Folk music is music passed on from one generation to another, orally. However, music evolved from traditional music is also considered folk. Owing to the growth in Indian indie scene, bands have created a newer sound by merging folk music with other genres making way for traditional folk groups or artists to be recognised and promoted in mainstream media. Although both have their own distinct sounds, both forms of music have contextually grown apart. While more sub-genres are being created on side like folk rock, folk fusion, acoustic folk, or even electro folk, on the other side, it is becoming increasingly difficult for traditional groups to sustain. Sure, pushing boundaries in music is always welcome. Let’s look at some of the best musicians and bands who have taken folk music in the right direction.
Hari & Sukhmani are unlike any folk bands one can imagine. When they first launched back in 2009, their electronic sounds blended with punjabi folk melodies was a fresh and eclectic sound! Who would imagine Bulleh Shah and Kabir poetry would sound so good with an addictive electronica groove and ambient music? Since then, their electronic acts at every event has grown on people to an extent that has made them irreplaceable in the the music scene. Their music is in many ways extremely contemporary yet rooted in a way that’s widely appealing to audiences across age groups and cultural backgrounds. Their collaborations with classical artists like Arshad Khan (Esraj), Trilok Gurtu (Percussionist), Thu Le (Western Guitarist), and many others have only added flavours to the already tasteful music that Hari and Sukhani produce. The duo boasts effortless chemistry and tight music production that only makes you want to listen more and get a glimpse of the story that songs from distant lands are telling.
Swarathma led by Raghu dixit’s brother Vasu Dixit, is a comforting mix of Indian classical and folk music with blues, rock, reggae, and other such world styles. The band is known to use their music as modes of activism and motivation amongst citizens at various social initiatives and concerts. Predominantly the band speaks of social issues (sensitive and otherwise) alongside personal experiences in the soundscape of folk, classical, and rock music. Their performances combined with theatrical showmanship and musical expertise brought them immense fame and acclaim making them one of India’s hottest selling live bands. Vasu’s rustic voice, Sanjeev Nayak’s violin, Pavan’s percussions and vocals, and the entire band’s collective effort brews up an extremely jiving sound you can’t escape.
Papon’s eponymous band, ‘Papon Live’ made all the headlines when they first broke into the scene bringing electro folk-fusion of Assamese folk music. Papon released his Assamese debut album in 2004 called ‘Jonaaki Raati’ and Hindi debut in 2012 called “The Story so far” which won the Best Pop Album of The Year at GIMA. Papon’s silky voice coupled with the band’s diverse musicality creates a heartwarming folk fusion experience. The band has a strong fan following across the country and has pushed the boundaries of contemporary folk music.
Kailasa is probably a name one can’t miss out on while talking about folk bands in India. Founder Kailash Kher who credits the name of the band to Mt. Kailash (Shiva’s abode), creates music using contemporary instruments, traditional lyrics, and classical music to bring about a folk and sufi flavour to his music. Often sung by Kailash himself, the band is accredited to have curated some of the most lasting tunes in the industry like “Teri Dewani”, “Saiyyaan”, etc. At the heart of the band’s folk appeal remains the simplicity of each of their melodies and Kailash’s tenor voice which instantly casts a spell you can’t escape. With six albums behind them, this band has ensured enough and more content to serve at ever gig even before performing Kailash’s Bollywood repertoire.
Folkmasti is a recent phenomenon in the Indian folk music scenario that is making news at all the music festivals and independent music awards. This three piece band is a promising contender to carry the flag of folk in the coming years. Beyond covering popular folk numbers like “Sanedo”, “Chaap Tilak”, etc. the band has a fair amount of original content like “Life is Crazy”, “Jaago India”, and “Aamchi Mumbai.”
Tetseo Sisters are an instant port key to North East India or any countryside at least. Their minimally arranged music, simple and obvious harmonies just make you want to sit and enjoy the soundscape they create. Their on stage costumes, traditional instruments, and extremely few contemporary instruments make you hopeful of still being able to preserve the beauty of traditional music and still be futuristic. Their covers of pop numbers aren’t too bad too. If you are a traditionalist like me, you’d prefer listening to their folk content over the usual pop covers.