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Folk Studio

The earthy voices of folk singers are helping Bollywood composers lend authenticity to their experiments with Indian music.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: December 7, 2013 2:44:33 am

Making their way through Rajasthan for the filming of Highway,director Imtiaz Ali and his crew came across the Manganiars. While the crew knew of these travelling folk musicians,they had not heard their music live before. When the Manganiars began performing,the team decided to capture it without directing the sequence. “The footage is now part of the film,” says Ali.

A film that has been made on the go,Highway maps nature and life of the characters as they travel across six northern states. The Manganiars’ performance,therefore,fitted in beautifully,lending the film a unique soundscape.

Filmmakers are attempting to recreate life as it is in the regions where the film is set. When a story demands that costumes and sets are designed keeping the region in mind,it is natural that the influences of local music are incorporated in the film as well. Taking this a step further are efforts like Ali’s where working with folk singers adds a touch of authenticity to the folk-influenced soundtrack of a film.

During his visits to Kutch for the recce and pre-production of Goliyon Ki Raasleela — Ram-Leela,Sanjay Leela Bhansali was repeatedly exposed to folk songs by Osman Mir. His raw and earthy voice stayed with the director. A year later,when Bhansali was finalising singers for the film’s soundtrack,he travelled to Gujarat and brought Mir on board for Nagada Sang and Mor Bani Thangat. “For films that are rooted in a certain culture,folk music beautifully captures the soul of the region. And folk singers are able to lend the songs a sense of raw passion,something that the trained musicians may not be able to replicate,as Osman did with Ram-Leela,” explains Aditi Paul who sang Mor Bani Thangat with Mir.

Working with folk singers also requires an understanding of the genre on the music composers’ part. A case in point is Vishal Bhardwaj’s familiarity with north-Indian folk music that has seeped into the tracks of Omkara and Ishqiya. His work in Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola earlier this year,where he has fused Haryanvi folk with African tribal music,reiterates the fact. “There is an urgent need to reconnect with our roots — as villages get wiped away by land mafia. This musical legacy will soon be lost too,unless we preserve it,” Bhardwaj had told The Indian Express in an earlier interview. Folk singer Prem Dehati,who sang Khamakha,Sharara-rara-ra and Badal Uthiya in Matru,also appeared in a few scenes in the film as did Africa Umoja,the group of African musicians.

Although city-bred Sneha Khanwalkar and Amit Trivedi worked extensively with electronic music,it has from time to time reflected their eagerness to explore the country’s original soundscape. Both these composers have travelled to the interiors of India in search for musicians and singers who would enrich their musical vocabulary. Khanwalkar,for example,got little-known names from Bihar,such as Manish Tipu,Vedesh Sokoo and Ranjeet Kumar Baal Party as playback singers for the music of Gangs of Wasseypur.

Trivedi,who has worked with Manganiar musician Mame Khan in several films,says that sometimes,it takes a while for folk musicians to adapt to the new-age music and modern technology but they are always open-minded. “The greatest advantage is their experience — they are immersed in their genre of music since childhood. Sometimes,their unique interpretation of the lyrics and music can add great value to a song,as it did with the song Aitbaar in No One Killed Jessica.”

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