Bhajans by a band of Westerners
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Bhajans by a band of Westerners, is that not surprising! More so if they claim to sing in Hindi, Bhojpuri and Nepali, fused with sitar, tabla, violin and guitar, any one with musical ears could be tempted to watch them perform live.
Chris Hale, Peter Hicks and Fiona Hicks along with Uday gave a scintillating performance of Bhajans, the purest form of north Indian Hindu religious singing tradition at Chennai's Museum Theater, on Sunday Feb 4.
The genre of their music is Fusion and Hindustani classical folk and they call themselves “Aradhna” (devotion), that’s the core value of Bhajan singing.
Bhajan means listening to the inner sounds. It’s an expression of emotions of love for the divine. Bhajan has lilting flow and colloquial renderings that leaves a profound appeal on the listeners. It’s sung in Indian classical music tradition based on rhythmic beat patterns on traditional Indian instruments. It has a lead singer who is accompanied by other singers and those listening them join them in singing.
Chris Hale is from Canada; Peter Hicks from US and Fiona Hicks from England. The common thing among them is they all are born in South Asia. Chirs was born in Nepal but was raised in India and went to Woodstock school at Masoori, an elite institution of north India. Pete was born in New Delhi but grew up in the US. Fiona was born in Nepal but was raised in England. As adults they all discovered each other in India. Pete and Fiona are now husband and wife. The white South Asian musicians and singers are in their late thirties and early forties.
Chris is the vocalist and the lead singer of ‘Aradhna’. He has a natural command over the Hindi language. Chris actually was a rock guitarist before but now plays the sitar with equal felicity. Pete plays the guitar and also does vocals with Chris. Fiona plays violin and sometimes breaks into melancholy with other singers. Uday from Hydrabad plays the tabla with them.
Chris, Pete and Fionna all happen to learn music in India by the Indian musical gurus. They also have been visiting the temples of north India where Bhajans are sung as part of daily prayers. It’s after a great deal of learning they evolved their own genre of devotional music called "Eisu Bhakti sangeet” or devotional songs in praise of Jesus Christ, ie Christian Bajans in Hindu devotional tradition.
“Since my childhood was spent in South Asia, I am aware of the "Eisu Bhakti sangeet” being practiced in north India. This inspired me to learn the bhajans. Later I discovered that hundreds of bhajans were composed on Jesus over the last few centuries in India." said Chris.
“However, the idea of singing bhajan came to me only a few years ago when I touring across India as part of Olio, a fusion band that concentrated more on rock music. We have performed in IIT Madras as `Olio' band during 1998," he recalled.
“Pete who was also part of the Olio, lapped up the idea of signing Eisu Bhakti sangeet,” Chris said talking about the formation of the band “Aradhna.”
"Our songs are based on Braj bhasha and Bojpuri, the language used in Hindustani music. “Our debut album was `Deep Jale' released in 2000. `Naam Leo Re' followed it. The next album would have songs on Nepali folk music and would be released in 2007 June, Chris said describing his work.
R Laxmanan, a retired central government whose has lived for a long time in north Indian and was watching their concert says, “For those who are spiritually inclined, it does not matter whose name they are evoking. In their songs when they address the divine with “Prabhu” (Lord), even that barrier breaks down. Its pure ‘Aradhna’ or devotion that dominates the thoughts, he adds.
Aradhana’s music is soft, melodious and sublime in nature. The compositions have great lyrical value that compel for a deeper search of one's soul and takes into musical trans.
The number, "Prabhu rakh lao mori laaj" (lord keep my honor) is very haunting. It connects with the downtrodden that is not sure of his next day’s meal. It connects with those whose honor is being trampled. For such it’s the Lord alone to whom they can appeal for protection.
Aradhna has toured across several countries in the world. Recently they have been to Britain and South Africa and are currently giving their performances in different cities in India. They are heading to US from here and their concerts are lined up in Chicago and Los Angles.
Aradhna website is www.aradhnamusic.com. A short video of Aradhna in concert is also available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5ZlCAdPq3k
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org