Aaman Trikha discovered he could sing in his first year of engineering and ever since then, there has been no looking back. A versatile playback singer, he has worked with leading music composers from Ram Sampath and Ismail Darbar to Himesh Reshammiya and Pritam, delivering several hits along the way. His latest song ‘Butterfly’ from Jab Harry Met Sejal garnered more than 8 million views on YouTube.

Aaman chats with Pandolin about his ability to sing in different languages, learnings from the best composers in the industry and why singing a jingle is much harder than a film song.

Aaman Trikha

How difficult has the journey been in Bollywood post your stint in the reality show Sur Kshetra?

It’s been a nice journey, full of experiences. During Sur Kshetra, I met Himesh Reshammiya, who acknowledged and identified the musician in me. He thought I could be a good entity in playback singing. After the reality show, he offered me a few songs that changed my life completely. I was first offered ‘Go Go Govinda’ then ‘Hookah Bar’, the title track of ‘Son of Sardar’, ‘Po Po’ and a track in ‘Special 26’ within a span of three to four months. These developments changed the course of my life. I became a part of the industry and received more opportunities, not just with Himeshji but with other music composers as well.

You are a disciple of Hindustani Classical music under the guidance of Ustad Maqbool Hussain Khan from Rampur Sahaswaan Gharana but your songs range from a ghazals to dance numbers. How do you bring in that versatility?

Hindustani classical makes you versatile. Some people are blessed with it whereas others have to work hard. I am a combination of both. I have been fortunate enough to imbibe those qualities of a singer where I could sing a song like ‘Albela Sajan’ and also ‘Are Ruk Ja Re Bande’ from Indian Ocean during my college days. It depends on how you perceive music, what you listen to and what your personal interest is. If you keep yourself confined to one genre, then you tend to limit yourself.

From the beginning, I have been listening to different genres and legendary artists like Lataji, Kishore da, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Ashaji. I used to also listen to English pop, classic rock, songs by Eric Clapton, Queen, Pink Floyd and the likes. Their music styles are different but at the end of the day, they are all part of the same institute, which is music. It’s a permutation and combination of how you assemble each song and deliver it. It’s the passion of understanding the music, the need of the song and the lyrics they are trying to portray through that project. Your voice is the face of the song so it has to be versatile and vivid.

How did you bag ‘Butterfly’ in Jab Harry Met Sejal? How would you describe the song?

I have been working with Pritam da for some time now. He is one of the earliest composers I had approached for singing opportunities. During these years, we have created a very good rapport. I respect him and have tremendous amount of love for him as a musician and a person. He is very relaxed about his job, knows what he is doing, seems easy going but is systematic and disciplined; a thorough professional.

I was working with him during my early days, singing scratches and demos for him at his studio. Last year, I sang ‘Jaaneman Aah’ in Dishoom. That song did well and Pritam da was happy with the output and response. A month back, I got a call from him asking if I was free for dubbing ‘Butterfly’ that night. It was late but I prefer recording late at night. When I heard the song, being a Punjabi, I could relate to it. The lyrics were earthy and had a folk touch. The song has a vintage feel to it like the songs of the 50s and 60s. While recording ‘Butterfly’ I was constantly hit by the melodies of yesteryear songs like ‘Ude Jab Jab Zulfen Teri’ and ‘Main Jat Yamla Pagla Deewana’.

What was Pritam’s brief for this song?

Pritam da told me that it’s a Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) song and I had to carry Harry’s vibe. It is an upbeat number, which can’t go low on energy or fall flat on projection. However, I could not be loud and delivering the expressions was most important. Expressions are the most valuable asset of a song and if they are not up to the mark, then the listener doesn’t connect to the song and enjoy the experience.

By then, I had seen a couple of mini-trailers and took a cue from Harry’s character, he’s fearless, wears his heart on his sleeve and says what’s in his heart. The rolling of the ‘r’ in ‘Butterfly’ is very typical of Jaats. You will hear this dialect only in places where Punjabis are based and that too in the rural areas. I am a Punjabi born and raised in the metros, lived in Mumbai, so I can’t get the right vibe unless I spend some time in my hometown, which is Firozpur. The most essential brief was that the character is from a small village in Punjab but has gone to Europe as a travel guide and is coming back to his hometown with Anushka Sharma. He is professing his love for her in a very Punjabi style in the fields of Punjab and at Noor Mahal, a very famous landmark in Punjab.

You have sung songs in various regional languages. How do you manage to get the right emotions and expressions while singing a song in a language that you aren’t familiar with?

