The students at the Chandigarh University were in for a pleasant surprise at the university’s Christmas celebrations. The Bali Sisters — Sabanaaz and Hinanaaz had taken centrestage and began to sing Khushiyan de phul khille, a Christmas carol in Punjabi. The piece struck a chord, and many swayed along. “The aim is to propagate the gospel through Punjabi language and music,” says a soft spoken Sabanaaz, also a professor of IT, Journalism and Mass Communication at the University.
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She, along with her sister, Hinanaaz, who is pursuing Psychology (Hons) and is a radio and television artist in the city, has been singing for six years now for various Christian projects, Christian radio channels. Sabanaaz also does performances overseas. With three devotional albums (including Abdi Aaram , Khush Khabri, and songs like Sun le pujara, Sun le pukaar), inspired by the gospel to their credit, the sisters are finding much attention in the region. While their father, Maqbool Bali, writes and composes the music, their mother Nazima Bali and aunt Sharanjeet Kaur Parmar were known as “Tara Mira Sisters”. “Our grandmother was also a singer. She recorded for HMV,” says Sabanaaz.
Unlike the beat and bhangra and the usual wit and humour surrounding popular desi versions of jingle bells, like the ones from Canada-based stand up comics Jus Reign who created The Punjabi Christmas Album, Superwoman who came up with Desi Jingle Bells, UK based Team Sur Sangeet that came up with Christmas Boliyan and the latest Christmas aarti from Pammi aunty, the Balis consciously chose to go the Sufi way. “Contemporary Christian music, even in Hindi, in India apes the western form, whereas we wanted to express in a manner and place where we were born, hence Punjab,” says Sabanaaz, who with her sister will be performing in the US and Germany in 2017. “Thanks to social networking sites, these have increased audience and revived carols in vernacular languages,” says Michaelangelo Francis, who will perform at Elante Mall with his choir this Christmas.
Meanwhile, in Ludhiana, sign painter David and party have been singing Punjabi carols for more than 20 years now. “I’ve written carols for Pakistani carol singers too, which include pieces such as Aya Yesu da din, Karle deedar bandiya for Pak singer Naseebo,” says David, who also pens qawwalis for Christians across the border. “50 per cent congregation is Punjabi, it’s the everyday language. Which is why we sing carols such as Assi Yesu Masih de bande haan, (We are Jesus’ children). There are so many modern and traditional carols we all sing with famous singers such as Sangeet Masih, Balbir Sufi and Rev Savraj Masih Sidhu,” mentions Padri Darbara Singh.
When one dials Reverend Sidhu’s number, a peppy ringtone springs up on the other end that goes Khule sher ne Yesu ne chhadde (Lions of Jesus Christ). A delightful Punjabi Christmas greeting, it rings in the Christmas spirit with all the “rhythm, dhol and beat” fervour. For the Punjabi Christians of the North, it’s that time of the year when colourful Shobha Yatras with giddha-bhangra on board and carols in Punjabi are the way to celebrate the season. Reverend Sidhu couldn’t agree more. A prominent part of the Shobha Yatra from the Sector 18 CNI Church this year too, Sidhu has 22 CDs to his name for Punjabi and Hindi Christmas carols since 2002 which are quite popular in Europe and USA. Apart from writing and composing music, he also runs a bhangra and giddha group for the church. Working at PGI, he is now accompanied by his son, Aseem and recently released a single, Khushiyan mana lo, wadda din aa gaya (Let’s celebrate, the big day is here). He’s also one of the few who has rendered a 72-minute long ‘qissa’ inspired from Biblical character like the story of David and Goliath while his Khule Sher is in praise of St John and St Peter. “For me, a festival is enjoyed the most in one’s own language and culture, and so why not the carols in Punjabi,” he says.