On the stage, four youngsters are singing songs that describe everyday chores, harvest, changing seasons and country life, in powerful and passionate voices. What is unusual is that they are singing in the Bulgarian language. The group, Voicestra, had come together in April to showcase folk songs from the Balkan countries to Indian audiences. “It is our tribute to the stories that have been passed down generations through the soaring voices of the Balkans,” says 22-year-old Sanjeeta Bhattacharya, a graduate from the Berklee College of Music in the US.
Bhattacharya, who was part of the Balkan ensemble in college, says, “I thought it would be interesting to present the Balkan songs here since very few people in India have heard this music. I had the music sheet and references ready and all I had to do was teach the style to the rest of the members,” says Bhattacharya, who recently performed at Oddbird Theatre and Foundation. Bhattacharya met the other band members — Aditi Malhotra (19), Kaushik Manikandan (23) and Vikramaditya Negi (19) — at the One World College of Music in Gurgaon, where she teaches. What started as a group of eight came down to four eventually, and now they even perform in pairs sometimes.
“The style of singing in Balkan folk is very different. It is highly projected and chesty and has dissonant harmonies, which most of us aren’t used to singing and even hearing. Getting used to that was challenging. Also, learning the pronunciation of Balkan languages was difficult,” she says. Malhotra, who studies at Ashoka University, adds, “Sanjeeta’s experience at her college helped us with small tricks to get it right. Also, for musicians, language should not be a problem.”
Interestingly, the group doesn’t use instruments during their performance. While Sanjeeta and Aditi sing in a high pitch, Kaushik and Vikramaditya provide base to the songs. “The reason for not using instruments is that we wanted our voices to be primary. Also, traditionally, these songs are sung with bagpipes which we did not have access to,” Bhattacharya says, adding that when they performed for the first time in Delhi, at a pub, they did not expect the crowd to pay them much attention, but everyone listended. The group has performed at places like The Piano Man Jazz Club, The People and Co. and Depot 48.