In College, KK Sang Only Western Music, But Then Began to Appreciate Indian Music Too

New Delhi: Which song always comes to your mind when you think of KK? I’m sure there are going to be multiple answers to this question, however, for me, it is ‘Tadap tadap ke is dil se’ from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Krishnakumar Kunnath, popularly known as KK, passed away on May 31 night, after a concert in Kolkata. He reportedly suffered from chest pain and died on the way to hospital.

A video clip of his performance before his death was shared by several fans on social media.

I never got the opportunity to meet KK, but the only thing that connects me with him is Kirori Mal College’s music society, Musoc, of which both of us were members.

He joined right in the beginning. Sumitra Mohanty, former professor in Physics, and former staff adviser of Musoc, said, “When Musoc was new, there were only three founding members. In 1986, we interviewed KK and he was so good. He was on the top of my ECA [extra curricular activities] Musoc list. So, he took admission and was selected in the western music category.”

For us, Musoc was not just a music society, it’s an ‘opportunity’ for those who become a part of it to explore different genres of music.

“He [KK] used to tell me, ‘Ma’am, I sing only western.’ So, I would tell him that’s fine and at least come and listen to Indian music,” Mohanty said. “And then he participated [in Indian music competitions], and later thanked me for exposing him to Indian music too,” she added.

Mohanty recalled that earlier, singer Palash Sen, who’s from Delhi University’s Hansraj College, would win inter-collegiate competitions. “Then KK came and he started getting the prizes,” she said.

KK with Sumitra Mohanty. Photo: By special arrangement

The Indie Pop era gave us timeless melodies that we can recall even today, and when KK released his first album, ‘Pal’, in 1999, it was like a breath of fresh air. His songs ‘Yaaron Dosti’ and ‘Pal’ went on to become big hits among school and college students and he became a star for his generation. His songs were mostly about love and friendship. Some of the popular KK songs which any 90s kid would relate with are: ‘Sach Keh Raha Hain’, ‘Khuda Jaane’, ‘Tu Hi Meri Shab Hain’, ‘Dil Ibaadat’, ‘O Meri Jaan’ and ‘Ankhon Mein Teri’.

Sumangala Damodaran, professor at Ambedkar University Delhi, and one of the founding members of Musoc, wrote on Facebook: “It was the year 1986. The Kirori Mal College music society, Musoc, had been formed a year before, fuelled by the hard work and enthusiasm of Dr. Sumitra Mohanty Chakrabarti, then a young lecturer in the Physics department, with Seema Goyal, Sanjay Santhanam and myself as founding student members. We wanted to create a top class music society that would go beyond the confines of university activities and were conducting auditions for students who were seeking admission through the ECA category.”

She added that they were completely blown away by the power and feeling in KK’s voice when he had come for the ECA auditions. “It was obvious that he would top the list for ECA admissions, but it was also his personality that was arresting,” she wrote.

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“The loss is immense and the sorrow very deep. It is difficult to imagine how his family and friends will cope with this loss. Farewell, KK, you touched my life very deeply, even if it was very long ago.”

Aditi Raj, an Uttarakhand-based music professional, and a member of Musoc, shared how KK had an impact on her music sense: “KK broke barriers between western and classical music. In Musoc, the Indian classical choir was the main thing to do. In fact, earlier, Musoc was primarily an Indian classical choir. But KK and other western vocalists also explored the Indian classical genre.”

She further said, “During his radio interviews, he always talked about how Kirori Mal’s environment helped him to apply his western style of singing in Indian, or Bollywood, music. Usually, it takes a lot of time for a new singer to establish his space in the industry. However, KK’s unique voice, full of emotions, was easily accepted by the audience.”

Another member of Musoc and a musician, Parth Sharma, shared how humble KK was when he met him for the first time in college. “I have been a fan of KK since I was in school. I was lucky to be part of Musoc from where KK had graduated. When he had come to college, a friend and I met him backstage. He was so down to earth that we didn’t feel like we were meeting a celebrity.”

“Usually, people search for songs by looking at the hero. But there are few singers whose songs are searched to see from which movie it is. KK was one of them. So that kind of credibility to earn in your lifetime, and that kind of love in one lifetime, is exceptional,” Aditi Raj said.

This article was first published on The Wire.