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To Nusrat, with love from Uttarakhand

Rehmat-e-Nusrat, a group of 20-somethings singing qawwali as an ode to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, often find themselves in an intertwined world of art and politics amid the music’s spirituality.

Comprising Sarvjeet who is on main vocals and harmonium, Sameer Hussain on the tabla, and other members Chandrashekhar Tamta, Dhruv Pande, Sahil Arya, Avnessh Kumar Arya on accompanying vocals, Rehmat-e-Sufi is a band from Uttarakhand.

It was Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s wistful ‘Saanu ik pal chain na aave sajna tere bina’, heard on his cousin’s not-so-smart cellphone in Almora, that held the attention of 15-year-old Sarvjeet Tamta. Sung in raag Pahadi, the origins of which are seeped in Kashmiri folk, Tamta was awed by Khan’s craftsmanship in terms of the composition and that of its rendition, which was not just a soulful melody but also “a lesson in sargam gayaki”. Sarvjeet, who was studying in Delhi, had cleared his 11th grade after failing it once and had returned to meet his family.

“I decided then that this is what I wanted to do. I knew there was no way that I could sing like him, but I wanted to make music dedicated to a musician whom I never met but whose music has had massive impact on me,” says Tamta, now 26, who will perform this piece along with the Sufi outfit Rehmat-e-Nusrat that was formed by him in 2014. The band will perform as part of ‘Amarrass Nights’ presented by Amarrass Records at Sunder Nursery, on Friday, 7 pm onwards.

The band will perform as part of ‘Amarrass Nights’ presented by Amarrass Records at Sunder Nursery, on Friday, 7 pm onwards.

Comprising Sarvjeet who is on main vocals and harmonium, Sameer Hussain on the tabla, and other members Chandrashekhar Tamta, Dhruv Pande, Sahil Arya, Avnessh Kumar Arya on accompanying vocals, Rehmat-e-Sufi is a band from Uttarakhand, trying to find themselves through Khan – known to be the brightest shining star of qawwali.

Growing up in Almora, Tamta began by singing Kumaoni folk at home and would sometimes accompany his father during the annual ‘Baithki Holi’ – a popular cultural ritual in Uttarakhand. The musical tradition in this combines elements of Hindustani classical music with Kumaoni folk. But Sarvjeet’s father was keen that he study and despite his interest in music and his fascination with Khan, he refused to buy his son a harmonium. “So I left home and came to Haldwani. I have never returned,” says Sarvjeet, who at 16, managed to find a job in a local school as a music and art teacher. “I got about Rs 4000 a month and was happy doing it for a bit,” says Sarvjeet.

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But India’s caste hierarchy hit him hard soon enough. The school was run by an upper-caste Thakur family and Sarvjeet’s surname, which signifies a coppersmith community, was lower in the hierarchy. “I used to stay in the outhouse and wasn’t allowed water from their home. One day, I was asked to clean the children’s toilet because it was in a bad shape. I am a Dalit and that’s why this was being done. I left that day,” says Sarvjeet, who taught in more schools after that to form a band in 2014.

Over these years as Sarvjeet sang the songs of Khan and found sukoon (peace) through it, but in the process, he also discovered that art and politics were intertwined. “If an artiste is blessed with the art of any kind, it is her responsibility to make the voice of the masses reach those who rule them. And if music is the source of your art, it’s an even bigger responsibility to make sure that the voices of the lower classes reach those in power,” says Sarvjeet, who also sings revolutionary poetry by Faiz, Baba Farid, Amir Khusrau, Kabir bhajans, and Baba Bulleshah as part of his repertoire.

“We attempt to have an element of Kumaoni folk in qawwali,” says Sarvjeet, who uses a slightly nasal tone and the liveliness of Kumaoni folk in the qawwalis that he sings with the group. “Today’s generation is a little away from qawwali. The attempt is also to allow them to understand what this music is all about and how enlightening and wonderful it can be,” says Sarvjeet.

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Mostly self-taught, Sarvjeet learned the art of qawwali from Wadali Brothers in Amritsar for about eight months and spent a month at Manganiyar musician Faqira Khan’s residence in Barmer. “I have definitely understood things better by living with them. It was a different experience because I do not come from a music family. But most of my music has been imbibed from Nusrat sahab, by listening to him, by following him,” says Sarvjeet.

Tickets available at: https://www.amarrass.com/rehmat-e-nusrat

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First published on: 22-04-2022 at 06:52:30 pm
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