By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | October 12, 2017
Eleven years ago (June 2006, to be precise) I met Biddu at a recording studio in Bandra. He was collaborating on an album he had come down for. I was commissioned to interview him by a magazine in Dubai. Somehow, they were not able to find an appropriate picture of his. I forgot about my meeting with the singer, song-writer, music producer. Today, whilst going through my archives, I unearthed this interview…
Biddu. The name immediately brings to mind the hit song from Qurbani, Aap Jaisa Koi and Nazia Hasan. Today, the singer, writer, music composer admits that he is not as driven as he was before but yes, for him the important thing is to write hits. “I’m really interested in writing good songs to get to the people because I want a million people to hear my songs,” says Biddu.
Right from the time he decided to pursue music at the age of 14, till today, Biddu has believed in living life on his own terms…
Openingdoorz to an interview which is 11 years old!
You have been a trendsetter, right from Kung Fu Fighting with Carl Douglas to the album you are doing for the Indian Idol winner Abhijeet Sawant. How has the journey been these past 35 years?
It’s been a long journey. When I look back, I feel very blessed that I’m in a business I enjoy. Incidentally, music is a hobby which is helping me with a very good living.
How did your journey in music begin?
I started professionally at the age of 14 as a singer. I used to play ‘Live’ in Bangalore. I had a group called ‘The Trojans’. We were three guys who had this love for music. You have to remember it was the early sixties and groups were unheard of. During that time, most parents wanted their children to be doctors, engineers, whatever… but definitely not pop singers.
So how did your parents react to your choice of profession?
It was only my mother; she is 91 now and lives with my brother in Bangalore. My dad died when I was very young. We had no choice but to run away from home.
That was a brave decision. Where did you’ll go to?
We first played at Hyderabad at a wedding and from there we jumped on a train to Calcutta. It was quite a sight—three guys with long hair and guitars. In Calcutta, we started singing in clubs. We sang there for two years. We then came to Bombay where we sang for a year. The group split during this time but I continued calling myself ‘The Lone Trojan’. I was lucky because the success just kept getting bigger and bigger. Finally I was on top of the tree in the music scene in India.
Being a big music star then, did you not contemplate on acting in movies?
I used to get offers to act in films. But because I come from the South, I could not speak Hindi and I wasn’t really interested in Hindi films. It wasn’t a fashion in those days for young kids to be interested in Hindi films like it is nowadays. I always wanted to go west.
Which you did ultimately… How did you manage it?
In those days, trying to get out of India was trying to get out of Fort Knox. Nobody had passports, nobody went out, and it was quite a socialist kind of country in the early sixties. After one of my concerts, an agent who knew I wanted to go abroad, came backstage and told me he would get me a passport. How, I don’t know. He also told me he would get me a P Form to get out of the country and he could get me foreign currency. In those days it was the lucky few who got out of the country for further studies.
So this agent helped you go west?
This is quite an interesting story. I gave him everything I had and I announced my farewell shows. But this travel agent did not turn up. So one day, my friend said let’s go and check this dude out. So we went to his office and found it locked, and the person in the next office told us that the agent immigrated to Canada two weeks ago. He had taken my money and everything and gone off to Canada. There I was in Bombay, with no guitar, no birth certificate either because he had taken everything. So I had to do another 50 farewell shows!
How did you finally manage to leave India?
I met another travel agent who told me there was only one way for me to get out of the country without a P form which is like a Visa. He said, ‘Let’s just say you are a Muslim going on a pilgrimage to Mecca’. So there I was at Bombay Docks in my blue jeans, Cowboy boots, long hair and guitar on a pilgrimage boat with 1000 pilgrims leaving Bombay for Mecca. It was quite a journey because I was used to comfort. I roughed it out for eight days and I landed at Basra, that’s where the boat went in Iraq.
Weren’t you afraid of landing in a foreign land with no one to turn to?
