It's not hard to reason this one but you migh...
"The joy I have found in frugality
That cannot be found in plenty
My Mind has taken to living free!" -Kabir
I've been brought up in that oddly-displaced Indian generation of people who have been so thoroughly globalized that we're always oscillating between two opposite ends of the cultural spectrum--either connecting with our disappearing roots and at times, vanishing further into the arms of the West.
As a result, most of us have ended up learning the piano instead of the harmonium, English instead of Hindi and the lyrics of Nirvana instead of the dohas of Kabir; but still we connect just as easily with the other end of the spectrum should the moment arise. This is probably why Shabnam Virmani and Mooralla Marwada's ode to the evolved 15th century poet resounded stronger with me than I expected!
The folksy trio of Shabnam, her co-singer Namrata Kartik and dholak player, Parbat Jogi, took center stage with quiet confidence. Beginning with one of Kabir's most beautiful poems 'If You've Come From the Dome of the Sky,' I was thrilled to note that the organizers at the Y.B. Chavan Auditorium had spared no expense in ensuring this was a top-notch production. A massive screen placed beside the singer displayed the translated meanings of all the songs they were singing in easy-to-read lettering.
As the night progressed, this simple tool turned out to be my best friend because these songs just do not have the same impact if you can't entirely understand what message they are imparting. From traditional Kutchi to archaic Urduesque Hindi, the language used in the music was not easily understandable for someone who had not been exposed to it.
However, at this point I must admit that Shabnam herself was an extremely engaging performer, clearly explaining what she was about to sing before she actually got to it. Speckling her prose with timely humor and appropriate wisdom, she was a complete pleasure to watch!
With an obvious passion for their music, the trio charged on tirelessly through a beautifully thought-out set list of Kabir, Mira and many other saints' poems. I say "beautifully thought-out" because their choice allowed them to cover a range of insightful topics that Kabir had spoken about.
Their performance finally gave way to Mooralla Marwada and his three Kutchi accompanists. A Gujarati folk singer of the highest pedigree, there's a reason his arrival on stage was so keenly anticipated, and it only took a minute of solo vocals to understand why. Simply put, I am yet to hear a singer with such incredible control and soulful vocals--and I've seen a lot of amazing music acts in my life, so it's not an easy conclusion to come to!
Each tremble in his voice was controlled and each wail so enchanting that I simply could not take my eyes off this man, or my ears away from the sounds of his throaty voice. He began with Kabir's epic verse, 'In This Body' and this song quickly went on to become my favorite performance of the night, both with respect to the melody and meaning.
Describing the fleeting nature of our bodies and lives with a heart-rending sense of poignancy, I found myself deeply moved by it. They too worked through a seamless set of melodic couplets, which covered a range of poets from Kabir and Mira and Dharam Das to Ravidas.
The crowd played its part and was highly enthusiastic from start to finish. But considering the kind of performance these artists delivered, this is not at all surprising! I had the opportunity to speak to a few members of the audience, who unlike me had spent most of their lives listening to such music, and they happily informed me that it was indeed one of the most spectacular shows of they had witnessed.
To me this experience--especially after exclusively attending Western music gigs for a long time--was akin to having a cool glass of coconut water after a lifelong diet of beer. While I can always count on the latter to leave me inebriated and pleasantly numbed, this left me feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and deeply inspired!
After being enlightened by such infectious spiritual maturity, in my opinion there were only three things lacking: the open air, night skies, and a full moon to light it all up!
Here's some video footage of Shabnam doing her thing:
And here's more on the Kabir Festival
-Pictures courtesy kabirfestivalmumbai.org and youthonconference.com-
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