Kavi 'Das Narayan' Agrawal has hit one of the sweetest spots in the Indian music industry. By placing himself on the hyphen between the Nathpanth-influenced Kabir and the Nathpanth-inspired Sufis, the poet has claimed prime property in what's perhaps the industry's fastest growing sector. The two new albums of Agrawal's compositions state upfront the 'rich' lineages he claims to follow. Lending their voices are two graduates of Pune's Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
Both are known, adored voices. Rekha Bharadwaj has sizzled recently with 'Badi dheere jali' in Ishqiya, and Kavita Seth's 'Iktara' (Wake Up Sid) has won almost all the music awards.
Bharadwaj, whose songs have been composed by Vivek Prakash and Gani Ali, sings in her laid-back style. When she puts some zest into her voice, she sounds earthy, folksy. At other times, her unhurried avatar can lure you into believing that she's in a trance. That laid-back sound fits this project neatly.
Ali's compositions are the more haunting ones. The most challenging among them is 'Apne rahem ki chhaon mein'. Though Bharadwaj flits up and down the scale seemingly effortlessly, it would've troubled a lesser singer. 'Koi hame bataye' could have fitted in any 1970s' film, pictured on a beggar outside a mandir. But Ali's mix of the harmonium in the daf-lined track makes it ever so slightly hatke from the regular.
In contrast, Vivek Prakash's choice of instruments and mixes doesn't let you come this side of the 80s.
Even Kavita Seth's uncommon timbre can't escape Prakash's boundaries. On average, her songs are set on peppier rhythms. The arrangement that stands apart is 'Prem prem sab koi kahe, prem na jane koi', which breaks the rhythm atypically. The lyrics, too, reflect Kabir's purabiya tongue: 'Kabira marta jag muya marbi na jane koi'.
It's one thing to subscribe to the inclusive tradition of the Bhakti poets, but quite another to directly invoke Kabir and the Sufis. Yet theirs is a message worth repeating. For now, let the force be with Das Narayan.
Here's a puzzle. Surely we are a nation of great bathroom and drawing room singers. Television has brought thousands out of their bathrooms and into talent hunt studios. Hundreds of drawing room voices have been aired on antaksharis. Why then have we not cottoned on to the idea of karaoke? Yes, a few watering holes have dedicated their slowest nights to karaoke, but that hasn't made their business any faster.
In the middle of this contradiction, a set of six karaoke CDs has been launched. Helpfully enough, they contain the originals, the instrumental tracks and the lyrics. But the selection makes one wonder whether they are meant for the addled voices that usually fill karaoke nights at bars.
They may be well-known songs but they aren't the most popular, hummable tunes. Sample this: among the seven Asha Bhosle songs are 'Yeh kya kar dala tune' (Howrah Bridge) and 'Woh haseen dard de do' (Hum Saya). The Kishore CD has 'Simti si sharmai si' (Parwana) and 'Mere dil mein aaj' (Daag). Lata's has 'Saiyan beiman' (Guide) and 'Aap ki nazron ne samjha' (Anpadh).
You don't have to go through all of them to figure out that they are, actually, some of the craftier songs from the singer's oeuvres. Ones that can show off another singer's grasp of cascading notes, varying scales, or tricky rhythms. The karaoke tracks sound just like a television orchestra. Get it? Rather than for karaoke sessions, these are practice numbers for talent hunt wannabes. A canny marketing move, except that the placement is a bit confusing. It still doesn't explain our puzzle. Maybe some niggles are better left un-scratched.