it marked 25 years of our marriage also. On this album I recorded my songs in a very different pitch than I usually sing, so it was a different experience and I enjoyed it. I was not too confident in the beginning, but then Roop said, ‘let’s try singing in a lower pitch for this particular album’. And it proved to be a great success because people have loved my voice in this. Then we did some wonderful videos, which was a great experience. We shot all over Rajasthan.
How do you select the songs on the albums – you must have had quite a few to choose from?
Roop Kumar: Poets from all over India send me their ghazals. I’m very particular about the poetry. If I get 150 ghazals, I only shortlist 10 or 12. Then finally we select eight ghazals for an album.
What does a ghazal need to have for you to say yes?
Roop Kumar: It needs to have romance, which is a necessity in life. It also has to be meaningful. For example, we have one ghazal on our album that is about Indian and Pakistani integration, and friendship.
When you record together, are there any creative differences?
Roop Kumar: (Laughs) Oh yes, all the time. I am a very strict composer. But then as a husband, I surrender to her. In the studio as a composer, I am very strict with my artists. I am very particular about things like expression, and kinds of song we record. When we are doing a duet, we record vocals separately.
Sunali, do you find it difficult to work with Roop in the studio because he’s such a perfectionist?
Sunali: (Laughs) Yes, it can get difficult and many times we have broken into a fights because in the studio he tends to be boss because he is the composer. He will say, ‘this is how I want you to sing.’ I mean, I have my own say, but then the final word is his in the studio.
How do you get that extra emotion and magic into a song with your vocals?
Roop Kumar: The day I conceive a song, I am already dreaming about it. I am always thinking about how to create it, how it will turn out. I will sing it and then I listen to it back. If I am not satisfied, I do it again. Until the album goes to mixing, I try lots of things from improvising or trying different ways, to make the song the best it can be, for the good of the album.
But then do you find it difficult to let go of a song?
Roop Kumar: Yes. I don’t think I am ever satisfied, but then at a certain stage, I do have to let it go and then mix the master. I just try to create a universal song that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.
You sing about romance so perfectly, but are you romantic in real life?
Roop Kumar: (Laughs) Oh yes, I am extra romantic.
Sunali, is that a fact?
Sunali: (Laughs) Yes, it is. This will break many girls’ hearts, but he is very romantic with me. He keeps telling me he has eyes only for me, and I would like to believe that.
Whenever you sing a Bollywood song, it is a super hit. Why don’t you do more films songs?
Roop Kumar: I’m very selective and don’t want to overdo it. I don’t look at doing a certain number of songs in the year, for example. If you do less, the love remains with audiences for longer and they don’t get sick of your voice. They wait in anticipation for your next song and this gives longevity to your career. I have been singing for the last 25 years and I will go on for another 25 years or more. I want a long innings and am not one who tries to do many songs in the year and then it is over. There are so many singers who overdid it and now they are out of sight.
What inspires you today?
Sunali: I get my musical inspirations from everywhere. For example, I was watching this wonderful TV show of Stevie Wonder and it was a concert where he was honoured with other legends pre-sent. All these people were singing for him and it was fantastic. So many things can inspire me, like a walk in nature. I love nature and going on vacation in India. I love the mountains. So everything and anything around me can inspire me.
Roop Kumar: I get inspiration from so many things. I was inspired by Sachin Tendulkar when he played – his body language and attitude was like he was playing for the first time. His determination, commitment and dedication to his work inspired me. Similarly Amitabh Bachchan, who still works equally hard today.
You can sing pretty much anything but are ghazals your favourite genre of music?
Sunali: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say everything. Music as a whole is my favourite subject. I enjoy all kinds of singing. I have an ambition to sing western music as well. So let’s see what God has in store.
You have achieved an incredible amount but do you have any unfulfilled musical ambitions?
Sunali: Oh my god, there is a long list of things I haven’t done. I love singing a genre of Indian music called tappa. It is a form of classical music. It is a genre that is becoming really rare now because it’s very difficult to sing and requires lots of practice. I want to collaborate on this genre with a violin player from western classical music. So that is my real ambition and I really want to do it because I know it’s gonna sound great.
What advice would you give to a young singer?
Roop Kumar: Learn good music from gurus. There is no shortcut. Nowadays the younger generation are after quick fame. Everybody wants to be a superstar overnight. The quicker you go up, the quicker you will come down.
Finally, you both performed amazing concerts in the UK last year. When will you be coming back?
Sunali: We are really looking forward to doing more concerts in the UK next year with Rock On Music and Vijay Bhola. The new concerts will, most likely, be named after the latest album, Zikr Tera.
Zikr Tera by Roop Kumar Rathod and Sunali Rathod is out now.