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Beyond the bhangra beat

Bringing together artistes from across the various corners of Punjab, Peninsula Studios' Rangley Punjabis is an ode to the state's rich folk music

Blue eyes and amplifiers may have dominated popular Punjabi music recently, with bhangra and Yo Yo Honey Singh becoming synonymous with the state, but Punjab has a wealth of folk music that has not received due attention in the mainstream.

Maninder Singh Chahl, Balwinder Singh Mast, Subroto Chattopadhyay, Vishaljit Kaur and Ranjhan Ali Qawwal
Maninder Singh Chahl, Balwinder Singh Mast, Subroto Chattopadhyay, Vishaljit Kaur and Ranjhan Ali Qawwal  

The rich repertoire of songs and ballads — bolliyaan, tappas, geets, qawwalis and kalaams written by great poets including Bulleh Shah and Baba Fareed — talk of nature and seasons and regale listeners with folk tales. And this is exactly what Rangley Punjabis, an album curated recently by Peninsula Studios and launched by Universal Studios, hopes to showcase.

The project began in March 2014, with a workshop in Noida on the music and poetry of Punjab, which led Peninsula Studios to 438 musicians across the state. The team sifted through 2,600 minutes of music before finally taking off to Punjab to meet 50 musicians, of which 21 artistes feature in the album.

State-wide hunt
Peninsula Studios organised auditions in Naushera, Verka, Amritsar, Patiala, Badal, Panchkula and Chandigarh, but the team also visited villages and towns like Channo and Phagwada. Although language proved to be a barrier between the artistes and the team from the studio, music and humour worked well to break the ice.

Led by studio head Avinash Chordia, Narinder Tawakley, head of events, Peninsula Studios, did the groundwork scouting for musicians from across the state, and Neel and Miti Adhikari put the album together. "But it was Dolly Guleria who suggested the name of the album," reveals Subroto Chattopadhyay, chairman and co founder of The Peninsula Studios, honoured to have had the chance to meet the artiste, the daughter of the legendary folk singer Bibi Surinder Kaur.

"We also met the extremely talented Balwinder Singh Mast from Naushera, who sang Challa in his very own special way, and discovered Ranjhan Ali from Verka who sings qawwali in Punjabi as part of the Ranjhan Ali Qawaali Group," he adds.

A contemporary touch
The album gives audiences a new version of the folk songs, some still popular within the state, others lesser known. "We have used a variety of instruments, not limiting ourselves to folk. Aesthetically, the music makes a shift from its roots, but we hope it retains its original intent and intonation," says Neel, music director and singer-songwriter of Neel & The Lightbulbs Calcutta Collective.

According to London-based Miti Adhikari, who worked on the mixing and mastering of the album, all the songs were 'self-selecting'. "We didn't have to scratch our heads too much to work out the tracks that would fit well together. My favourite is Challa. It's a unique take on an old favourite," she says. Agreeing with Miti, Chattopadhyay credits Balwinder Singh Mast for nailing the track in one take. "When he sings 'challa mud ke naaa aaya' in his unique voice, he moves you to tears," he adds.

Not limiting the album to one particular genre, Rangley Punjabis aims to showcase the different styles and genres within the folk idiom in Punjab. "There's a beautiful sufi number Kamli by Afshana, Jindua by Maninder Singh, the mother and daughter song Mawan te Dheeyan by Dolly Guleria and her daughter and there's Boliyan by Vishaljit Kaur," says Chattopadhyay.

The Rangley Punjabis project is second in the studio's 'Discovering the Peninsula' series. Their first album showcased the popular Mast Qalandars from Rajasthan, who are heading to Dubai for their first overseas live performance.

"Our vision is to cover the entire peninsula, the Kashmir valley, Assam along the river Brahmaputra, Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan, which is across Rajasthan and on to Afghanistan and Bangladesh. For the next edition, we will choose between Kashmir, the North East and Uttar Pradesh," adds Chattopadhyay.

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