Two individuals, one aim: to create echoes that resonate across cultural, racial and religious
boundaries, transforming communities through happy, soulful music.
Vocalist / audio engineer Hari Singh and trained Hindustani classical vocalist Sukhmani Malik describe
their music as the translation of various cultural experiences into pure thought. Emanating from places deep within their hearts, the sounds are blissful.
Hari and Sukhmani: two passionate youngsters from Chandigarh who are all set to take on the world with their unique blend of timeless Punjabi music and modern technology. We chat with them briefly about their work, life and the road ahead.
Drawing inspiration from celebrated Sufi poets such as Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid Kabir and Shah Hussain, they merge melodious electronica with soul-stirring Punjabi folk music to deliver magical, uplifting sonic cocktails. Described as an electronica folk duo, Hari and Sukhmani believe that, “Genres are overrated. It’s all about good music flowing straight from the heart: forcing it to produce something to fit a predefined model never works.” Sukhmani defies the age-old mantra that the intensity in an artist’s work is solely from riyaaz, the honing of Hindustani classical music. While practice is essential, she says her energy and emotional depth “is from a place of love.” No amount of riyaaz could produce that.
Hari Singh describes music as ‘soul food’ and his ‘true calling in life’. “After I completed my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, I decided to become a sound engineer. One thing led to another, I began exploring the musical world and this is where I am now.” The maestro regards the direction he’s taken as an irresistibly enigmatic, never-ending learning process, “Even now, I’m taking vocal, and, in fact, life lessons from my Guru, Gursharan Singh.”
Fusion music seems to be the norm today; with all the surrounding hoopla it’s unclear whether artists and audiences really understand it. The pair share a snippet of ‘gyaan’: delving into the history of music revealed to them that there’s been fusion all along, often subtle, sometimes overt. But it’s always been there. For example, in the mid-19th century a group of French missionaries introduced the quintessential harmonium to India. It underwent further development, but remains undeniably French in origin.
Speaking about their own style of music, they emphasise that “Today, rather than questioning fusion, audiences are wholeheartedly embracing it, now that the electronic influence has been firmly entrenched in music production for decades. People from all age groups and walks of life enjoy listening to us.” The duo relish the fact that the majority swarming to their musical shows are non-Indian or Hindu Punjabi speaking, yet they appreciate their music. They enthralled music lovers with their rendition of Challa at MTV Coke Studio. Is Coke Studio a venue artists long for to reach out to a bigger audience? “Definitely! We have vast oceans of unheard folk musicians needing platforms such as Coke Studio to show the world the amazing music mushrooming in the country.” How did MTV Coke Studio happen? “We had a call to perform one day and that was it. It worked wonders for us not only in terms of popularity but also sheer experience.” The duo feels that MTV Coke Studio is one of the best things that has happened to independent music. It’s been a long trip from Coke Studio to performing live in New Delhi, San Francisco and Dubai, as well as collaborating with Morchang player Chugge Khan of Rajasthan Josh and Esraj player Arshad Khan.
Their experience of working with ‘Arshad Bhai’ and ‘Chugge Bhai’ was overwhelmingly positive: “We consider ourselves lucky to weave music with such fabulous artistes. They’re truly inspiring. Working with them isn’t work, it’s a party!” There have also been cross-border collaborations with musicians such as Iranian percussionist Fakhruddin Gaffari, western guitarist Thu Le from Vietnam and Pakistan’s Noori. The music has nourished their souls and they’d like to help others experience the same joy.
As far as plans go for an album release, Hari and Sukhmani seem have something in store. “Keep your feelers out,” they say with a tinge of mischief. “We’ll soon be releasing singles from our website.”
Contrary to perception, the composers are no strangers to films having created music for Deepa Mehta’s Videsh/Heaven on Earth. So how was it working for the exacting Deepa Mehta? Hari concedes that the filmmaker doesn’t settle for less when it comes to strumming the perfect chords for her soundtracks. “She’s very demanding and that’s the reason why her movies are amazing works of art. I was quite nervous when we presented the work to her because we did it in a very tight timeframe.” Happily, Deepa loved it and there was the immense creative satisfaction of pleasing someone who sets the bar so high.
So, are they dabbling with the idea of taking their music a notch higher and storming the cut-and-thrust world of mainstream Hindi cinema? Regarding music as a tool for self-expression, the duo believe that their creative work mightn’t mesh well with a format which is all about releasing mass market albums. “We don’t think Hindi films need any more music producers! We like to make music according to our own strengths and the demands of our songs. Mainstream cinema is purely a tale of pleasing the audience, of trying to fit in.” They scoff at the idea of fine tuning their music into a marketing gimmick, and express frustration that not many people are getting to know real Punjabi music. It’s not all about Mika Singh or gyrating to Yo! Yo! Honey Singh: if it were, it’d be a sorry joke.
As NRIs, how do we tell the world that Punjab boasts a cornucopia of cultural richness inherent in its music? “There’s a need to identify and conduct in-depth studies of the culture, history and evolution of Punjabi music. Artistes like Surinder Kaur and Asa Singh Mastana dedicated their lives to the cause of Punjabi folk music and many in the younger generation are oblivious to that.” Hari and Sukhmani feel that this is where their music steps in, nurturing efforts to revive folk music among urban youth.
The duo has played at Punjabi weddings; they say they enjoy shedding the burden of being centre stage artistes and have fun performing amid festive ambience. “It’s also huge exposure: we get to travel to various parts of the globe and play to whole new groups of people.”
Having displayed their huge musical talent in the land of the Sheikhs, they spell out “Dubai rocks!!” as the outro to their musical adventure with The Indian Trumpet.
Hari + Sukhmani have lent their touch to the traditional, magical Punjabi song, Boohey Barian…
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!