“ Ji haan huzoor, main geet bechta hoon,” the opening lines of Geet Farosh (Song Seller) , the lesser-known poem of Hindi litterateur Bhawani Prasad Mishra captures through thinly-laced sarcasm the dilemma of every artist who is forced to sell his craft to the market. It comes as a surprise when a young singer-composer makes it part of his bouquet of songs at music festivals that essentially pander to the market forces. But then that is Harpeet, the artist who wants to remain azaad (free) within the trappings of the system.
“ Main bas beh raha hoon (I am simply flowing) between genres, languages, and dialects to create a musical experience,” says the singer who has an impressive stage presence, winning over purists and the young crowd alike with a voice that appeals to the soul. He sings Avtar Singh Sandhu Pash’s subversive, “ Main ghaas hoon, aapke har kiye dhare par ug aaoonga (I am the grass; I shall grow on everything you did)” in a tune that rattles the ground beneath the seat.
“Ignorance is bliss for me”, he says, for he doesn’t follow a set musical pattern and doesn’t restrict himself to scales. Even the content, he says, assumes new meanings according to context and setting. “‘Ghaas’ sounds anti-establishment but when I sang it for acid survivors in Agra, it assumed a different yet equally powerful meaning. I live with the verse for months and then the tune emerges. Every song has a beautiful journey,” says Harpreet as he breaks into, “ Ye jo pal hai use chhoolo, woh jo kal hai use bhoolo”, that he penned.
His voice with l its depth and sweetness reaches even the last row in an auditorium. “I grew up in a village where we used to call each other while being three-four fields apart. This, perhaps, opened up my vocal cords.” Harpreet’s journey started in Sherpur village near Nilokheri town in Haryana where he grew up listening to his farmer father’s rendering of Bollywood songs. “My cousin had a keyboard and used to learn guitar. I didn’t know why most boys take up guitar in their teenage,” he chuckles. “I had a way with keyboards and my fingers moved freely on the strings of the guitar. I didn’t know, and at times, still could not figure out whether I am in sur or not, but it works.”
Harpreet honed his voice at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in New Delhi where he would spend hours on the tanpura to get the basics right. From the beginning, he says, he was clear that he had to make music his vocation. “I gave up my diploma in Civil Engineering to join the music school. I would travel for three hours from Kurukshetra to Delhi just to attend an hour-long class. As I was noticed by teachers like Samarjeet Roy and support staff, I was allowed to stay longer. I didn’t clear the exams but still, I was allowed to work on my voice.”
Harpreet fondly remembers the discipline of Pandit Madhup Mudgal, the doyen of Hindustani classical music who is the principal of the Mahavidyalaya. “During my stay at the institute, I admired his craft and discipline from a distance.
During a recent performance in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, both the audience and Harpreet got emotional when he sang from his upcoming album which is part of the Khooni Vaisakhi project that marks the poignant memories of the Jallianwala Massacre of 1919. “One of the survivors of the horrific carnage was a young writer Nanak Singh. Soon after, he wrote a long poem titled Khooni Vaisakhi that captured the events of the day. On one hand, it is protest literature that was banned by the colonial government but on the other, it captures the secular ethos of the Freedom Movement. .”
In the past, Harpreet has contributed to the score of some critically acclaimed films such as Moh Maya Money and Bamfaad and is now looking forward to the response to his compositions of Munzir Naqvi’s Sehar. “The film that is doing the rounds of the festival circuit is about Urdu and how a language doesn’t have a religion.”