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Singer Kavita Seth, son team up for new album

Singer Kavita Seth and her son Kanishk are out with their album Trance with Khusrau, which marries Sufi poetry with trance music. Nikshubha Garg speaks to the pair about the album, Sufi poetry and its commercialisation in Bollywood

Aaj rang hai hey maan rang hai ri
Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri
Sajan milaavra, sajan milaavra,
Sajan milaavra moray aangan ko
Aaj rang hai...

Centuries on, these lines from Amir Khusrau’s Aaj Rang Hai continue to resonate with Sufi followers. The qawwali — one of the most popular ones by the Sufi saint — has been adapted numerous times and sung by the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ghulam Hussain Niazi. The latest addition to this list is singer Kavita Seth, whose rendition of the qawwali is one of the eight songs in her newly- released album titled Trance with Khusrau. The album, which released on October 30, is produced by the 44-year-old singer’s son, Kanishk.

Singer Kavita Seth with her 18-year-old son and music producer,  Kanishk
Singer Kavita Seth with her 18-year-old son and music producer, Kanishk. Pic/Nimesh Dave

We meet Seth and her 18-year-old son at their Goregaon residence to know more. Dressed in a long skirt and kurta, Seth hovers around her son to make sure he looks presentable enough for the interview, before settling down for a chat. “Khusrau wrote this song when he decided to become Nizamuddin Auliya’s disciple. This song symbolises my first project with Kanishk,” beams the proud mother.

Trance mixed with Sufi
Four years ago, Kanishk, who learnt sound engineering under sound recordist Vikrant Hazare, began dabbling in music production. Out of habit, the budding artiste composed music samples he could work on later. One such 10-minute sample, which Seth fell in love with the moment she heard the loop, became a part of the singer’s rendition of the classic Aaj Rang Hai. “We recorded the song in one take,” recalls Kanishk.

Like the name of the album suggests, Trance with Khusrau marries Sufi poetry with trance music. “While evolving as an artiste, I listened to a lot of trance music. One fine day, my mother and I added some poetry to the music and loved the end product. After that, we kept composing songs. My mother rates pronunciation and lyrical content very highly and taught me how certain words in a song need to be emphasised on. Also, she taught me the technique of keeping the soul of Sufism intact while mixing in trance music,” explains Kanishk.

Seth, on the other hand, credits her son with broadening her horizon. “Before I worked with him, I only knew Sufi music and considered all other forms of Western music as pure noise,” she smiles.

It was a gruelling period, peppered with light moments. For instance, Kanishk remembers the time his mother stunned him with her knowledge of electronic music terminologies. “We were listening to a song and mom suddenly said ‘Ye drop bahut achcha hai, hamein use karna chahiye’ (This drop is really good. We should use it). I couldn’t believe that she had picked up so soon,” laughs the teenager.

Bound by music
The album comprises eight songs, including two instrumental tracks. Apart from Western beats, the tracks also include the tunes of Indian instruments such as esraj and bamboo flute. “There are two reasons for doing this. Firstly, we wanted to maintain the authenticity of Indian music in the album, especially when we release it on a global level. And secondly, Kanishk wanted a common thread to connect all songs and that thread is esraj. You can hear the instrument in five songs,” says the singer, who is a huge fan of singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen.

Apart from being faced with the task of combining two different music genres in the album, the pair faced several other challenges. “Many people asked us to make changes to the songs. Some liked the trance music better, some the Sufi lyrics. We decided that creativity is subjective and we can only be successful if we follow our heart,” she says.

So, will we ever see the singer branch out into other genres of music? “I am open to all sorts of songs. The only condition is that it should connect with my soul,” she says. And what about future projects with Kanishk? “I have so many projects for and with him. But he just doesn’t have the time,” Seth says with a hearty laugh.

Sufi in Bollywood

Although Seth agrees that Bollywood has been instrumental in making Sufi songs popular, she points out there is a flipside as well. “Now, filmmakers who don’t understand Sufi at all are doing anything in its name. Kisi bhi gaane mein ‘allah’, ‘maula’ daalne se gaana sufi nahin bann jaata (A song doesn’t become Sufi if you insert words like ‘allah’, ‘maula’ in it),” she says, adding that only Murshid Khele Holi from D-Day and Maula Mere Maula from Anwar came close to being pure Sufi songs. “The dignity and purity of the song should be maintained,” she adds.

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