Planet Bollywood
“Today singers and their albums have a smaller shelf life...” - Kavita Seth
- Amanda Sodhi           Let us know what you think about this feature article

Below follows PlanetBollywood.com writer Amanda Sodhi’s interview with Sufi singer and composer Kavita Seth—Kavita’s recent songs include Iktara from Wake Up Sid and Mujhe Mat Roko from Gangster.

Although you haven’t recorded too many songs for Bollywood films, Maula from Vaada, Mujhe Mat Roko from Gangster, and Iktaara from Wake Up Sid have been appreciated. Tell us a bit about why it has taken so long for you to get into Bollywood film playback singing as you have been a singer for many, many years.

Music as an industry, as a profession is changing and evolving. Today singers and their albums have a smaller shelf life and in most cases it’s like the album comes and goes. This is one of the biggest dilemmas many singers face—whether they take up all that is offered or they sing only what suits their style of singing and their voice. In my case I have chosen to take the road less traveled. My style and preference is Sufi and whenever a good opportunity in Sufi playback singing comes to me, I try to put in my best. It’s not just about quality or quantity--it’s about right opportunities that come your way or you come in the way of those opportunities. I am hopeful that people will hear more of my songs and music in the years to come...

How difficult was it to get a break in Bollywood as a singer?

No, it may not be more difficult, but nowadays directors use all sort of different voices. Actually, from the very beginning I have been performing all over the world, but I never thought seriously about Bollywood because my voice is different and I never felt that it can be used for playback. Four years back, when I was performing in New Delhi, Satish Kaushik was there in my show, he listened to my voice, appreciated it and wanted to use in his film, “Vaada” in year 2005, for a Sufi track called Maula—zindagi ko sanwaar de maula.

Could you tell us about your training in music and how you decided to chose singing as a profession?

I have been very much passionate for music from my childhood. When I was 3-4 years old, I used to sing all kind of songs, especially Bhajans, Sufi, Punjabi folk and few old film songs and to great poets like Ghalib. I used to go to mazaar (dargaah) with my father, to listen sufiana kalams by pir-phakirs. I got the opportunity to listen to great Urdu poets and learn from them face to face at my native place. I was appreciated from them after composing and singing their kalam. In between, I requested my father that I want to learn classical music, which I started at the age of 10-11 by Pt. N.D. Sharma from Gwalior. I did my graduation in music from Bareilly, U.P—my native place. After that I got married and did shows for AIR and Doordarshan. Then I did my my post graduation in Music-Sangeet Alankar from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and MA in Hindi literature from Delhi University. I have taken classical training from few other great Gurus from other Gharanas like Delhi and Jaipur. This is my education graph.

Music is my life and it was my dream to perform all over the world and encapture people through Sufi music.

After marriage, I started professional singing at all different festivals like Agra, Chandni Chowk–New Delhi, Sahitya Kala, Delhi Tourism Festival, All India Radio Festival, and live at TV Stations, International Sufi festival, etc. and also for PVT, corporate Sufi and Ghazal Concert since 1992.

You’ve composed three songs for Yeh Mera India. The songs very beautifully balance elements of classical sangeet with more Western percussion beats. Have you composed other songs in the past?

Thanks for the appreciation.

I was able to compose & sing three tracks for Film Album “Yeh Mera India,” a film by N. Chandra--Aap Roothe Rahe, a romantic song, Dil Mandir, a Sufi song, More Naina, a Sufi and folk Sufi song. By God’s grace people appreciating all these songs.

Yeah in the past, I did compose my debut song for the film Vaada, the Maula track which I made after 9/11 written by Chaman Lal Chaman from London. It has really good poetry—

“Zindagi ko sanwaar de maula Husn iska nikhaar de maula. Teri duniya ko lag gayi hai nazaar Iska sadka utaar de maula”...

But they pictured in a different way in the film.

One thing I want to share with you is that whatever I sing, other than film songs, I compose myself and do music and then perform. Recently, I did one album on Maulana Rumi’s poetry, translated in Hindi and Urdu and released by Times Music because people know about Rumi. But, in India they don’t know Persian language so I wanted to share his Sufi thoughts and poetry in our language to enjoy his poetry. Basically, I am fond of great, simple classic poetry which touches the heart of anyone. I have composed many songs of many new and old famous Poets. Recently I did a nice new album, “Nagma–e–Raaz” by Goel Saheb of Delhi. It is going to be released soon.

There aren’t too many female music directors in India...why do you think this is so? Do you think there is a lack of music education in India?

