Often, Ila Arun is chided by her daughters for not acting her age. “As much as I respect time, I enjoy life more and treat work as my oxygen,” says 60-something Arun, still young at heart. So, it comes as no surprise that Arun has decided to decorate a truck and make a smashing entry in it for her performance once she releases her upcoming album, Baju Bandh. But before that, she is busy working on the Ibsen Theatre Festival to be staged in October, a children’s film set in Rajasthan in which she plays an 80-year-old grandmother, and her play, Peer Gynt based on Kashmir, and adapted from Lady from the Sea,” says the queen of folk whose two tracks, Dhima Dhima and Nimoli are current favourites this season. While the former is part of musician Dhruv Ghanekar’s album Voyage, Nimoli marks Arun’s debut in Coke Studio@MTV Season 4.
Produced by Ghanekar, also her son-in-law, Nimoli is a fusion of two cultures — Indian and Arabic. With Arun’s seductively deep folk voice set against MC Bobkat’s hip hop vocals, the track weaves a fine texture and tonal balance between two forms of music.
“It’s a song I’ve learnt from the Langa community in Rajasthan. It’s a Marwari folk poem that personifies love with a fruit of ‘neem’. Like the fruit, love too has two sides to it, a touch of sweetness and if unfulfilled, a hint of bitterness,” says Arun. Always travelling and performing with tribal and folk singers, Arun confesses that she was a bit wary of Ghanekar’s jazz style of music. “I didn’t want the soul of my song to be killed, but when he blended it with Arabic music, the desert groove became the common element.”
Her unconditional love for folk music has inspired Arun to release another album Baju Bandh. In this, she infuses life into traditional folk songs, to bring alive a wordplay of folk vocabulary including jhoola, bailgadi, dakiya, chitthi, choodhi, payal, ghaghra, resham ka rumaal, and assi kali ka lehnga. “Folk is the first form of music, and nowadays, has been distorted with raunchy new age lyrics. No one talks of tota-maina ki kahani or oonth ki savari…I want to preserve that and present music youngsters can enjoy too,” says Arun, who has simplified the old lyrics and has recorded tracks such as Sun Sun Sajna, Dera Vekhan Aaye, and Woh jo maare lashkara. With Rajasthani folk at the centre of this 12 track album, Arun has weaved in music from Sindh, Punjab and UP too.
Making an album is one thing, marketing is another, something Arun is finding a bit hard to do. “My contemporaries are still figuring out how this digital revolution helps them sell and make money. The companies running this show need to be more transparent about royalties,” says Arun.