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Kolkata’s Neel Adhikari On Finding The Sajda Sisters

After discovering Rajasthani folk, the singer-songwriter and producer made a trip to find some of Punjab’s best local talent

Anurag Tagat Nov 20, 2014
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(left) Neel Adhikari with the Sajda Sisters at Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh in September. Photo: Pranab Doley

Kolkata singer-songwriter and producer Neel Adhikari let’s us in on a fun fact about ghazals while he’s talking about his new Punjabi folk music project. Says Adhikari, “Right from the birth of ghazal music, the acoustic guitar has always been a part of the music.” Helming the production of Punjabi folk album Rangley Punjabis of the Peninsula Studios, Adhikari recorded with folk artists from Naushera, Verka, Badal, and Patiala in Punjab, presenting a mix of contemporized folk music that stays true to its roots.

Neel, along with his cousin and producer Miti Adhikari and drummer Avinash Chordia [from Kolkata rock band The Supersonics] were commissioned by Delhi-based content creation house Peninsula Studios for Rangley Punjabis. The Adhikari cousins had also worked together for Peninsula Studios’ earlier production, Mast Qalandars of The Peninsula Studios, released in 2013 and featuring Rajasthani artists such as singer Kutle Khan. The initial challenge was finding an authentic sound, says Chordia. Peninsula’s events manager Narinder Tawakley did most of the research about artists, narrowing down to a longlist of 50 artists, of which 21 feature on Rangley Punjabis. Chordia says they’ve found music that explores Punjabi folk much beyond the realm of its usage in mainstream Bollywood. Says Chordia, “We can even do a full album of wedding songs of just one region or a Qawwali album.”

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When Neel went out on a reconnaissance mission through Punjab to find and record artists in July this year, he was most impressed by the singing trio of the Sajda Sisters. Says Adhikari, “One of them, Afshana, was already studying at a music school and we were blown away by the way she sings.” Adhikari roped in the Sajda Sisters ”“ Afshana, Rajia and Raman ”“ for a performance at the Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh in September, giving the North East a of Punjabi folk. From the 10-track album Rangley Punjabis, the Sajda Sisters feature on three tracks, including “Rabba Yaar Mera” and “Mitti Da Bawa” with Neel playing guitars over a dhol rhythm.

The producer says that although he wanted to include western instruments, contemporizing the folk sound wasn’t his aim at all. “You’re not going to hear any guitar solos or anything. I just wanted to give it [the music] a nice bed of chords. We didn’t want to use that keyboard and electronic drumpad setup that’s often used to make folk hip, because it’s got that smell of mainstream, which gives it a strong push towards mediocrity.” While Adhikari didn’t add any guitars while he was recording with Amritsar-based Qawwali singer Ranjan Ali Qawwal, he turned Patiala singer Maninder Singh’s song “Jindwa” into a party-starter. Says Adhikari, “It has claps and shouts when the song starts, which makes it sounds like a party.” Since traditional folk songs in Punjab were meant to encourage boisterous dancing, it isn’t really difficult to turn these songs into dance songs, adds Adhikari. Adds Miti Adhikari, who mixed and mastered the album, “Do we want it to become contemporized to Bollywood and alternative audiences? I hope that we have struck a happy medium between the two. On this album, I think the people who listen to Bollywood will appreciate the nuances in the fusion and people who like alternative music will appreciate the details as well.”

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Buy the Rangley Punjabis album here. Watch the video for the song “Jindwa” below

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