A passion for the folk tradition

Mystic musings

A passion for the  folk tradition
Poet, writer, translator, singer — Vipul Rikhi wears many hats with elan. Armed with a deep love for singing mystic poetry in the folk music traditions, Vipul likes to bring equal emphasis to the poetry and its resonances in our lives. Having performed at the latest edition of ‘Books & Brews’ at The Humming Tree, Vipul talks to Rajitha Menon about the impact of Sufi music and its growing popularity with the youngsters.

How did you get into this field?
I first heard oral folk traditions of music in 2008. It created a deep impact on me, especially the songs of Kabir. Before that I had heard of Kabir only in textbooks. I had no idea that such a tradition existed and a whole world opened up to me.

How has the journey been so far?
It has been an interesting one because it was completely unplanned. I never thought that I will become a singer. But this choice has allowed me to meet new people and travel a lot. It has been a gratifying journey so far.

What kind of audience does Sufi music have?
I have seen all kind of people relate to it; it is not a demographic-based connect. Anyone with a readiness to listen will identify with this music. There are many youngsters and teenagers who come for our shows, as audience and as volunteers. Then there are city people looking for a break from their humdrum life. We also have a lot of old people and foreigners turning up for our shows.

What are the challenges you faced in the field?
The challenges were more internal than external. How deeply are you willing to engage with the song, are you willing to let yourself go, are you ready to believe in something else — we are faced with these questions while singing such songs. It challenges all notions we have about ourselves.

Have you always been musically inclined?
Yes, since childhood though I have never trained in music. My father used to sing a lot so this is probably something I picked from him. I had a slightly difficult childhood and was a solitary and introverted child. Books became my friends and art was a natural extension of that.

How does the audience usually react to these songs?
In different ways. For some, it is just a feel-good music that doesn’t really impact them. But there are others who are struck by something; it moves them. It happened to me too. When I first heard this music, I didn’t understand all the words. Just the phrase or the music strikes a chord in you.

Do bands that experiment with folk music help in its spread?
That depends on the authenticity of engagement. We are always looking for new sounds and sometimes it is a quick fix. If there is a thought like ‘folk music has not been explored much so let’s do something in it’, then it won’t help in any way. Any band, or person for that matter, who transmits authenticity is important.

You talked about a rising interest among youngsters. Are they turning to performing too?
It is a new phenomenon in cities and there is a growing interest. But usually, young people from rural backgrounds become performers. It is an art that is passed down from generations. In urban areas, the focus is not on becoming a performer. The idea is to resonate with the poetry. 

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