Celebrating the Sufi spirit through music
14-Nov-2019 | Source: femina.in
Sufi music aficionados have a treat in store for them. On November 22, sufi vocalist Radhika Sood Nayak will be performing mystic poet Baba Bulleh Shah's kalams at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai as part of the programme "Haroof: Stringing Verses Together." The evening of soulful sufi music will bring back the era of baithaks and will be the first of its kind at the Royal Opera House. Musicians Neil Mukherjee on the guitar, Sadanand Mulik on the dholak, Vinay Dalvi on the harmonium and Devendra Toraskar on rhythm percussion, will be accompanying her in the performance. We chatted with Nayak to know more about the event.
You are attempting to bring back the era of baithaks through Haroof. How did this endeavour start?
This journey started more than two years ago when Haroof founder and curator, Alleyah Asghar and I met at a baithak in someone's home. We are 'guru behens' (students of the same vocal arts guru). Our conversations about infusing tameez and tehzeeb (etiquette and culture) to the public domain began way back then.
What can music lovers expect from Haroof: Stringing Verses Together? What are the genres you will be exploring during the performance?
In this edition of the baithak revival series, I will be exploring sufi kalam. There are other genres that Haroof has explored with other artists as well, and they range from a verse led tradition that lends very easily to geet, ghazal, thumri, dadra, bandhish, raagdari, bhav, foIk from Bengal and Punjab and maybe even instrumental jugalbandis at a later stage.
Are you excited about performing at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai? Why did you consider it as a venue?
Very much! It's a huge milestone for me! The charm and grandeur of ROH is unparalleled. You feel transported to another era. The poetry I sing, the kalam of Bulleh Shah, was also written in another era. It feels like the two were always meant to come together. Besides, ROH attracts keen listeners, an audience that is open to different expressions. Every performing artiste dreams of having such an audience. I feel so fortunate and grateful that Alleyah Asghar, the curator of Haroof, has reposed so much faith in me. I am hoping that the artistic environs of the venue, the fervent poetry and the lilting music will make the whole experience sublime for all of us, listeners and performers alike.
How has the poetry of Baba Bulleh Shah influenced you?
Baba Bulleh Shah's poetry is a reflection of his beliefs and the choices he made. He belonged to a high caste Muslim family. Back in the 17th century, he chose to surrender to Shah Inayat, his 'Murshid', his 'Guru', who was from the farming community. Can you imagine the uproar back then? Despite that, Bulleh Shah was steadfast and unrelenting in his love for his Murshid. I find that very inspiring. And in every pore of his kalam, he has denounced religious orthodoxy, meaningless rituals, exposed the double standards of our society and only propagated 'Ishq' for the divine.
What I find very compelling about his poetry is that it is so simple and has a dart-like sharpness.
In one verse he says,
"Gal samajh layi te raula ki, Eh Ram Rahim te Maula ki"
(Once you have understood the essen ce, what is all the fuss about Ram, Rahim and Maula)
In another verse, he says,
"Bulleya Aashiq hoyon Rabb da, hoyi malaamat laakh,
Tainu kaafir kaafir kehnde, tu aaho aaho aakh"
(Ever since you have made the Lord your beloved, you have incurred manifold
When people call you a non-believer, just say "Yes, yes")
Your style infuses folk raag fusion into the sufi kalam tradition. Tell us more about how you have made the tradition your own.
I first sang verses of Bulleh Shah at a temple concert sometime in 2010. I received an overwhelming reaction. That was my hook. I dug out his kalam and went back to reading Punjabi after a long gap from my high school days. I realised I enjoyed singing Sufi kalam once I understood the context and the meaning of what I was singing. I started sharing those interpretations with my listeners as well. That just opened a world inside me. The melodies were simple. Some raga-based, some traditional folk tunes. But at the core of it was really potent poetry. That has spurred me! For the Royal Opera concert, we are trying to bring in a new sound, more responsive to the poetry, to the bhaav. There is a beautiful element of the guitar, played in the Carnatic style by Neil Mukherjee. There is sparseness, there is ecstasy, there is longing, there is meditation, which we will try to express through the music. I am hoping it will reach the seeker's heart, just as it pierces mine
Tell us about your future projects.
New vistas are constantly emerging along this journey. Last year, I ventured into composing, starting with the evocative poetry of the 16th century sufi mystic Shah Hussain. This culminated in a dance-music collaboration called "Faqeer Nimaana', which was a first for me. We hope to perform it next at the Kalinga Festival in Bhubaneshwar in February 2020.
Recently, I composed a 'kaafi' by Bulleh Shah which I have just finished recording. It's on the cusp of an audio release. This will be my first recorded single. I hope to bring out a music video of this rendition in the near future.
I want to collaborate more intensively with musicians like Neil Mukherjee, who is instrumental in conceiving the sound for this Haroof concert.
I have also just started work on the poetry of Lal Ded, a mystic from 12th century Kashmir. She was a starkly unusual persona. I am hoping to sing her poetry at the next Kabir Festival in January 2020. This will mean an opportunity to learn a new language through her poetry.
So, much work is waiting to be done, much poetry to be read, much music to be composed, many songs to be sung!