“It Was An Honour To Work With A Humble Human Being Like A. R. Rahman”
Music lovers definitely remember her soulful voice of ‘ PhirDekhiye’ of Rockon!! and her peppy number ‘ Tumse HiTumse’ from Anjaana-Anjaani and for her beautiful rendition of ‘ Nashesichadhgayi’ from Befikre. She is also undoubtedly the undisputed jingle queen of the industry. She is CARALISA MONTEIRO. In a candid interview with Ankit Shah, the melody queen talks about her musical journey, her NGO ‘Angel in disguise’, her future ambitions as a playback singer and more…
You have been in the music industry for the last 19 years now, how did your journey start?
My sister was a musician and in her short span of life, she (she died at 26) had already starting doing a fair bit of work. Post her passing away, I approached a few of the music directors who she considered friends and gave them my demo tape. My first commercial was with Ehsaan and Loy for a coffee ad and I sung to the tune of ‘Morning has broken ‘ and that’s how it all began.
Who was your inspiration for taking up music?
Let me be very honest. I was always an average student and I wasn’t really good at anything else! All I really knew was how to sing, the objective was to earn a living doing something I knew and more importantly, knew how to continue to do. The career was not something I could have imagined. I came
All I really knew was how to sing, the objective was to earn a living doing something I knew and more importantly knew how to continue to do.”
from a lower middle class family where the only thing in abundance was love. So, this is a dream!
You made your debut as a playback singer in 2001 with DilChahtaHai. How was your experience working on the film?
I had worked on a few ads with Ehsaan and Loy by then and when they called me, it wasn’t for a song but for parts of the song Janekyun and they asked me to hit an alaap and I did. They liked what I did and I guess that in a way was the start of my association with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Farhan Akhtar, whom I’m fortunate to call friends and people I like and respect.
You are considered as ‘the Jingle Queen of India’. How does it feel when people call you this?
I don’t remember where but very recently I was asked the same question. I don’t really know how and where this term was coined. But like I said then and I shall repeat myself here! If you’re reasonably good at what you do and do it for long enough, at some point you will be known for it and I’ve been doing this for 1718 years now. I think it happened primarily because of the number of ads I’ve done.
You debuted with your independent album ‘ Illusion’ in 2015. Why did it take so long for you to come out with your debut album?
I ask myself the same question. So all the songs I have written were penned by me in school and college! And then I started working and honestly never really had too much time. I also wanted the album to be something more than just about music as I was grateful for the opportunity to have made it so far and be around for so long. I finally thought of a starting my NGO and curating the album for the launch of the NGO.
What is more satisfying for you, singing jingles or playback?
Singing for ad commercials is different from singing for films and that is different from background music and albums. Commercials require to create character and magic in 30 seconds, you can sing a word but it has to be sonically resonant of the brand itself. So the attitude, feel and tone has to come together to represent what the
Singing for ad commercials is different from singing for films.”
film is visualising. Having said that it has to be done swiftly with finesse and skills. Singing for film songs is all about the feel and it isn’t as time bound as a jingle but has to render the feel of the song the way the director sees it. I personally find both spaces exciting.
With which music composer did you enjoy working the most?
Each composer I work with has a unique style of composing so they all bring their brilliance to the table. And being the person I am, I love variation and experimenting with styles and technique. So it’s a bonus to work with all of them.
Which is the one song you are the closest to?
In jingles, it is probably the Limca jingle which Sushama Reddy featured in and in films, it would be Phirdekhiye from Rock On!! Both changed my life for the better and brought “fame”.
Did you ever regret working on a jingle or a song?
I can’t really say I regret singing anything but there have been times that I’ve not really liked the melodies. As a recording artiste, I have successfully managed to block out my personal opinion and ensure the clients are happy and gets what they want.
Who is your favourite music director and with whom would you want to work in the future?
I’m personally very fond of Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy and over the time I’ve learnt to like and respect the man Vishal Dadlani a lot more and have always been a fan of his and Shekhar’s work. I like the soul Amit Trivedi brings out in his songs. Working with AR Rahman was an experience in itself. I’ve done lots of scores with Salim as well. They’re all good and different.
If you would not be a singer, what would have been your career option?
I really don’t know. Definitely not a 9-5 though! Probably a yoga teacher or a make-up artist.
Of late there is a trend of revamping old classic melodies. Do you feel it is good for music?
Personally, I think to each his own, some songs have been done well and some haven’t. I think you can create something as long as you do justice to it. If you don’t think you can, you should be able to say ‘no’.
Do you feel that the freshness and creativity in music is quickly degrading?
I’ll say this, with the influence of technology in music, human skills have reduced. While the new generation are better programmers and better at using softwares etc. Music has always been about the soul. I know I can walk into a booth and sing a note/song in pitch. And if auto tune didn’t exist, I would still survive!
Who are your favourite singers apart from yourself?
My idol is Whitney Houston. She didn’t need to dance or do any theatrics when she performed live, her voice did the job. That to me is the essence of a powerhouse vocalist. It’s all I ever wanted to be - a vocalist. Growing up, I heard a lot of the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Queen, Barbara Streisand and zillions of other brilliant singers who are now all iconic in their styles. It meant that I was influenced by almost all styles of music and
With the influence of technology in music, human skills have reduced.”
I never could choose just one pure genre. I am a believer of good songs and I’m certainly not biased or judgemental towards any one as I look for ’soul’ in every song. Soul is what gives me a new high and enables me to step up and inspire others. After all, what is pure technique when you can’t feel a thing?
Can you share some anecdotes from behind the recording of any song?
I was in Chennai for A R Rahman’s film ‘Silunu oru kaadhal’ in which I sang “Maaricham”. I remember waiting in the studio from 8 pm to 4 am to sing the song. I was so sleepy that when I went in to sing I was scared that I’d fall asleep in the booth but I finished in an hour and Rahman loved it. It was an honour to work with a humble human being like AR Rahman. And of course working with Ilyaraaja in Shamitabh where I sang ‘Shashamimi’ was a unique experience firstly because he is such a genius and I’ve been a fan of his music, especially his complex classical orchestrations.
Why have you not sang more for Bollywood?
Well, I’ve sung for over 50 films and over 5000 ads till a few years ago and I didn’t give a single interview. I think PR is important and I accept it’s something I’m very bad at. In these times, one needs to be socially relevant in the digital age.
What are the challenges you’ve faced as a playback singer?
The challenge was just getting into the industry. I got in by virtue of advertising. I didn’t know anyone. Also, there was the initial stereotyping or belief that being a Catholic girl from Bombay and apprehensions of whether would she’d be ‘okay’ singing in Hindi. While I don’t speak Hindi fluently, I’m born and raised in Dadar, Mumbai. I have no issues singing in Hindi. Other than that I was lucky to come in at a time when the quality of music in Bollywood was changing and with ShankarEhsaan-Loy, Pritam and Vishal Shekhar, fortunately I got to work with all of them and my voice fitted in. If the industry was still stuck with only Hindustani Classical, I would not have been as fortunate.
What are your future aspirations in terms of playback singing and as an individual?
I would love to work on songs that have range and soul always but I love dance music too as long as they have a balanced mix of organic and electronic sounds. I’m currently working on songs of my own which will be fun to produce and record. Personally, I want to do a lot more through my NGO, ‘Angel in Disguise’ and help women suffering from cancer, domestic abuse and rape victims.
In these times, one needs to be socially relevant in the digital age.”