A language for all

Updated: Dec 28, 2019, 09:41 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi | Mumbai

At a time when the country is at a crossroad, a Hindustani classical and Sufi singer talks about the unifying nature of music

Smita Rao Bellur
Smita Rao Bellur

Ek harfe tamanna hoon
Badi der se chup hoon
Kab tak mere maula?
Kab tak mere maula?

I am only a syllable of desire
Have been quiet for too long
How much longer, my Lord?
How much longer, my Lord?

This is a beautiful kalaam about connecting our energies with God. And a plea to the one who resides in our hearts asking them to ensure that it isn't broken," eulogises Smita Rao Bellur, who will be performing in Mumbai on January 3 as part of a traditional Sufi music show called Kun Faya Koon — Sufi Verses of Love. The performance at Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir in Bandra will have Bellur present the richness of profound poetry (set to Indian classical ragas), along with anecdotes, insights and narratives by Suhail Akhtar Warsi.

A disciple of the Jaipur Kirana Gharana, she began training in Hindustani classical when she was in the third grade. Growing up in Bengaluru, she continued her training, while pursuing studies on the side and went on to complete her masters in science from BITS Pilani, which culminated in jobs at IT firms. Bellur worked in that sector for years while also performing at large-scale concerts and musical shows, beginning with her first one in 2000, until she quit in 2013 to take the full plunge into music. Before that, in 2009, something inside Bellur resonated deeply with Sufi music and tradition, sparking a tryst with the devotional music form.

Today, Bellur has become India's first female Hindustani vocalist to be accepted into a lineage of traditional qawwals, but the inquest can be traced back to a time before she started training in Hindustani classical. She says, "In South India, households don't have a culture of listening to Hindi music but my dad, fortunately, would play classical music, for me. Perhaps, it was because he had lived in places like Belgaum before. I remember listening to qawwalis and ghazal singers like Ahmed and Mohammed Hussain. So, I grew up listening to all kinds of music on the radio and the tape recorder."

The inculcation of openness to different cultures and traditions led to Bellur blossoming into an artiste who chiefly wanted to connect to people with her art. And after years of performing in Hindustani classical, her heart veered towards, as she says, "something more wordy," adding, "Whenever I was listening to classical music, I ended up analysing too much. But it was different with Sufi music. There's a particular kalaam, a version of Allah Hu by the Warsi brothers, which is slow and meditative; it took me to a different level, and there has been no looking back, because I realised that this is a form of music that can entirely soak you in," she elaborates, adding that shifting her focus to Sufi music from classical has also helped her reach out to more people, because impediments like language or translating them don't apply as much to Sufi kalaams (or the written word).

Bellur speaks about the openness with which she was accepted in the Sufi circuit and the cross-cultural synergy between all artistic traditions. Be it Hindustani classical singers reiterating verses from the Quran, or the Dagar Brothers (Nasir and Nasir Faiyazuddin), who were famous for singing Dhrupad, which drew from Bhakti Ras, and therefore entailed singing about Shiva. At a time when the country is grappling with questions around identity, it makes one wonder if fissures exist only in the political society, as it were. "This is a world that is very open, inclusive, accepting and diverse. There are no religious borders in music because there are only two kinds music — good and bad."

On January 3, 7.30 pm
At Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir, 24th and 32nd Road, Bandra West.
Log on to insider.in
Cost Rs 200 onwards

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