Sometimes you come across a most beautiful musical gem in a rather forgettable film. This was the case for me with the following rendition of a shabad in the film, Halla bol.
In the recent years “Ek Omkar” which is part of the mool mantra of Sri Guru Granth Sahib also became a part of the popular Hindi film, Rang De Basanti.
Even in their very contemporary renditions, these shabad gurbani are somehow able to express the eternal spirit behind them. Perhaps part of the reason may be that when working on such timeless hymns of devotion, faith and love for the Divine, the composers and singers are also able to get in touch with something eternal in them, something that is part of the Divine.
I am reminded of a concert I attended in April 2006 at Miami University, Ohio in the US. This benefit concert was led by the talented and popular music composer, A. R. Rahman, and the performers included about 150 students from Global Rhythms Ensemble. Global Rhythms was launched in 1996 under the artistic direction and leadership of Mr. Srinivas Krishnan (an alumnus of Miami University). The program has “evolved from strong roots in India and her music, her musicians, her composers, and her people, all of which have enabled the ensemble to forge its inclusive and international identity… The musical creations of Global Rhythms are thus rooted in a community of performing artists and composers from across the world, particularly A.R. Rahman, who have donated their valuable efforts to keep the spirit of such harmonious bonds alive”.
For this particular concert the students of Global Rhythms Ensemble and Srinivas Krishnan had chosen to perform selected compositions by Rahman, including a variety of Hindi, Tamil and Telugu songs. The performers were primarily American youngsters; there were a few Indian-American performers as well in the choir, who were either part of the university or local community. It was quite interesting, in a way, to see these young American kids enjoy performing Hindi or Tamil songs and really getting in the groove! The unifying spirit of music took over the whole concert hall – it was really a good way to witness a movement towards harmony.
But what really touched me was when the choir sang a beautiful Sufi prayer composed by Rahman (for the film, Bose: The Forgotten Hero). This was the first time I had ever heard this song, and was really moved by the atmosphere created during those few minutes.
After the performance Rahman told the audience that when he had first received the request from the students that they wanted to sing this song/prayer he didn’t initially agree to their request. His objection was that such a devotional and spiritual song can’t be performed like they would casually sing any other song. The performers had to somewhat prepare themselves to get in the right frame of mind and heart.
Among other things this also required that performers must not consume any alcohol before or after the performance, they must not wear any footwear on the stage, and they must cover their heads. He told the audience that he was later informed by Srinivas Krishnan that all performers understood the value of all this preparation and complied with all of it, both for their rehearsals as well as for the show. Certainly during the show just before they sang the Sufi prayer, we witnessed all the performers getting off the stage for a few seconds to remove their shoes and wear a headscarf as they prepared to perform the song. Perhaps through this one seemingly small experience, some of these youngsters could also appreciate and might have even experienced a bit of the highest aim of music – to connect with the Divine.
This episode may seem like a small thing to some people. But to me, this was a powerful example of the emergence of a new resolve in some sections of today’s young generation – no matter what their nationality or place of residence – to devote their energies toward meaningful and constructive ways which represent a movement toward harmony, mutual respect and unity, rather than fragmentation, disintegration and division. I may be idealizing this whole experience a bit, but then why should we not emphasize all the good that is happening around us? After all, the more positive and harmonious vibrations we can create around us, the more things begin to happen that are indeed positive and harmonious.
The concert ended with Rahman leading the choir with one of his signature compositions – Vande Mataram, which again everybody on the stage sang with a great enthusiasm and feeling.