Radhika Sood decodes Sufi songs from the hinterland

‘Ki Jaana Main Kaun,’ an upcoming Sufi concert demystifies the regional nuances of this genre for the interested-but-ignorant listener

June 16, 2023 11:23 am | Updated 11:23 am IST

Radhika Sood

Radhika Sood | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Have you ever wished someone could decode Indian classical music for you? The soul is swayed despite the language barrier, but it would add to the experience if only you could grasp the nuances of the performance.

This weekend, lovers of Sufi music, both novices and afficionados can delight in the musical program titled ‘Ki Jaana Main Kaun’ (I Know Not Who I Am) which will explore the mystical poetry of 16th and 17th century Sufi poets Baba Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain from Punjab.

The event will see introductions, explanations and translations of each of the performances by vocalist Radhika Sood Nayak who will be accompanied by guitarist Neil Mukherjee and tabla artiste Vinayak Netke. All of them are based out of Mumbai. 

“I first heard the late Ankit Chadha, an oral narrative performance artist, use a similar format when I was starting out. Though we couldn’t collaborate due to his prior commitments, he gave me the confidence to try it on my own,” says Radhika Sood.

Neil Mukherjee

Neil Mukherjee | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

That boost was what she needed since Radhika was a fortuitous Sufi singer. “I started singing Sufi kalam by accident. Though I had learnt classical music,my first solo performance was at a devotional event in 2010, after a lot of persuasion by my guru, the late Sushila Rani Patel. As a last minute decision, I added the Sufi song by Abida Parveen Sadde veh De aaya Kar to my set list as the final piece for the evening, as well as a few couplets by Bulleh Shah and Hazrat Sultan Banu. However, my rendition struck a chord with the audience and my own response spurred me to pursue this genre.”

Despite the accolades and many performances to her credit since, Radhika believes she has only begun tapping into the world of Sufi music. “We’ve all heard the popular numbers — Dum Mast Kalandar, Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni — and we know they fall under the Sufi genre. However, only a few truly understand Sufi poetry. I doubt I will be able to comprehend its entirety in this lifetime.”

She adds, “I sing of that which touches me and which provokes questions about the meaning of Life — where am I heading or what am I here for?”

“In 2015, I heard about the Mumbai Kabir Fest, so I approached them to curate something around Bulleh Shah as his poetry is similar to Kabir’s couplets in terms of content. I thought it would be an apt platform to showcase his work as they appeal only to niche audiences.”

Talking about her co-performers, Radhika says both Neil Mukherjee and Vinayak Netke are not strangers on the music scene and it was a happy coincidence that brought them together.

Vinayak Netke

Vinayak Netke | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I met Neil in 2018 when I approached him to produce my first song; I was only singing covers till then, but Ankit had pushed me to start composing as well. Till date, Neil has produced almost six or seven of my songs. Vinayak who composes, arranges and plays the table, has also produced a couple of my songs which are in the pipeline.”

While the evening will see the ensemble focus on original compositions and the works of the largely unsung poets Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain, they will also cover popular numbers.

Bulleh Shah was a Muslim who chose a farmer as his guru, while Shah Hussain romanced a young Hindu boy called Madholal, who later became his disciple. Even today Shah Hussain is known as Madholal Hussain, in the Western part of Punjab, now in Pakistan.

Both the poets defied the conventions of their time, fearlessly questioning the established norms of gender, class, caste, religion and rituals, says Radhika, adding, “They had the courage to pursue their chosen paths and their words are powerful, potent and empowering.”

“Their poetry went beyond the boundaries and binaries of the 16th and 17th centuries when orthodoxy was intense. Their personal choices reflected in their work, making them relevant even today.”

‘Ki Jaana Main Kaun’will be performed at Shoonya Centre for Art & Somatic Practices on June 18, 6.30 pm. Tickets on BookMyShow and Insider.

Radhika Sood

Radhika Sood | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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