Those were more innocent times of the world when the Middle East was not what it is now; it was a friendly world. I did not have any idea where I was, I had no map, no money… Nothing! This was the early sixties and I was a bit of the novelty in this Arab country. They had never seen anyone dressed like me. I was welcomed into all the Arab homes and given shelter and food to eat. Whenever a truck was passing by, I’d hitch a ride. I really did not know where I was going. I ended up traveling on the road for six-and-a-half months in the Middle East. I landed in Dubai when Dubai was only 9 shops and nothing else. I went to Iraq, Syria, Bahrain…
So how did you make it to England?
After six months on the road, one day I hitched a ride and landed in Beirut. I was walking down the streets and within 20 minutes I was offered jobs. People were inviting me and giving me food seeing the way I was dressed. And by that evening, I was singing and earning money. So I stayed in Beirut for six months. I earned enough money to buy a plane ticket to Paris. From Paris, I made it to the UK by Hovercraft and have made my base in London since then.
And it was singing in London as well…
When I went to England I found out that it was a massive industry with thousands of singers trying to make it, so I decided to try my luck with writing and producing. Fortunately, it has worked.
How many brothers and sisters are you?
I have a brother and a sister and they both live with their families in Bangalore. My sister used to be the Indian Tennis champion, her name is Dechu and my brother, Kuts, is a horse trainer.
Tell us something about Nazia Hasan whom you propelled to stardom with Aap Jaisa Koi in Qurbani followed by her album Disco Dewanee?
Nazia had potential, she was an attractive young girl and she had a voice which was very different to Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Nazia had a normal type of voice which was different. Normal was different.
What were your first impressions of her singing?
Initially, I thought ‘nice voice’, nothing more. Then the film took off and the music took off in a big way and I was asked by HMV to do an album and I said OK. She was one of my favourite singers, because she was able to take directions from me. She had great expression in her voice. She showcased my songs the way I wanted it to be.
Are you still in touch with her brother, Zoeb Hasan?
I met him two years ago when I went to Pakistan for a commemorative for Nazia. After that I have not met or spoken to him.
How did you meet your wife, Sue?
I met her in a discotheque when she came with her girlfriends and during the course of the evening we got talking. Then we all went back to a friend’s place. I played the guitar there and the moment I started singing, she was hooked.
How long did it take to get tied down in matrimony?
We went out for a year-and-a-half. We got together then and have been together these last 33 years.
How many children do you have?
I have two kids, a boy and a girl. My son, Zak, is 29 years old and is in the music business. He’s a manager in England. He also produces and mixes music. My daughter, Zsa Zsa, works for a big PR marketing firm.
You have a fascination for different names. I mean your brother is Kuts, sister Dechu and now Zsa Zsa and Zak!
[Laughs]. I needed a name that goes with Biddu. Zsa Zsa Biddu, Zak Biddu sounded good, so I thought why not. And they live in the West and are very Westernized. They are more English than Indian. I like names with Z and the idea for the names comes from Muslim names.
Is it because you went to Mecca as a Muslim?
[Laughs]. Living in London I have friends from all nationalities. I find some Muslim names very attractive.
Did your son not cry at the name you gave him after he started school?
Well, he did. He wanted to be called John. He said ‘Dad you have given me an unusual name’. But I said, ‘Son, one day you will be happy with a different name’. Now he says ‘Thank God I’m not called John!’ [Laughs].
And how does Biddu, the musician, unwind?
I don’t unwind because I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, I don’t listen to music outside of doing my work. My unwinding is just sitting around doing nothing.
You mean to say you actually don’t listen to music?
I’m not very fond of the pop scene. My interest is a little away from music. I have never listened to music at home and my kids say, ‘Dad, ever since we can remember, you have not played any music in the house’. I said ‘Yes, because I’m not really interested in listening to music. I do music’.
Are you as enthusiastic about music today, as you were when you started?
I’ll be very honest. Very few people can retain enthusiasm for 45 years. I’m not driven like I used to.
Also Read: The lady with magic in her voice