Shifting seamlessly from the self-reflecting calmness of Sufi music to the raw energy of electronic dance music is no mean task. For Kavitha Seth, it is something she does every other day, performing in pure ghazal or sufi concerts, or at the regular concerts, where the audience expects her to croon her popular film numbers too.
In the city to perform at a concert in Kovalam, Ms.Seth, who became known outside the Sufi music circles with the song Gunja Sa Koi Iktara for the film Wake Up Sid, spoke to The Hindu on her musical journey. “I think the seeds of Sufi music were planted in my head when I was still a young kid, accompanying my father to the Ala Hazrat dargah in Bareilly, my hometown. Since that time, I have dabbled in various genres, including ghazals and bhajans. I was not clear as to what I want. Later, I met and performed with sufi musicians like Abida Parveen, which I think was the turning point, making me realise that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” she says.
For her, the work on a song does not begin or end with mere arrangement of the music and lyrics. She has to take a deep dip into the philosophy that goes into it.
“Once I began seriously working in this form of music, I started reading up deeply on Sufism and sufi saints. I tried to imbibe the philosophy, not just the music. Sufi music is not just about the singing, but also about a particular way of life. I have been inspired by the words of Rumi and Bulleh Shah,” she says.
Rumi inspired her so much that she travelled to Konya in Turkey, where he is buried, to pay her respects. Later, she composed an album ‘Sufiana’, based on the works of Rumi.
“No one had done a musical album on Rumi in India. I first read his verses in English and was mesmerised. The original writings are in Persian. I got someone to translate these into Urdu and Hindi, using which I composed the album,” says Ms.Seth.
Organising the International Sufi festival to mark the 800th birthday of Rumi led her to the formation of her band ‘Karwan’, with Persian and Afghani musicians. It later paved the way for her Bollywood debut, when Satish Kaushik picked her for the song ‘Zindagi Ko Sanwaar De Maula’ from Vaada. After ‘Mujhe Mat Roko’ from Gangster came the high point of her career – ‘Iktara’.
“I had sent the album on Rumi to Amit Trivedi, who had just completed composing ‘Aamir’. After a few months, he called me to sing the scratch version of ‘Iktara’. When I sang the song, I was not happy and wanted to record again, but by then it was finalised. It turned out to be so popular. After ‘Iktara’, I have been trying to balance both film and independent music. It is amazing, how if you sing one good popular song, it reaches millions,” she says.