Kailash Kher’s spectacular journey from a humble upbringing to revered pop star, Bollywood playback singer and television celebrity is nothing less then remarkable. It is also a testament to the strength and appeal of what is undeniably one of the most unique voices in Indian music today.
Born July 7, 1973 in Merut on the outskirts of Delhi, to a family with Kashmiri roots, Kher moved to New Delhi as a young child. Kher’s father, a Hindu priest, was an amateur musician whose performances of traditional folk songs were a regular household event.
Even as a four year old, Kher revealed a natural musical talent and he would often impress friends and family by belting out songs with his prematurely powerful voice. At the age of 14, Kher left home in search of a guru to further his musical training, and he embarked on years of classical and folk music study.
At first, his parents discouraged his dedication to music, and in deference to their wishes Kher tried his hand at the import/export business. Clearly, his passions lay elsewhere, as this endeavor proved a dismal failure.
In 2001, Kher left New Delhi for Mumbai, the epicenter of India’s highly competitive music industry, to seek his fortunes as a professional singer. For a while, Kher struggled, living in cheap residence hotels and eking out whatever musical work he could find to make ends meet.
Kher’s first recording was on an advertising jingle for a diamond company, for which he was paid the equivalent of $100. Soon after recording a handful of jingles, the raw, earthy and soulful strength of his voice – often compared to the late qawwali maestro Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – caught the attention of every production house and film composer in Mumbai.
His big break came with the song “Allah Ke Bande” from the movie Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II. The song became more famous then the film itself, and its success made him a household name. By 2004, Kher had been catapulted into the national spotlight, and has since performed on over one hundred and fifty Hindi film soundtracks, has sung in over fourteen languages on a number of regional Indian films, not to mention recording more than four hundred radio and television advertising jingles.
Though the Bollywood playback world has proven rewarding, Kher finds more personal satisfaction in the music he writes and records with Naresh and Paresh Kamath, brothers and prominent members of his band Kailasa.
Fixtures on the Indian rock and pop scene, Naresh and Paresh were veterans of the popular band Bombay Black. Combining Kher’s strong traditional folk sensibilities and lyrics invoking Sufi mysticism, with Naresh and Paresh’s more modern rock, electronic and funk influences, Kailash Kher & Kailasa released their first album, Kailasa (Sony-BMG) , in 2006, which resulted in the smash hits “Teri Deewani” and “Tauba Tauba.”
This was followed in 2007 by their second album Jhoomo Re, which was also a critical and commercial success.
In 2008, Kher was invited to become a judge on the television series Indian Idol, the local version of the successful singing competition. With his bubbly spirit and an infectious, expansive personality, Kher endeared himself to the Indian mainstream.
It is impossible for Kher to walk the streets anywhere in India without his being besieged by adoring autograph seekers, and he has earned even further admiration for the openness with which he treats his fans.
In 2007, Kher participated in a concert tour in the United States of America, Canada and the Caribbean, entitled The Incredibles, a massive stage extravaganza that also starred fellow Bollywood singers Asha Bhosle, Sonu Nigam and Kunal Ganjawala.
While the show allowed Kher to perform in front of huge audiences at major amphitheaters, it was his appearance with Kailasa at the January 2008 edition of GlobalFest at New York’s Webster Hall where Kher’s true artistry was on display. The group’s performance that evening electrified the audience, and proved to be the first step in launching Kher’s career as a global world music star.
The release of their first international album Yatra (Nomadic Souls) on the independent record label Cumbancha signaled the dawning of an entirely new adventure for Kailash Kher & Kailasa.
Yatra features new songs, re-recorded versions of their most appealing tracks and acoustic versions of enduring hits.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.