Popular Indian playback singer S P B thanks fans with 50th anniversary world tour

Playback singer S P B has recorded 40,000 songs in 14 languages.
Playback singer S P B has recorded 40,000 songs in 14 languages.PHOTO: TAMIL MURASU

S P B, voice of Rajinikanth, is on a world tour to mark 50 years in the music industry to thank fans

Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam, who is responsible for the on-screen singing voice of Indian superstar actor Rajinikanth, needed his son, 45, to nudge him into holding a 50th anniversary world tour to thank his fans.

The 70-year-old playback singer, who is better known as S P B, tells The Straits Times: "My son said to me, 'Without the audience, you would not have travelled around the world for the past 50 years, so don't you think that the minimum courtesy is to give a thanksgiving concert, anywhere and everywhere possible?'"

He will be performing in Singapore tonight as part of the tour to mark his 50 years in the music industry.

The concert at the Suntec Singapore Exhibition & Convention Centre, scheduled to last 31/2 hours, will feature a condensed version of his discography - he has recorded a staggering 40,000 songs in 14 languages, including Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and his mother tongue Telugu.

His hit songs include the National Film Award-winning Thanga Thamarai from Minsaara Kanavu (1997) and Balleilakka from Rajinikanth- starrer Sivaji (2007).

  • BOOK IT / SPB50 A GRAND WORLD TOUR

  • WHERE: Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Halls 601 to 604, Suntec City, 1 Raffles Boulevard

    WHEN: Tonight, 7pm

    ADMISSION: Tickets from $45 to $155 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

It is no wonder the singer says that the hardest part of the tour was deciding the setlist for the concert.

"The tough part is which songs to keep in and which songs to leave out," he quips, adding that if asked to pick a favourite, he would have "a list of a thousand songs".

In the Singapore leg, S P B will be joined on stage by other playback singers - namely Karthik, K S Chithra, Shweta Mohan, S P Sailaja and his son, Charan - who will be singing famous songs from his career.

When he started out in show business in his 20s, he thought he would record about 10 or 15 songs and call it a day.

Unlike many of his counterparts, he was not classically trained and he learnt everything by ear.

"I know that I'm not as theoretically sound as some of the other singers because I never learnt music from anybody," says S P B, who earned only 300 rupees a song back in the 1960s.

The secret to his stamina all these years is the audience.

"The energy of the audience keeps me afloat," he says.

"In 2017, when I come on stage, they still embrace me with the same love and affection... That satisfaction is something I can't explain."

His world tour kicked off in August last year. He made stops in Canada, Russia, Dubai and Sri Lanka and will next head to the United States.

While he is not as instantly recognisable as actors such as Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, both of whom he has been lending his singing voice to since the 1980s, he says that playback singers such as him are as much actors as the on-screen stars.

He says: "In the same way that actors inhabit characters in front of the camera, playback singers inhabit characters and have to emote in front of the microphone."

Demonstrating his point, he sings Unna Nenachen Paattu (from 1989 film Apoorva Sagodharargal), once vocalising plainly and, again, with a pained expression to reflect the pain and suffering of the lyrics of the song.

"Without expression, a song is nothing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'The singing voice of a superstar'. Print Edition | Subscribe