As news of the passing of singer KK came in, there was an outpouring of grief but there was also consensus, especially among millennials, on how they sought refuge in his voice at different stages of their lives. Krishnakumar Kunnath, 53, had a track for every mood.
“Yaaron”, from his hit debut album Pal, became a youth anthem for perfectly encapsulating the essence of friendship. “Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai” (Gangster) was the go-to ballad for young lovers while “Tadap Tadap Ke” (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) and “Awarapan Banjarapan” (Jism) were a balm for many a broken hearts. “Aankhon Mein Teri” (Om Shanti Om), “Tu Aashiqui Hai” (Jhankaar Beats) and “Khuda Jaane” (Bachna Ae Haseeno) only cemented his place as a soulful singer who effortlessly reached the heart. “Dus Bahane” (Dus) was the track for many a house parties. It’s an irony that a singer of KK’s calibre and with such a rich oeuvre never won a Filmfare Award.
Composer Abhishek Ray, who worked with KK on the memorable “Chaand Taare” from I Am Kalam, singled out the singer for his "original voice". It meant that KK made his mark by never trying to "emulate somebody" or sound like a clone of someone. "The originality of the timbre, style and voice culture is most important in a playback voice. He had all three. Nobody sang like him," says Ray, adding how KK was equally at ease with Hindi and western singing.
Ray also appreciated that his neighbour in Versova, a suburb in Mumbai, "despite being such a huge brand in Bollywood was not at all a Bollywood guy”. “There was nothing filmi about him. He was a reclusive, private man and a down-to-earth human being. We live in an age of desperation where most artists are constantly trying to be there, to be relevant. He was the antithesis of that and I salute him for that. KK let his body of work speak," says Ray.
Vishal Dadlani of composers Vishal-Shekhar, who collaborated with KK on some of the abovementioned hits, wrote, “@K_K_Pal, nothing will be the same without you. Nothing. My heart is in tatters. The voice of purity itself, of kindness of decency, of a true heart of gold. Gone [SIC].”
Pritam, another composer who relied on KK to deliver gems such as “Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai”, was “in utter shock” at the news of his sudden death. KK succumbed to a heart attack within hours of having regaled audiences at Utkarsh 2022, a festival of Sir Gurudas Mahavidyalaya at Nazrul Manch in Kolkata on the evening of May 31.
KK’s penchant for music goes back to his Delhi University days at Kirori Mal College, where he was the lead singer and drummer of the band ‘Horizon’, and part of the college music society ‘MUSOC’. The band was a frequent winner on the college festival circuit. “KK was the energy of our band,” wrote erstwhile band member Gautam Chikermane on Twitter. KK was also part of the college drama club where his peers included filmmakers Habib Faisal and Vijay Krishna Acharya.
KK’s classmate from college, Rahul Misra, says, “He was a friend to go to at all times. His favorite track was ’Money for Nothing‘ by Dire Straits. He was always energetic, humble and willing to help others. Everyone wanted him in their group as he was so popular and had a great sense of humour. Friendly, he never showed attitude even if we requested him to sing—be it in the college hall or at a roadside chai stall. 'KK, kuch suna de' was all we had to tell him. Sadly, we won't hear him anymore.”
Before heading to Mumbai to pursue his dream, KK sold typewriters. “His soul couldn’t take it, his swadharma lay in a parallel universe—in chords and beats; melodies and lyrics; lights, sounds and performances,” wrote Chikermane. KK would begin by singing in hotels, a stint he didn’t particularly enjoy for diners often drank and chatted during performances.
It didn't take long for KK to make a strong first impression. His Hindi playback debut came courtesy Vishal Bhardwaj, who roped him to voice “Chod Aaye Hum Woh Galiyan”, a song on friendship and nostalgia tripping featured in Gulzar’s Maachis. KK built an instant connection with the youth, who would turn to a KK number to dance like nobody’s watching (“Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe” from Dil Chahta Hai) or channel their inner angst with the title track of "Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai”.
By the late 2000s, KK was the de facto voice for tracks with a tinge of rock and blues, his favoured genres. Later, he wasn’t as sought after as he once was, but KK was busy performing and a popular choice especially for college festivals. In April, he recorded a song composed by Shantanu Moitra and written by Gulzar. It will appear in the film Sherdil directed by Srijit Mukherji and featuring Pankaj Tripathi and Sayani Gupta. Wrote Moitra, “U took me to my first recording studio, u sang my first jingle, I had my first late night paratha with u. We had joys we had fun we had seasons in the sun Will miss ur laughter, will miss u KK [SIC].”
At what would end up being his last concert, KK concluded the evening with a rendition of the title track from his 1999 album Pal, the song perhaps he is most synonymous with. The auditorium was packed with audiences moving their lit up mobile phones to sing along. These were the lines:
"Hum, rahen ya na rahen kal
Kal yaad aayenge yeh pal
Pal, yeh hain pyar ke pal
Chal, aa mere sang chal
Chal, soche kya
Chhoti si hai zindagi
Kal, mil jaaye toh hogi khush-naseebi."
Twenty three years later, the song continues to be poignant. With KK's demise even more so.
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