Kavita Seth’s ode to music
SOULFUL: Kavita Seth
BOLLYWOOD AND SUFI SINGER ON HER LOVE FOR POETRY AND A SUITABLE BOY SONGS
by ASJAD NAZIR
NEWLY released drama serial A Suitable Boy has a beautiful musical score that includes six stunning ghazals, which have been sung and composed by Kavita Seth.
The acclaimed Bollywood and Sufi singer has added extra colours to the big budget television adaptation of Vikram Seth’s widely acclaimed novel with evocative feeling filled music.
The A Suitable Boy songs, which were recorded with live musicians, are the latest chapter in a wonderful journey that includes blockbuster Bollywood hits like Iktara (Wake Up Sid) and Tum Hi Ho Bandhu (Cocktail).
What makes her musical voyage all the more remarkable is that despite being classically trained she never consciously planned to sing for Bollywood. However, she was spotted by actor Satish Kaushik and has since worked with top music directors on films, along with standalone projects like Coke Studio classic Khari Khari, and independent albums like Trance With Khusrow, Ek Din and Khuda Wahi Hai.
Eastern Eye caught up with Kavita Seth to talk about music, her A Suitable Boy songs, inspirations, interesting poetic plan and more.
What first connected you to music?
I had a musical childhood. I consider myself really fortunate to have been born and brought up in a musical atmosphere. I fondly remember how my father would take me each day to the dargah and I would be lost in the soulful music played there. At home, the transistor was my best friend. I would roam around with it everywhere I went. As soon as I would return from school, the transistor had to be turned on. Music has been a part of my life since my childhood years.
Which of your many songs is closest to your heart?
All my songs are truly special. I have been picky about the ones that I decide to lend my voice to. The poetry of a song matters a lot to me. I think that Iktara changed my life in many ways and will always be special to me. Another one that I could name right now is Jeete Hain Chal from Neerja. I also particularly remember an incident when a girl walked up to me at a college event that I was judging and told me how listening to this song had compelled her to change her decision about committing suicide. Thus, I feel that music has immense power to change lives.
You are a versatile singer, but which genre do you enjoy most?
Any music that touches the soul is what I love. Once I was introduced to Sufi music years ago, I felt an instant connect with it. It definitely has a special place in my heart. Apart from Sufi music, singing and composing ghazals gives me immense joy. Hindustani classical music and the profound impact that it has on the listener is pure magic.
What led you towards singing ghazals for A Suitable Boy?
I received a call from Mira Nair’s office for the project and was over the moon. I was excited and anxious, all at the same time. I have composed hundreds of ghazals, songs for my personal projects. This comes to me naturally. However, I wondered how the process of creating something with a specific set of requirements would feel like. I first spoke to Miraji on Skype. It was special. Her humility, love, vibe, art is what makes her a world-renowned filmmaker.
What was it like working with her?
She immediately made me comfortable with the whole process. She was very supportive since day one. When we met in Mumbai she gave me a detailed description of every situation corresponding to the ghazal. The crystal clear thought process of accomplished directors like her brings out the best in all the artists that they work with. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her and hope many such opportunities arise in the future.
Tell us about the songs you have delivered for A Suitable Boy and the legendary poets who wrote them?
Dil-e-nadan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai (Mirza Ghalib), Lutf Vo Ishq Mein Paaye Hain K Jee Jaanta Hai (Dagh Dehlvi), Mehfil Barkhaast Hui (Ameer Meenai), Marsiya (Sayed Zia Alvi), Na Ravaa Kahiye (Daagh Dehlvi) and Muddat Hui Hai Yaar Ko (Mirza Ghalib).
Tell us more about the experience of singing and composing the songs for A Suitable Boy?
As I mentioned, the challenge was to compose something specific according to what the series demanded. However once it began, it felt like the most fluid process. While recording one ghazal that was approved and locked during rehearsals, Mira felt that something needed to be changed. Within a few minutes, I re-composed it and she loved it. We then recorded the ghazal.
You have recorded with real instruments in the series…
The series is set in the 1950s and keeping this in mind, I picked instruments like the esraj, dholak, harmonium and tabla, which would bring out the essence we were looking for. The entire process of recording with live musicians had created a beautiful atmosphere, just what a live performer like me enjoys. So, the listener will experience the true and rich flavour of each of the ghazals in the series.
Which of the A Suitable Boy ghazals is closest to your heart?
This is a very tough question. I love all of them. Mehfil Barkhaast Hui is immensely beautiful and Dil-e-nadaan touches the heart too. I can’t pick my favourite from the list. I would love to know this from the listeners and lovers of good music.
What is the musical master plan going forward?
A few years ago I started a project titled Main Kavita Hoon, which is an attempt to bring my compositions of precious works of timeless poets to the world. I now have a treasure chest of compositions. I read beautiful poetry that connects with me and a tune just flows, effortlessly. I usually end up recording them. I started Main Kavita Hoon as a YouTube series where I would share information about a poet, stories around his life and then sing one ghazal/nazm/geet I composed from their collection. The love it received was truly overwhelming.
That must have motivated you…
I realised people wanted to dive deeper and that I needed to do more if I wanted to do justice to every single poet’s work. The YouTube series then became an entire concert. For my first Main Kavita Hoon Live concert, I started with legendary Urdu poet, Dr Wasim Barelvi and since then the journey has moved forward. The series, also available on digital platforms, entails a long list of great poets. The big dream now is to take this format as live performances to different parts of the world.
How are you able to generate so much emotion in your voice?
I am picky about the poetry of a song I lend my voice to. Once I have established a deep sense of connect with the words, the emotions just flow. There’s no holding back. I live the words of the song and sing them to my heart’s content.
How important are live performances?
For an artist, a live performance is what the heart craves for. The energy and exuberance of a performance is derived from an audience. My heart lies here! Each concert is a vivid, special memory. But if I had to pick one from the recent past, it has to be my performance at the World Sacred Spirit Festival. I was lost in trance while performing at the festival. People came from different parts of the world, just to experience my voice live, that felt special. The venue’s vibe, involvement of the audience and divinity of the music, made it unforgettable for me.
What is it that inspires you?
The urge to share more soulful music with the world is my biggest inspiration. People want to listen to good music and I wish to share more with the world. Both my children, Kanishk and Kavish, are sources of great inspiration for me. I learn a lot from them. They have always been my true critics.
What music dominates your own musical playlist?
I love to explore music from different parts of the world thanks to my children. They share beautiful music with me from across the globe. But I love listening to Jagjit Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Farida Khanum, Lata Mangeshkar and Madan Mohanji.
If you could master something new in music, what would it be?
Music is ever evolving. There is no end to learning. I am still learning Hindustani classical music from my guru. I love the innate and deep impact that it has on people who listen to it. I am going deeper in its magic and discovering something new each day.
Why do you love music?
Music is my life. It defines my existence. Not a day goes without being lost in the divinity of music.