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Usha Uthup: Woman of Song

Usha Uthup live in concert at Nehru Centre, Worli, Mumbai
Usha Uthup live in concert at Nehru Centre, Worli, Mumbai
Photo: Verus Ferreira

Standing in the sun,
Gonna have a lot of fun,
Bring out the best,
Keep the devil at rest,
Show it, show it, and do it, do it,
Come on… look inside, don’t try to hide.
Rise and shine,
You got the talents,
Move on, move on…
The beautiful people, young people,
Choose the teen… the teen of the year!

… sang Usha Uthup in her jingle specially composed for the Teen of the Year 2002 pageant. The catchy 10-second jingle was played at all the Teen of the Year pageants thereafter, until the curtains came down on it in 2012. With words and music by Fr Robin Gomes, SDB, Usha didi as she is fondly called, motivated the youth to reach for the stars in her short motivational jingle.

With a voice that can set your hair on end and live performances that rock, Usha Uthup packs a punch wherever she goes. The dazzling and charismatic singer with her trademark jazzy vermillion, traditional colourful necklaces and her kanjeevaram saris, adorned with fresh flowers in her hair, is a regular at most events.

Regarded as one of India’s earliest female pop and jazz singers, who has performed at nightclubs to packed concerts across India and the world, done Bollywood music, has over a 100 music albums and counting, Usha’s music appeals to everyone. When Usha sings, you just can’t help dancing.

The legend recently performed at a fundraiser in Mumbai for Alert India wherein in an exclusive interview with VERUS FERREIRA, the prolific singer recounts her over 53-year-old musical journey.

From Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Rambha Ho and Koi Yahaan Nache Nache, you have come a long way. How do you look back on your long and eventful career?
It’s been 53 years since I’ve been singing, singing English songs long before I got a chance to sing in a Hindi film. I’ve been singing in nightclubs since 1969. It’s been absolutely wonderful, and my journey so far has been really, really amazing because people have always supported me. People like you, who you know, who want to still write, write about me and get youngsters to read about me, it’s just fantastic! So when I look back on this long career of mine, I can only say with all humility, thank you God, thank you to my musicians, thank you to all the audiences that I’ve had for so long.

You’ve made a career singing jazz at nightclubs wearing kanjeevaram saris, gajras and bindis. How did this fashion statement come about which even today flows well wherever you go?
I sang jazz at nightclubs wearing kanjeevaram saris, gajras and bindis and this I did only because I come from a very normal, traditional South Indian middle-class family. I just wore whatever my sisters wore, whatever my mother wore and whatever saris were in the house, I just wore them. As for the bindis, it started off with small bindis, then slowly the sizes became big and then creative, in between became even bigger. Soon it became a fashion statement. People love all this and love the kanjeevaram shoes I wear. The kids say she’s so cool, some say I’m so swag! That’s all because of all of you.

Cover of the June 2023 issue of The Teenager Today featuring Usha Uthup.

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Verus Ferreira is a music journalist for over three decades. He is the author of The Great Music Quiz Book and The Great Rock Music Quiz Book and the founder of Musicunplugged.in

Verus Ferreira

Verus Ferreira is a music journalist for over three decades. He is the author of The Great Music Quiz Book and The Great Rock Music Quiz Book and the founder of Musicunplugged.in