South Indian languages are based on the grammar, dialect and pronunciation of Sanskrit, so if you are good in Sanskrit and Hindi then your speech capabilities and pronunciations in those languages are good. At the end, it is about how well you are able to grasp the language and immerse in it. When I sing a Bengali or Assamese song, I completely forget that I am a Punjabi. I try to think of myself as the guy from Kolkata, Jalpaiguri or Asansol. There are translators as well who help you understand the meaning of each word of the song and how you have to emote it.

If you emote love-filled words sadly, then you defeat the purpose of the song, so getting the right emotion is very important. I have got a lot of compliments from locals saying I don’t sound like a Punjabi when I sing in their language. I keep traveling for shows and am a great observer, so I learn a lot on these trips from the local people.

Did you enjoy singing for Shahrukh Khan? Did he have any feedback on the song?

Music composers don’t initially tell the singers which actor they are singing for as it could hamper the conviction they need to put in the song. The singer might get anxious and be unable to focus on the song. This has never happened to me as I always give my best whether I am singing for a small star or a superstar. The song is the hero for me and if it is picturized on SRK, Amitabh Bachchan or Salman Khan, then that’s an added advantage.

When I was told I’d be singing for SRK, that was a great moment for me because I have been a huge SRK fan since childhood. He is an extremely humble actor. After the song’s release, I even tweeted to him about how honored I was singing for him and he replied to the tweet thanking me for giving life to the song. I have sung for his performances at several award functions including this year’s Filmfare Awards, he was impressed with my work and I had expressed my desire of working with him. And life has come a full circle. I am honored to sing for him under Pritam da’s music and Irshad Kamil’s lyrics in an Imtiaz Ali film as I love the music of all his movies from Rockstar to Tamasha to Highway.

Aman Trikha

Aaman was awarded Best Debut Singer at the Mirchi Music Awards 2013

How has the experience of working with leading music composers shaped you as a singer?

Every musician that I have worked with, or even the ones I haven’t, have contributed to my journey. They have all taught me that playback singing has to be very controlled and precise, you can’t flow too much with the song, unlike a live performance. A film song is not picturized on a singer, so you cannot go wild with it. For ‘Butterfly’, even though I have sung Punjabi songs before, it doesn’t give me the license to sing numerous aalaaps that are a distinct feature of Punjabi songs or add ‘Burrah’ or ‘Haisha’. You have to deliver whatever is required in the song with a sucker punch.

You learn a lot of technicalities and dynamics of your voice from these composers – from how to deliver a particular line, to how much to open your mouth to create a sweet vowel sound. The discipline they teach you in terms of singing is amazing. You can’t learn this in a course at a college.

During your time it was reality shows that gave a platform to rising stars, and today it is YouTube, how according to you have the times changed?

It’s a very heartening revolution. The digital medium has escalated the expectations and also the opportunities for musicians, singers and instrumentalists. I am happy for people who are able to achieve success via YouTube as they don’t have to go through the gruesome struggle of going door-to-door to music producers, composers or studios. Because there is no guarantee that they will listen to your songs or check your mail. The younger generation bypasses this struggle and can concentrate on their music.

Obviously, they have to be good as well. You can’t expect fame from the platform if you upload sub-standard quality music as everyone can access your work on YouTube, so it shouldn’t give out a wrong impression. You have to know the pulse of the audience and connect with them. I feel a serious musician will always respect the art and not fiddle around with it. There are so many YouTubers abroad and in India; the scene is definitely picking up. A lot of independent artists are also on the medium, they don’t bother with labels and release their work without any obstructions.

You also lend your voice to TV jingles, serials and radio anthems. Is the process any different from singing for a film?

I did a song named ‘Rabba Ve’ for the television show Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, it was a short 30- second track but it included an aalaap. The protagonist of the show comes back to avenge his family’s death so the song had to be full of grief, vengeance, apathy. I sang that song with all the pain and sorrow I had in my life.

If the story of the product or show has some character to it, then it has to be justified by the singer. In television commercials and shows, you get to see the video before singing as that has already been shot and you have to sing for it but in films it is reversed. Although these jingles are short, not more than 30 or 60 seconds, they are more difficult than a film song. Within 30 seconds, you need to show your caliber, express through your voice, be on the right tangent and hit the bull’s-eye.

What are you working on next?

There are a number of projects in the pipeline but I don’t know when they will release. I am coming up with a single named ‘Ishquaa’, which is a soft, romantic song. There is an upcoming film on the Gujarat riots, where I have sung a philosophical and painful song about human suffering. It’s an awakening song like ‘Arey Ruk Ja Re Bande’ from Black Friday. There is a J.P. Dutta film also, but I don’t know when it is going to release. I have recorded a number of songs, which will release in the later part of 2017, or probably next year.