Kabir's words, musically

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Kabir's words, musically

Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai SadhoPothi Padh Padh Jag Mua, Pandit Bhaya Na Koi, Dhai Akhar Prem Ke, Padhe So Pandit Hoye!

Does that sound achingly familiar in a way that it takes you back to your childhood days? Here’s a little twist in the tale. What if back then you were asked to recite the same dohas at school extempores with a mix of Reggae, Pop and Rock? I guess we all would have won not only a standing ovation from our audience every time we stepped on to the stage, but also managed to remember most of what we read. Well! That is precisely what Neeraj Arya did when he realised that he hated going to school, and the result?

A few years later, Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe was easily one of the major highlights of Ragasthan, the three-day camp out music festival that took place at the Khuri dunes in Jaisalmer recently.

Considering their love for music and the abundance of it at Ragasthan, I couldn’t manage to spend enough time with this band at the festival and so we decided that the best way to do so would be to watch this bunch of talented, largely self-taught musicians at work, and here we were at the recording studio, chatting in-between their shoot, recording and taking smoke breaks.

Genesis of a bandKabir Cafe is the result of Neeraj Arya’s six years of relentless research in picking up, understanding and performing the verses of Kabir and that’s how he pioneered the genre known as ‘Kabir Rock’, says Raman Iyer, the mandolin player of the band. Now listening to Raman play, it’s hard to believe when he said that music was not even on his mind during his stint as an advertising professional in Mumbai, in 2004, although he learnt music for a few years while he was at Ramakrishna Mission.

As I scribble on my notepad, Mukund Ramaswamy, the band’s violinist, keeps peeping in to verify the details. Then, realising that it’s now his turn to pitch in, he tells me that he’s a mechanical engineer from Mumbai, with a passion for music, and has been playing on stage for over 10 years now. And that it was during one of his performances at the National Streets for Performing Arts (NSPA) that he met Neeraj.

Now, that seemed to add up for me, considering Mukund is an accomplished Carnatic musician with a formal training to back him up.

I am listening intently to Mukund when Neeraj joins us to take me back to his journey of how he had come to Mumbai as an event co-ordinator with the NSPA but soon his solo performances as part of the events he organised left the audience asking for more each time. To an extent that he soon realised that music was a clear favourite and he performed with Mukund and Dakshinamurthy under the band name ‘Makeshift’ at the Kabir festival 2012. “And, that’s also where Raman met him again,” he says.

The journey after this was easy for me to guess. The three started jamming together every now and then and that is how the idea of Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe was born. This, while Neeraj still continued to go for the Malwa Kabir Yatra, Neeraj’s primary influence, which is essentially a week of celebrating Kabir and other mystics through a musical journey where singers and music lovers alike travel through the districts and villages of Madhya Pradesh.The youngest member and the band’s latest find is Viren, their drummer. At 18 years of age, he had girls swooning at the festival asking for a solo performance, much to his embarrassment.

Kabir’s ideas retoldWith a clear inspiration in place, creating and experimenting with various sounds has only been a part of the entire process where the band re-creates verses of Kabir in a variety of styles — Pop, Reggae, Rock and Carnatic fusion to simple acoustic gigs. Their music, as I found out at Ragasthan, celebrates the true meaning of Had Anhad — Bounded Boundless, much like Neeraj’s inspiration, Kabir, who insisted on living life to the fullest and defined life as an eternal party.

That much explains how and why their songs like Bhala Hua Meri Mala Tuti, Man Lago Mero Yaar Fakiri Mein, Halke Gadi Hako gave the Birakha stage at Ragasthan a reason to groove, stand up, sing along and go berserk with excitement.

I realise it’s 10 pm and they have to get back to their recording. It’s been a perfect Sunday well spent listening to honest and soulful music.

Kabir Cafe’s music can be found on YouTube and they can be followed on Facebook on their official page.

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