“An undeniable concordance of melody.”
The state of Uttar Pradesh, being the most populated, is bound to be one of the most cultured states within the country, and being in the heart of the state is a privilege for all explorers of art and culture. As we moved further in our exploration of music in Awadh, we learned about more classical and folk art forms in the state. Some were purely musical, and others had a few dance forms accompanying the beats. Most of the folk music that we discovered brought together various elements of nature. This time, our journey has brought us to a highly educated and accomplished musician and singer of a congruent opinion, Dr Seema Bharadwaj.
The team’s first interaction was at Bhatkhande University, one of the oldest educational institutions of Lucknow when it comes to the field of music and art forms related to it. Everyone at the University would speak of how well-read and educated she is and her expertise in music. Being an academic and an accomplished music teacher, she ushered in confidently as we discussed different art forms to be explored in the region of Awadh, the most prominent ones being Sugam Sangeet and Thumri.
Inspired by her mother during her childhood, she began learning from her at the tender age of 6. Eventually taking advanced training in music at Bhatkhande University and eventually joined as a staff. Her spirit and maturity about how she approaches her work and practice in music are commendable. Her belief that music lies in every individual and goes hand in hand with nature is reflected in her undeniable vocal finesse. She elaborated her experience with musical practices as a profoundly spiritual experience that she discovered during childhood and youth. One of her stories about how nature and their attraction, while she practised her vocals, was the most awe-inspiring as she told us about the money plant that would grow in the direction that she’d sit in instead of growing out the window towards the sun.
The next afternoon, we experienced her vocal grace along with her fellow artists who were diverse in terms of their experience as there was a young student who was being taught by her, two highly experienced and coveted musicians from the University, and a Sarangi maestro, Zeeshan Abbas. While Arjun Bhatt Ji, a highly coveted Tabla player in the city of Lucknow, came in with a cheerful attitude only to enliven the scene with his vibrant smile. He went on to talk about the beats and percussion he has mastered so diligently through his experience in playing the Tabla. Prakhar Pandey, the young student who is learning and developing his vocal skills with a dazzling talent assisted the group in highlighting her choruses with his backing vocals. His eyes were twinkling, and his smile was serene. As silent as he was during the setting up of our portable studio equipment before the recording, his deep and soothing voice only added up to the charm of the show.
When we began recording their songs, we heard Dr Seema’s beautiful voice bloom and set an undeniably concording tone with each instrument sounding in harmony with each other. The sensational beats of Arjun Ji’s Tabla and the symphonious Sarangi came together so that losing ourselves into the experience seemed like the only viable option. These songs, primarily spiritual, were concordant to the kind of stories Dr Seema had shared with us, attracting a dancing peacock to the site of the recording. It was a statement made by nature to set this performance apart post which she started singing –
“Sakhi sanwaro Girdhar Gopal,
(Friends let’s ornament Girdhar Gopal)
Jaake mora mukut kundal kaan sobhit,
(Adorn him with a peacock-feathered crown and beautiful earrings)
It was the harmony of music with the natural spirit of these highly talented folk artists that made a mark on all our minds and their masterfulness that gave us all this experience of a lifetime. As we left the site with wonder and awe in our hearts, our holy grail was the spirit of music wrapped into the humility of these artists who set out to preserve, perform, and at the same time master the originality of the outset of tunes that rule a billion hearts in the country.