Back to the roots

Back to the roots

Back to the roots
Folk songs play a special role in the cultural landscape of India. Each region has its own treasure-trove of distinct melodies and the extreme diversity creates endless varieties of folk styles. Some songs are reserved for special occasions like weddings while others are simply sung to celebrate the earth or to express a gamut of emotions. But with the Indian audience discovering a new-found inclination towards Western music, are these songs slowly fading into oblivion?

 Not if the bands can help it. There are many musical troupes that are working with folk music to revive its lost glory and their experimentation has yielded some beautiful results which have captured the imagination of music lovers.

‘The Raghu Dixit Project’, ‘Swarathma’, ‘Advaita’, ‘Masala Coffee’, ‘Avial’, ‘Kailasa’, ‘Papon and The East India Company’ are some of the famous names in this circuit, with folk-fusion being a common strain among these diverse groups.

Jishnu Dasgupta of ‘Swarathma’ says, “The choice of folk music is a result of the musical influences of band members Vasu Dixit and Pavan Kumar, who have grown up listening to a lot of it. However, the appeal of folk music transcends backgrounds; that’s why even in the hippest of clubs, the moment an Indian folk rhythm kicks in, there’s a ripple of energy. We’ve experienced this in our concerts as well. These are musical roots and they run deep in our hearts.

Varun Sunil of ‘Masala Coffee’ agrees and talks about how their tryst with folk music started. “We produced a small version of our song ‘Kaanthaa’ for a live event in Kuwait. The reaction was phenomenal; the audience went crazy. Later, when Sooraj came in, we experimented with this genre more and that really took off. We are not recreating old folk songs; these are our own versions of them. However, we make sure that we do justice to our creations. Some of our songs include unique Rajasthani folk riffs. Also, one of our members, Arshad Khan, plays the instrument ‘esraj’ which gives an earthy feel to our songs.”

For a generation whose only connect to folk songs came from the immensely popular ‘MTV Coke Studio’, which did come up with some stunning renditions by talented artistes, such innovations by bands are a great opportunity to dig up some lost gems. That such songs are a hit with aficionados are evident by the number of views and likes they get on YouTube.

Says Tirthankar Majumdar of the ‘Folk Foundation’, “Our idea was to revive folk songs because people are neglecting them. One should adopt elements from all cultures but that does not mean you should forget your roots. The main motto of the band is to stay rooted. Which is why we don’t take popular folk songs that one hears on television regularly. We work with lesser-known artistes.”

Talking about the reactions they get, Tirthankar says, “People are very interested in this genre nowadays. Earlier, they didn’t get to hear much of it but now they can and they are liking it.”

Jishnu says, “We really enjoy the process of bringing folk elements closer to today’s music lovers in a contemporary context. In fact, right now, Vasu is taking part in a Kabir folk-music workshop in Malwa, MP.”

Varun adds, “Even the international circuit is looking out for folk these days. They are not very keen about metal, jazz and all. They have enough of their own guys playing that there; they have seen it all. They want to hear our music now.” Seems we have to agree with Llewyn Davis then — ‘if it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.’

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox