Connecting a new generation to Indian devotional music


DIVINE MISSION: Bhavik Haria
DIVINE MISSION: Bhavik Haria

HOW BHAJAN SINGER BHAVIK HARIA CROWDFUNDED AN ALBUM IN LOCKDOWN

by MITA MISTRY

PLENTY of artists have been creating songs during lockdown and some have even shot music videos, but London-based Bhavik Haria did something unique during self-isolation.

The talented singer crowdfunded a bhajan album and his fundraiser was so effective that he exceeded his target, managing to raise money to also promote it. The versatile performer, who also successfully sings Bollywood songs and ghazals, took on the challenge of crowdfunding his album to keep bhajans alive and connected to a new generation.

Eastern Eye caught up with Bhavik Haria to talk about music, his crowdfunding campaign, passion for bhajan music and inspiring future plans.

What first connected you to music and bhajans in particular?
My musical journey started when I used to go to events along with my grandad and my mum to perform bhajans. It was a weekly event that used to happen at different people’s houses. Many people would come and everyone would take turns to sing a bhajan or two. I would bring my keyboard, which was four times my size. There was something about it that made me go back every single week. No one was a professional singer, but it was something we all enjoyed and connected with.

How much has being connected with the spiritual aspect of music helped you?
Indian devotional music has always been a pivotal part of my life, and while the Indian culture has an extensive range of  musical genres, to me, bhajans are more than just a type of music. The history and origins behind bhajans are incredibly spiritual and uplifting, making it a very powerful musical form. It is my go-to for all types of moods and events – to celebrate, to mourn or even to lift spirits.

Tell us about some of the work you have done so far?
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of performing for wide audiences, ranging from 50 to 40,000 at Trafalgar Square in London. I’ve been working on my craft for the past decade which has led to the start of my #KeepBhajansAlive campaign. Throughout the global pandemic and lockdown, I hosted the social isolation bhajans, which were watched and enjoyed by thousands from around the world. Many key workers or people who were going through health problems, who tuned in, sent me numerous messages sharing how my music helped them get through a tough day and inspired them. And for me, that’s been the greatest reward of all. It’s given me the encouragement to continue to strive towards achieving my mission.

What inspired you to do a crowdfunding campaign?
Over the years, there have been so many people that have played a huge part in my journey –watching my videos, sharing them, booking me to perform, among others. Instead of going to one organisation or one person to fund it, I wanted to bring all the people who have supported me along on this journey together, and for them to be my record label on this project.

How did you feel reaching your £15,000 target so quickly and going past it?
I am overwhelmed! I am so grateful for all of the support that I have got. There have been so many people who have helped bring this to life behind the scenes and of course, everyone who’s contributed and shared in the campaign. The great and immediate response shows that there are so many more people out there who believe in this mission, appreciate this genre of music and want to see it continue to grow, especially the younger generation.

Tell us about the album you are planning to produce?
The aim is to produce a brand new bhajan album that combines our Indian cultures with western music to create a new sound, without losing our heritage. My goal is to infuse many different styles in this album. Imagine a traditional dhun (tune), combined with some light drum and bass or a bhajan fused with Sufi devotional styles. It makes me incredibly proud to be part of a generation of musicians who still play traditional instruments. With the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of talented producers and musicians, I know we can create something truly inspirational, ensuring the legacy of bhajans lives on.

Who are you hoping connects with this bhajan album?
Everyone. First and foremost, it’s tomorrow’s future. It’s for the ones like me who may have gone to bhajans when they were younger, but never understood what they meant, or never saw others their age there, so didn’t continue listening to them. This style of music isn’t just for the older generation or sad events – it’s for everyone and can be extremely uplifting. I’ve also had a lot of love from people of other cultures, who maybe don’t understand the meanings, but can connect to the style of music.

What is the greatest challenge of getting young people interested in devotional music?
When I used to sing at these events with my grandad and other family members, I never saw youngsters like me. I always wondered why the younger generation didn’t really listen to bhajans by choice, so did some research. Most people said they didn’t understand them, or listened to western music, as it was something to talk about and enjoy together. Some people thought it was only for those who were religious, and often bhajans were associated with funerals or sad events. I truly feel that there is a lot more to bhajans than just the religious elements.

Do you have a favourite bhajan?
I have so many depending on the mood, occasion and kind of atmosphere I want to create. One of the first bhajans I learnt and a favourite by many is a classic from the film Lagaan, called O Paalahaare.

What are your plans for the future?
I want to continue sharing my music with the world, inspiring more people and musicians to support this #KeepBhajansAlive mission, and work together to make a bigger shift. Creating this type of sound and quality takes commitment, time and energy behind the scenes to make it happen, but I love what I do, and as a musician, it means the world when your work is truly appreciated.

What inspires you?
I am inspired by so many different people and platforms – global music, producers who are stepping ‘out of the box’, rare videos of singers from small villages in India and musicians I perform with regularly here in the UK. The spectrum is so wide and I really believe that inspiration is everywhere.

Why do you love bhajan music?
I love how creative you can get with bhajans, and raas-garba. For example, you could take one bhajan and sing it in numerous different ways to give a different feel. Truly limitless!

Visit www.bhavikharia.com & Instagram, Facebook & YouTube: @bhavikharia