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Mumbai Vocalist Avanti Patel’s Inclusive Turn on ‘Saiyaan Bina’

The multilingual singer-composer talks about why she wanted to freely interpret the idea of lovers across gender and identity

Anurag Tagat Jun 25, 2021

Mumbai-based singer-composer Avanti Patel. Photo: Simone Gandhi

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In finding a way to be as all-encompassing as possible with her music, classically-trained singer Avanti Patel not only drew from multiple raagas for her latest single “Saiyaan Bina,” but also creatively wove the lyrics in a way that wouldn’t just describe the expected heteronormative ideas of love and longing.

Aided by YouTube-famous producer Anshuman Sharma in New Delhi, violinist Shruti Bhave and tabla artist Akshay Jadhav, Mumbai-based Patel has released her debut independent track, coinciding with Pride Month. However, the artist notes that she never intended on releasing “Saiyaan Bina” when she wrote it. The thumri style of the song also draws in from various influences Patel has accrued ever since she began singing classes at the age of five. “The first line in the first half of the song is loosely based on the raag Gunakari and the same line in the second half, is based on the raag Marubihag. This happens without the tune of the line changing. The concept is called murchana in Hindustani classical music and one day during my riyaaz I accidentally discovered that Marubihag was a murchana of Gunakari,” she says.

Patel acknowledges that this sort of information might be more fascinating for a hardcore classical fan, but the electronic, downtempo hues of “Saiyaan Bina” underplay the technical vocal aspects. “The attempt is to maintain the traditional ‘gayki’ and ‘ang’ of the thumri form, but packaging it a little differently,” she adds.

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Lyrically, Patel sings from a perspective that breaks away from male-centric, damsel-in-distress tropes. When she was learning Hindustani classical compositions, the artist says she didn’t question the lyrics so much. Later on, realization dawned on Patel that a lot of lyrics didn’t align with her personal beliefs. “That’s when I slowly started to question the lyrics of what I was singing and actively sought out alternative compositions in cases where the lyrics didn’t sit well with me […] Words like piya, saiyaan may have traditionally been used to depict a male lover being missed by their female partners, but what if saiyaan could be anyone? It is up to us to ‘gender’ these terms and interpret them artistically, the way we see them,” she adds.

The singer holds that Hindustani classical music “can adapt to change” and dismisses those who believe it “must not be tampered with.” Patel says, “We have to remember that the Hindustani Classical Music we hear today compared to what we heard 100 years ago is vastly different. It has changed and as artists, it is us who has to actively bring about that change.”

Watch the lyric video for “Saiyaan Bina” below.

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