Staying alive with a beat

Jun 29, 2014, 07:11 IST | Anu Prabhakar

A new album launched by a Dubai-based couple aims to keep the rich musical heritage of the quickly disappearing  Thathai Bhatia community alive

In June 2012, Dubai-based couple Bharat and Deepa Chachara were witness to a rare moment of silence at a wedding. Rare, because the wedding was partly Punjabi. "The wedding was between a Thathai Bhatia girl and a Punjabi boy. During the sangeet, ladies from the boy's side were singing their traditional Punjabi songs. Later, they asked us to sing traditional songs from our community and there was silence. There weren't any elders in our group and none of us knew the songs. And before you knew it, everyone started singing Bollywood songs," explains Chachara, who is general manager of the India Club in Dubai.

Jagdish Lalwani, Jaishree Bathija and Kavita Balram Mirchandani at Lalwani’s studio in Chembur
Jagdish Lalwani, Jaishree Bathija and Kavita Balram Mirchandani at Lalwani’s studio in Chembur. PIC/EMMANUEL KHARBARI

Rough estimates put the number of Thathai Bhatias, a sect under the Sindhi community, at a mere 15,000 worldwide. "It struck me that if there was no one to take this forward, in 10 to 15 years, the whole culture will die out," he says. This convinced the couple, who have previously launched books on Thathai Bhatia food and culture, to launch a music album of traditional songs sung by the community.

Bharat and Deepa Chachara
Bharat and Deepa Chachara

However, the Chacharas only had a Gujarati book on vyaan ja raags (or, wedding songs), which was nearly 50 years old, as a reference point during research. "We didn't understand the language in the book as it was in the purest form," recalls Chachara. "We sat down with a 94-year-old woman from our community to discuss the songs and get the right meaning of the lyrics," he adds. The songs in the book lucidly describe life in a desert through scenes of camel-riding, pottery  and bangle-making.

From Dubai to Mumbai
Later that year, the Chacharas got in touch with Mumbai-based music composer and arranger Jagdish Lalwani, who has almost 10 Sindhi albums to his credit. Lalwani is also a well-known name in Bollywood, where he has worked for nearly 20 years with renowned music composers and singers like Udit Narayan and Anuradha Paudwal, to name a few.

What followed was months of discussions between Lalwani and the Chacharas, including via Skype. The couple even flew to Mumbai twice and spent their days commuting between Kandivli and Lalwani's studio in Chembur every day, to record the album and fine-tune the dialect of the album's two main Sindhi singers, Jaishree Bathija and Kavita Balram Mirchandani. "Thathai Bhatias' language (a dialect of Sindhi called the Bhatia Boli) has a bit of Gujarati as well, so it took us almost a month to just get the dialect right," recalls Lalwani, who works on his Bollywood projects in the day and spends his nights composing Sindhi music out of sheer passion.
Music knows no barrier
You won't hear western instrumental music in the album, Halo Dhol Vajayoun (meaning, Let's beat the drums), for the Chacharas were convinced that only traditional musical instruments should be used to compose the album's music. Hence, the album's ten songs are punctuated with musical beats by the dhol, shehnai and sarangi.  "These songs are very rare and have never been recorded before," says Lalwani. "They capture different moods - there are songs of worship, songs of celebration, wedding songs and even songs that women used to sing to each other while working in the village. It is very folksy and includes the 'jhamat' rhythm by the dhol and tabla, which is very Sindhi," he says.

"I don't think language is a barrier to enjoy music at all," continues Lalwani, with a smile. "Years ago, the Macarena song became hugely popular. But did of us know its meaning?" he asks.

The album, which was launched in Dubai nearly a month ago, will get launched this weekend in the city at the community’s centre in Kewal Baug, Kandivli.

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