Being at the forefront of the revival of Uttar Pradesh’s Ganga-Jamuni culture, and also a prominent face of folk music, Malini Awasthi is naturally conscious of the fact that the genre is increasingly facing a dip in popular interest in a country where Bollywood rules. Nevertheless, she says her efforts are on to fight the tide and the euphoria of performing live is still not lost in her. In fact, she is all set to present her first solo performance for her NGO Sonchiraiya at a concert SAAWAN in New Delhi this Saturday. Excerpts from an interview:
With more and more mainstreaming of Western music and also with ever rising interest in Bollywood numbers, folk has suffered a serious setback. How are you fighting this trend?
Due to the transferable nature of my husband’s job, I have been fortunate to taste the flavours of the pristine rural folk music of Uttar Pradesh. However, many talented artistes have been compelled to look for other avenues to make ends meet as the market demand for their kind of music is waning. That has actually led to the birth of my NGO Sonchiraiya which has also transformed me from an artiste to a cultural activist. We institutionalised 150 folk artistes and felicitated unsung folk heroes like Babu Nandanji and Kailashnath Yadav. The NGO continues to promote folk literature in schools and through regular workshops.
You are known to be a captivating performer and of late, you have done playback singing for movies like “Agent Vinod” and “Issaq”. Do you prefer playback to live performances?
There’s nothing like performing live! The connection that is established with the audience is magical. What creates the magic is also the unpredictability offFolk. If a Bollywood number is playing, everybody knows what comes next but folk music changes colours every moment and variations are created extemporarily.
You have performed and received wide acclaim overseas as well. From your experience, how would you look at the attitude of international audience towards Indian folk music internationally?
Indian culture is received very well in other countries. The dedication and sincerity of the people there as an audience is unparalleled and exceeds that of the Indians.
Your upcoming performance at the event SAAWAN will be your maiden solo appearance for Sonchiraiya. What, in particular, should the audience look forward to at the concert?
Monsoon resides in the heart of every artiste. From the literature of Ram and Krishna to harvest to Raksha Bandhan, Monsoon drenches us in jubilation. Folk music celebrates the vibrancy of this season as there is a melody depicting every experience it heralds. Through Awadhi, Mirzapuri and Benarasi Kajri, Ropni, Jatsaar and other forms of folk music, at SAAWAN, we would present the varied hues of monsoon.
What do you think of the ‘modernisation’ of folk music as many popular bands are now seen weaving it into their renditions?
I am a purist. I feel whenever music bands or Bollywood adopt folk music in its true form with the aesthetics intact, it is bound to create a lingering impact. Songs like “Ambarsariya” and “Sasural Genda Phool” owe their success to this honesty of form. I have sung for the popular band Medieval Punditz and they create beautiful folk fusion. But there is also a growing tendency of dishing out anything in the name of catchy gimmicks and lines served with a ‘desi tadka’ and calling it folk. People can see through their crass cacophony.
(Malini Awasthi performs this Saturday at 7:00 pm in at Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi at 7 p.m.)