Swarathma and Jumma Khan: A fusion-folk collaboration in EQUALS docuseries

The Bengaluru-based band, Swarathma, collaborated with Mewati folk artist Jumma Khan in the second season of EQUALS

Published - March 28, 2024 03:03 pm IST

Jumma Jogi (left) with Swarathma

Jumma Jogi (left) with Swarathma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Swarathma, a band that has become synonymous with vibrant folk fusion rhythms and socially conscious lyrics, embarked on a journey of musical exploration with Jumma Khan (popularly known as Jumma Jogi), a folk artist whose roots dig deep into the soil of Rajasthan’s rich musical heritage. Their collaboration, featured in the Equals docuseries on JioCinema, is a testament to music’s ability to bridge diverse worlds, merging the modern with the traditional.

The series, produced by the Anahad Foundation, which premiered on January 25, ventures into uncharted territories of sound and collaboration. By pairing popular indie musicians with folk artists, Equals seeks to forge new sonic landscapes while spotlighting the underrepresented voices of India’s vast musical world.

“Collaborating with folk musicians excites me. So, I didn’t hesitate for a moment when the opportunity for Equals came up,” says Vasu Dixit, the lead vocalist of Swarathma. His enthusiasm is palpable, reflecting a more profound yearning to connect with folk music’s raw, unfiltered essence. Yet, beneath the excitement lay apprehensions - would this collaboration echo previous ones, or would it carve out a new sound space? Vasu’s initial concerns quickly dissipated as the collaboration unfolded, revealing that each partnership, like every musical note, resonates with its unique timbre.

Blending Swarathma’s eclectic fusion and Jumma’s traditional melodies was challenging. Yet, in these challenges, the magic of their partnership truly shone. “Our recent collaboration wasn’t drastically different from previous ones... However, in our collaboration with Jumma Jogi, it was mainly Jishnu and me who were mostly communicating, as we aligned closely with his musical style,” Vasu recalls.

“Our band benefits from a diverse range of interests and expertise. Depending on the genre or style of music, different members take on leading roles in collaboration. For example, given our strong interest in that genre, Sanjeev and I usually take the lead if it’s a classical collaboration. This diversity within the band allows us to adapt and excel in various musical contexts, akin to having players specialised in different formats in cricket,” he adds.

For Jishnu Dasgupta, Swarathma’s bassist, the collaboration was a journey into the heart of storytelling through music. “One of the most memorable moments for me was interacting with Jumma saab,” he reminisces, highlighting Jumma’s diverse life experiences and unique approach to weaving satire into his songs. The creative process was a dance of melodies and narratives, with both parties bringing their distinct flavours to the table. A particularly memorable moment was a day-long jam session, distilled into a minute of screen time, where the fusion of Kannada rap and Rajasthani folklore created something entirely new.

Members of Swarathma

Members of Swarathma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The role of technology in this collaborative endeavour cannot be overstated. Varun Murali, the lead guitarist, reflects on how advancements in recording technology have democratised music production, allowing artists to capture their sounds in the most authentic settings. This technological leap, he reckons, has facilitated collaborations that might have once been logistically impossible, ensuring that the essence of folk music can be preserved and amplified in its most genuine form.

Despite the celebratory nature of their collaboration, Equals also sheds light on the darker realities faced by folk artists in India. Jishnu discusses the economic and logistical hurdles, including the corruption that plagues state-sponsored shows. 

“Jumma, in the episode, highlights a significant issue folk artists face: the government-set rate for performances at state-sponsored shows. Despite this standardised rate, corruption runs rampant, as artists are often required to pay off officials to secure bookings. This corruption creates a barrier for artists, as failure to comply can result in being excluded from opportunities,” he says.

Yet, amidst these struggles, the series aims to elevate the voices of folk artists, bridging the gap between their traditional sounds and the global digital audience.

Sanjeev Nayak, the band’s violinist, and Varun both emphasise the transformative power of such collaborations. They are about creating new music and reshaping the mainstream’s understanding and appreciation of folk traditions. Through Equals , the hope is to spotlight folk music’s invaluable cultural heritage, ensuring its survival and relevance in a rapidly changing world.

Equals aims to transcend language, genre, and geography, weaving sounds and stories that resonate with the audience. Vasu’s takeaway from the series is this: “Every voice and every genre of music deserves a platform for expression. Otherwise, they risk fading away unnoticed. Interacting with Jumma and witnessing his unwavering conviction in his beliefs has been truly heartwarming. It has taught me the significance of remaining open-minded, aware, and sensitive to our country’s immense cultural richness.” 

Equals is streaming on JioCinema

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