Colours of Earth Music

Malini Awasthi: The folk singer who rocks

Singer Malini Awasthi   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Malini Awasthi’s entries are always dazzling. Whether to a meeting of the advisory committee for folk and tribal arts of Sangeet Natak Academy or to the stage to perform folk songs. ‘Reliya bairan piya ko liye jaye re’ (the train is taking away my man), describing how she misses him and the things he might see on the train. She is up and dancing on the stage and calls out to kids in the audience to come and be the train. They run up from all over. One girl holds her waist from the back as Malini leads the train . They quickly slip into the mood and sway exactly like the singer, who takes them on a journey — all over the stage and into the audience.

Born into an affluent family of Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh in which there were no singers , Malini’s parents wanted their daughter to learn Hindustani music as a pastime. She trained under Shujat Hussain Khan of Rampur Gharana and Rahat Ali Khan of Gorakpur.

But Malini took to music so seriously that she decided to do her Masters in Hindustani music from Bhatkande University. It was at the convocation that she met Girija Devi, the acclaimed musician of the Benaras Gharana. She heard Malini sing and asked if she would like to come to Benaras to learn from her. Malini was engaged to be married to an IAS officer then and could not make it. As luck would have it, her husband got posted in Benaras. Realising Malini’s love for folk songs, Girija Devi taught her some and encouraged her to learn from others too.

“Folk music is the true connect to our tradition. They give voice to the people of the rural landscape, who are hardly heard,” says the singer. “They are sensuous and stirring; intimately bound to seasons, colours and the smell of the earth,” she adds.

As a student of classical music and later, as a performer, Malani saw that recognition and reception for folk music were not what they should be. Organisers and listeners did not consider it part of mainstream music.

“They think folk music is devoid of technique and lacks emotion. Nothing can be farther than the truth. The untrained folk performers can move you to tears. I feel sad that our beautiful dialects are being forgotten. In Uttar Pradesh there are five main dialects — Awadhi, Braj, Bhojpuri, Bundheli and Khadi boli .

The younger generation is moving away from our ethos and culture; hardly showing any interest in songs of these dialects. I began to collect these songs and learnt quite a few from my grandmother. Almost every household in UP have a dholak to play while singing. I remember, as a child, writing down the lyrics and trying to sing them.”

Malini felt it was her calling to give space to folk songs on the mainstream stage and get young people to enjoy by contemporising them. She intersperses the songs with stories from folk literature to make them exciting. Malini developed a style of her own to sing folk songs. “Humour in Bhojpuri movies have given a shallow image to the language. I am very pained by this. So wanted to do something about it.”

Malini Awasthi sings about the travails of a child bride, drudgery of household chores, joy of welcoming the rain and changes in the seasons.

She currently on a tour of Europe, taking Indian folk flavours to faraway lands.

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Printable version | Sep 12, 2021 5:38:40 PM |

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