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Gujarati classical music and folk music is not just about Garba




The Indian state of Gujarat is primarily known for its business community. The Gujaratis are known to be an aspirational lot who seek to enjoy the luxuries of life. Their aim is to reach the pinnacle in their business fields. A rather unknown facet of the state is its rich music history. Gujarati classical and folk music has quite a varied spectrum. Garba is the most popular genre of music from the state but it is not the only one.

The Gujarati classical music includes the sugam sangeet, dayro, natya sangeet, garba, bhajans, sant vaani and ghazals. Yes, ghazals. At a point in time, Gujarati ghazals were only secondary to their urdu and hindi counterparts. The Gujarati classical music has a lot of colour. It is filled with stories of war, sufferings of women, devotional and festive songs. The dialect is very distinct to the region of its origin. A Dayro is a music performance where the performer delivers religious as well as social message. Its popularity is limited to the older people and in the rural areas as the rustic language is unappealing to the rest. Sugam sangeet is mellow with a more formal literature. It is a light classical form of music with equal distribution of poetry n music.

“In sugam sangeet words and tunes both are equally important. You have to pay attention and be immersed in it to understand and enjoy it. The audience participation is limited. The words are not simple so is the tune,” explained Alaap Desai.

Alaap is trained in Gujarati classical music and is a known ghazal singer among the present generation. He is also a composer and has released 3 Gujarati ghazal albums in the past 10 years.

The decline of Gujarati classical music

The once rich music tradition of the state is on a decline. The out flux of the population to other parts of the country and the world has played its role in the decline. The new generation cannot relate to the original language because of limited exposure. This has led to lyricists penning simpler lyrics to build a connection with the audience. Hence the overall standard of the song suffers.

“I was told by a popular Gujarati ghazal singer to use simple lyrics. One hit song will make you a star. But that is not who I am. I politely turned him down,” recalled Alaap.

The ‘baithak’ culture

The other reason could be the lack of community setups. Across India, classical music is performed for a limited audience in a ‘baithak’. This ‘baithak’ culture is practically non-existent in Gujarat.

“There has always been a need for ‘baithaks’ in Gujarat. It is at these recitals that an artist can sing rare compositions to try and test waters. If the limited audience is receptive, the artist will be encouraged to perform it on a bigger stage,” feels Gujarati classical singer, Himali Vyas Naik.

The multidimensional state has somehow never taken music as a profession. Music has always been considered as a hobby. The professionals have been from a handful of communities like the Barots and Ghadvis.

“I would attribute this to the difference in culture. For example, the south Indians or the Bengalis are more artistic and educative. Gujarat has always been attracted more towards trade and commerce,” quipped Jahnvi Shrimakar, a classical singer who also dabbles in fusion music.

The lack of music education has meant that the audience has been made to listen to the same set of songs at almost every performance. This has kept them at bay. Would anyone attend a concert where the same songs are performed albeit by different artists? No. The Gujarati classical musicians have for long lived in a shell. Most of them are content with repetitive performances as it keeps the oil burning in their house. Some of them are now putting their hand up and experimenting with newer content and genres.

Embracing the change

Indian classical music has readily embraced fusion music and this has helped it attain wider popularity. Sadly, the Gujarati classical music has been staying put. Artists like Salim-Sulieman have recently reproduced some old gems in a more contemporary fashion. Music composer Amit Trivedi has used a lot of Gujarati classical music and its folk elements in his compositions. They have remained true to the soul of the songs while incorporating a modern style. The millennials have readily given their approval to these songs.

“Artists are afraid to experiment, may be due to commercial pressure and insecurity. By representing our old gems, while keeping its essence intact, we can help in keeping the legacy alive. As artists we need to take a little risk for this to happen,” said Himali.

Concurring to Himali’s view is Jahnvi, who is currently working on a cover album of selected Gujarati classical music gems.

“The audience did not grow as the same old songs are still performed. The artists have to produce new stuff and even the audience has to be receptive. I put the onus on the artist. The artists are more business minded so the music has been side lined,” quipped Jahnvi.

Garba and its popularity

Gujaratis love their garba. This does not mean there are no takers for the other aspects of Gujarati classical music. The investors, who readily shell out even 5 figure sums for a Bollywood artist, are reluctant to venture into hosting a sugam sangeet recital. The lack of lucrative returns can be attributed to this but someone needs to stick their neck out. For this to happen the artists and the fans also have to take the initiative. An art and artist can grow only through its supporters.

“The audience needs to buy our music and not download it through pirated sites. It is impossible to even sell 4000 tickets for a concert featuring eminent Gujarati classical musicians. Just pretending to like our music is not helping us, the art and the industry,” asserted Alap.

Popularity is what draws in the crowd. The most popular genre of Gujarati  music currently is garba. It is widely believed that the garbas sung on stage during the navratri festival is its only form. The garba has roots in folklore and many contemporary musicians have composed newer tunes. The traditional garbas are mostly sung in the house holds during festivities. Artists like Falguni Pathak, Preeti-Pinky, Soli and Nisha Upadhyay have made the genre popular worldwide.

“In the other genres, the song writing is not as simple as in garba. One cannot go home humming it. So garba is more popular. As the audience can still sing it hours or days after the performance as the words and tune are simple,” feels Alap.

Adding her views, Himali said,

“Garba became popular as it was a community festival. Anyone could join along to sing and dance. It is one of the longest song and dance festival, stretching for 9 days. But churning out Bollywood songs in the garb of garba is not the way to go.”

gujarati classical music

Preserving the heritage

As is the case with artists from almost all states of the country, Bollywood is the pot of gold the Gujarati artists aim for. The lure of Bollywood, for the fame and fortune it has to offer is hard to miss. The challenge for the existing Gujarati classical musicians is to develop an interest in their music among the upcoming generation. Like charity, this too can begin at home. Educating their own family would be the first step. Supporting art and culture is also the government’s prerogative and the Gujarat state government has been fairly active on this front. To keep this rich legacy alive, the Gujarati language needs to be restored. As the saying goes, ‘The language that is sung will survive’.

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