Yes, of course. I think still Indian women cannot handle lot of co-ordination work, for example meeting with producer, director, PR, lot of things compared to men. If they get support, they definitely can do better than them.

I don’t think that there is lack of musical education. But, due to lot of exposure nowadays people are getting more rather than before. Because of media exposure via net, so many things are happening.

Jahan chah wahaan rah—People can find out anything from net. They can learn also.

You have a very soulful, deep voice. Do you think the Industry seems to go after female singers who have a higher pitched voice compared to singers who have more rustic, lower-pitched voices? Of course, after Sunidhi Chauhan’s arrival things have changed...

Definitely I agree with you. Bollywood is also changing now. This thing has been realized by all big directors and producers, to use voices of my kind.

Do you think albums are not appreciated enough in India as film music? Many people have not heard of your album, Sufiana...

Yeah. It is sad. A lot of creative work in a form of musical album is not appreciated, but not promoted well, because you know, those people who have talent, they have no money and those who have money, they don’t have the talent. Same case was with my album Sufiana. All the songs, people appreciated a lot wherever I performed. But, the album not available in the shops. After listening to my song from this album, one director approached me for a film.

You have another Sufi album coming out soon. Tell us about that…

Yeah...working on 2-3 Sufi albums. Great poetry and thoughts.

You’re also part of a Sufi music group called Karwaan. When and how did the music group form?

It happened when I met Iranian musician and Rajasthani musician at an international Sufi festival. Our chemistry was great, so we performed together as a Karwaan.

As you mentioned, you travel a lot around India doing concerts. Where did you enjoy performing the most?

I have traveled in India and abroad too. The best concert which I ever had was in Berlin. My program schedule was a 2 hour solo performance at the Tagore Centre. There was a crowd of 60% German and 40% Indian. Germans were sitting till the end of the concert. After the program, I asked them that they don’t know the language, still how did they like it. They said that they enjoyed the melody that I was singing. See, music is beyond the language bar.

In India I performed at Chandni Chowk Utsav at Delhi where my stage was 20 feet high with Big Screen and may be around 10 thousand people were there. I sang Ghalib for two hours and got a tremendous response. People from all casts and creeds were enjoying Ghalib’s Ghazals. It was also very near to Balli Maran Gali, where Ghalib lived.

One nice experience in 2002, I remember, that is when I performed with Abida Parveen in first “Jahan–e–Khusrou” International festival conceived by Muzzaffer Ali. A great concept and program. I felt lucky to share a week with her and we did daily rehearsal for that show. These are the many memorable thoughts in my musical journey.

Out of the songs you have recorded so far, which one is your favorite?

All the kids are favorite for any mother. So all my songs are very precious and special for me. But “Khuda Wahi Hai” from my album “Sufiana” is the closest. Wherever I performed people have cried, they told me that they reached some other world while listening.

Any music directors you would like to sing for? Any actress you would like to sing for?

All the talented ones who are very creative and innovative, like Rahman, I want to become a part of their project. I want to sing with Elton John. I like his voice. All actress, those who are willing and they feel my voice suits them.

Any favorite recent songs?

Khwaaja Mere Khwaaja from Jodhaa Akbar by A.R. Rahman--song is pictured in an excellent way...made me emotional.

Who are some of your favorite singers, lyricists and music directors?

Favorite singers are Elton John, A.R. Rahman, Sukhwinder, Shankar Mahadevan, Abida Parveen. Favorite lyricists are Waseem Bareilvi, Zia Alwi, Javed Akhtar, Gulzaar sahib and whosoever writes simple and deep thoughts. Favorite music directors are A.R.Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, and many others...

Do you have a favorite instrument?

I love the sound of rabab, duff and flute which are all Sufi instruments. I play and enjoy Irani Duff.

Since you have a passion for Sufi music, tell us, who is your favorite Sufi poet?

Maulana Rumi, Hazrat Amir Khusrou, Baba Bulleshah, Kabir Das and few others.

Do you have any advice for aspiring singers and music directors?

Don’t worry about reality shows. But in reality, learn classical music sincerely.

Nagmon se jab phool khilenge, Chunne waale chun lenge, Sunane waale sun lenge, Tu apni dhun me gaye ja.

Very beautifully said. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks to all my listeners. Details of Sufism and about my concerts and upcoming projects will be uploaded on my Web site www.kavitaseth.com.

It’s been a pleasure interviewing you, Kavita. Wishing you all the best!


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