India Uncut

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sufiana, Punjabiat and Bruce Springsteen

The Indian pop music scene – as distinct from film music – is in a depressing state. Remixes and formula Indi-pop rule the airwaves, and the genuinely talented musicians are spending their time doing jingles, trying to break into film music, or are wasting away together. Onto this stage strides a homegrown Punjabi singer who is inspired by Bruce Springsteen, loves sufi music, sings in Punjabi, and writes most of his own songs. Have you heard Rabbi Shergill?

A few days ago, I was casually surfing my TV when I came across Rabbi’s first video, “Bulla Ki Jana”, on Channel [V]. It wasn’t a breath of fresh air – it was a gust of oxygen. The lyrics of the song was the famous poem by the Sufi saint, Bulla Shah, set to rocking music that did not feel, for a moment, that it wasn’t worthy of the words that went along with it. The video was excellently shot, and did a service to the viewer with translations of the lyrics appearing on it, so that even people who didn’t know Punjabi got the gist of the beautiful poetry.

There are enough signs on the album to indicate that Rabbi is an artist with a rare talent, bringing different traditions together in a seamless blend. His earthy singing perfectly complements the modern rock vibe of all the songs, and his lyrics frame the concerns of our times in beautiful Punjabi. (Six of the nine songs on the album have lyrics by him, the rest are set to traditional Punjabi poems.) Here’s a sample, from the last song on the album, “Jugni”, that perfectly demonstrates his blending of tradition with modernity:

Jugni ja varhi Punjab
Jithe parhe likhe bekaar
Vech Zameena Javan Bahar
Uthey maran jhadu
Uthey gori len viyah
Pichay tabbar take rah
Veer meriya ve Jugni kehndi aa
Ek Navin Udari Lehndi aa

(Jugni blazed into Punjab
Where the educated are unemployed
Selling off their lands and going abroad
Where they sweep floors
Where they marry a white girl
Back home the family awaits their return
Jugni says, My brother
Today I soar on a new flight)

Jugni ja varhi Bambai
Jithe saunda koi nahin
Sab labhan cheez koi
Kisse kisse nu labhe
Jinnu labhe oh bechain
Matthe vat fir usdey painh
Veer meriya ve Jugni kehndi aa
Ik saah sabar da laindi aa

(Jugni blazed into Bombay
Where no one ever sleeps
And everyone is looking for something
Very few ever find it
Those who find it lose their calm
Lines appear on their forehead
Jugni says, My brother
I heave a sigh of contentment)

The album itself is a bit uneven, but the few great songs that are on it make it worth every rupee. “Bulla ki Jana” is magnificent, “Tere Bin” is one of the best love songs I’ve heard in months and “Gill ‘te Guitar” would do Springsteen, an early influence on Rabbi, proud. Grab hold of this album and listen.
amit varma, 6:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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