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Sona Mohapatra on Bollywood’s tryst folk music

Sona Mohapatra spoke about the dismal state of the folk artists and the need to help the dying folk music.

Written by Goyal Divya , Edited by Sarika Sharma | New Delhi | Updated: July 30, 2014 5:24 pm
 Sona Mohapatra spoke about the dismal state of the folk artists and the need to help the dying folk music. Sona Mohapatra spoke about the dismal state of the folk artists and the need to help the dying folk music.

Bollywood’s tryst with folk music and culture has often left a sense of anonymity for the later even as the its revamped Bollywood version soars to new heights. A recent example would be the song ‘Anjan Ki Seeti’ used in Anil Kapoor Production and UTV Disney’s film ‘Khoobsurat’, which stars Sonam Kapoor in the lead role.

The song, which is a popular Rajasthani folk song that became a rage in the 80s, was misinterpreted as ‘plagiarised’ from an Anu Malik song. However, celebrated singer and songwriter Sona Mohapatra, known for her inclination towards folk artists and music, cleared the air around the entire controversy.

In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, Sona Mohapatra spoke about the dismal state of the folk artists and the need to help the dying folk music.

“‘Anjan ke seeti’ is a very popular Rajasthani song which became a rage in the 80s and can be correctly classified as a modern folk song. I remember winning several group song and dance competitions while performing this song in the early 90s for the Kendriya Vidyalaya sangathan meets in my school! The songwriter of this song in particular is a local poet Ikram Rajasthani.”

“An article in a mainstream publication claimed that the ‘Khubsoorat’ song was plagiarised from an Anu Malik song from an old film called ‘Ma’. Anu Malik himself went on to give an ambiguous answer about the same when questioned, no where admitting that the song was not his to begin with. I wrote to Sonam Kapoor about the same and drew her attention to it and an interesting conversation on Twitter ensued!”

Sona says her intention was to draw attention to the origins of the song thereby highlighting the true composer and the creator of ‘Anjan Ki Seeti’. “My idea firstly was to draw attention to the origins of the song and therefore put a spotlight on how we treat composers and writers of music by using/reusing their works without appropriate credits or compensation. Secondly, I also wanted to make a point about how publications ought to dig deeper before publishing a story,” she added.
“Just having juicy accusation to make shouldn’t be reason enough.”

Sona Mohapatra also spoke about her tryst with folk music and said she attempts to pay an ode to the state she is performing in by including a couple of their folk songs to the set list.

“My first album, SONA, has a single song of this nature. ‘Jai Phulo Re’ is a Sambalpuri folk song from Odisha and I recreated this as an ode to my roots. The core spirit of the song is from the folk song and therefore the credits clearly mention this. In my live gigs, I do attempt to play an ode to the state I’m performing in by including a couple of their folk songs in the set list.”

For Sona, folk music is basically grass root music and the true pop music of our land and spreads like wildfire without any mainstream media support.

Sona Mohapatra, whose track ‘Ambarsariya’ from film ‘Fukrey’ is also derived from an old Punjabi folk song says that the mainstream has no idea about the popularity enjoyed by the folk artists and their music in their circle. She says that often the turnout to see a superstar of folk art perform is way more than any top mainstream star can dream about in the country!

“Traditional folk music still has a very loyal following and massive reach in India. We have superstars in the folk music scene that the mainstream doesn’t know about. There are melas and rural festivals in the hinterlands where such artistes perform for several lakh of people over 2-3 days. The turnouts and audiences are much bigger than any top mainstream star can dream about in the country!”

“Having said that, the remuneration of these artists and lack of proper infrastructure, still hinder the folk music scene. The payments range from a couple of hundreds to at best a couple of thousands for performing all night, 9-hours straight in some occasions! These artistes have to take up other jobs like being labourers, drivers, etc. to sustain themselves. Their children no longer want to learn this little paying art. Our folk tradition is largely an oral tradition where knowledge is passed down generations in this manner & the current fear is that 1000’s of years of lyrics and tunes known only in the memory of some artistes will die with them.”

She also spoke about private organisations set up to work towards preserving this cultural heritage and providing these artistes livelihoods and platforms to showcase their art.

“I was privileged to be invited to perform in one of the many festivals they organise, in this case the Jodhpur RIFF held at the Mehrangarh Fort each year, to collaborate with the folk super stars and this is when we met the legendary, one-of-a-kind Bhanvari Devi. Three years later we showcased her in Coke Studio India and her song ‘Kattey’ has reached millions more since. I count on many more opportunities to work with such artistes & also hope that the film industry show more pride in presenting such music in the voices of such singers and not just use their tunes,” she further says.

“It is for us to ensure that we credit the original source of the music and pay due respect to where it came from. When folk songs get a wider mainstream audience, their popularity helps fuel greater awareness for the folk form that it belongs to. Our version of ‘Ambarsariya’ in ‘Fukrey’ was most appreciated by Punjabis as they felt reconnected to an eternal love song from their land and at the same time the re-working of the same by Ram Sampath made it so different from the other versions that it gave the song a whole new audience across the world with its re-invention. I mentioned this in every interview I gave to the media as well as the album inlay printed credits,” said Sona Mohapatra.

“I had heard ‘Nimbuda Nimbuda’ from ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ in my college days and had been intrigued enough to find the original folk song from which it was adapted. I had a gut feeling about the composition being folk and lo behold when I found several versions of the same and some incredible voices and styles interpreting the song over the years. Left to my own devices, I may not have ever hear such a wonderful song without it being featured in a mainstream film? This has been the case for several 100’s of songs , random examples that come to my mind include ‘Bhumro Bhumro’ from ‘Mission Kashmir’, ‘Sajana Ji Wari Wari’ from ‘Honeymoon Travels’ and more recently ‘London Thumakada’ from ‘Queen’.”

For Sona, the challenges of folk songs doesn’t end with the rights to the original creator alone, but often the actor/actress the song has been featured on.

“It’s a crying shame that we don’t have a culture of archiving the names of the creators of music, namely, the authors and composers be it folk music or even otherwise. We tend to archive only the singer’s name and then it tends to become “their” song. Radio, TV and Print media often highlight the actor on which the song is picturised on. An entity who possibly played no role in the creation of the song, be it the audio aspect or the visual aspect and then it becomes the actor’s song. So it is a sad situation to say the least.”

In 2014, Bollywood films had set about finding and exploring a female voice with plethora of films like ‘Queen’, ‘Dedh Ishqiya’, among others. However for Sona, this step has not been taken on its music from. She says that Bollywood music today is missing ‘a feminine perspective’

“I believe that Bollywood music in recent times is sorely missing the crucial aspect of a feminine perspective. We have a glorious past of incredible poetry and expression from this gender in the past with the Mangeshkar sisters and their voices having providing almost a soundtrack to our lives. Covering almost the whole length and breadth of emotions via the songs especially crafted for them. Now, the female voice and perspective is presented not only in a uni-dimensional manner but is also a rare presense.”

According to many artists, both in the music sphere and acting, feel that Bollywood is facing a crisis in the name of the music rap and punjabi pop music via singers like Honey Singh, Raftar and Meet brothers, among others.

There is an increase in negative comments for these artists for their lyrics and music. However Sona says, “Music is about inclusion, harmony and also fashion. All kinds of music co-exist and thrive on a global level. We must be open minded about new genres and assimilate them into our desi idiom as part of an evolving and vital culture.”

When asked if she would consider acting, she said: “My first love is music and live performance and anything that helps me to further this dream, I’d be open to.”

In recent times, singers like Monali Thakur (Lakshmi) and Sonali Chauhan (3G) have taken up acting!

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