Kannada Tunes, from Manipur

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A BPO executive from the Northeast is crooning his way into the classical scene down South.

Laitonjam Guneshwor Singh isn’t a name one would associate with Kannada devotional songs. But this Manipuri has a devotional connect, believes his guruji. He is a rare singer who overcame his mother-tongue influence to sing in the south Indian classical style.

Singh, who has been in Bangalore for ten years, still does not know the local language. But all this can be forgiven once he starts his alaaps. He has the ability to sway an audience that has been reared on pure classical music.

He has already recorded an album of Kannada devotional music called Hari Gunagaana and is waiting for a big break. The CD (released in June) is a rendition of dasara padagalu (verses) written by medieval Kannada greats like Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa and Rangavittala. He has sung nine songs on Vishnu, Parvati, Ganesha and Raghavendra Swamy. “His voice quality is very good. I am going to give him a chance to sing background tracks in Kannada films,’’ says Pandit Madhu Kamat, his music teacher.

In this age of instant music, Singh knows that he has chosen a path that others are wary to tread. “Film songs will come and go, but devotional music is pure and sacred, enjoyed by a select class of people. Anyone can sing film songs, but it’s a challenge to sing these unique songs.’’

Despite his odd shifts working for a BPO, Singh attends classes regularly with a dedication that is hard to match. A staunch believer in Lord Ganesh, he prefers to sing in Kannada even as he learns Konkani, Hindi and Marathi songs. To fine tune his pronunciation, he is learning Sanskrit. “In my native Manipuri, some sounds like la, tha, dha and others are simply not there. In the South, we have to stress on some words and produce a different sound, otherwise the whole meaning could change,’’ says the 27-year-old.

Singh first felt the connect to sing in Kannada while travelling in his cab to work. A romantic film number, Nee Amrutadhaare, caught his attention. He pestered friends to write out the lyrics of the hit number sung by Sonu Nigam (his all-time favourite) in English and mastered the song. Next, he Googled for a teacher and found Pandit Kamat. The rest has been history. Singh’s exploits have been well received by his employers. But his only regret is that his mother is not alive. “I’m sure I have her blessings,’’ he says.