In this age of rock, hip-hop and heavy metal music, it's not easy to get a folk song to climb the charts. But 35-year-old Shefali Bhushan doesn't think so.
Her website beatofindia.com is all about re-discovering forgotten folk melodies of India. And it has many takers.
Six years ago, Shefali, a documentary filmmaker and her colleague NK Sharma, a theatre director, felt that Indian folk music needed to be revived before it was lost forever in forgotten corners of the country.
"We felt that there is a lot of paucity in the area of revival of folk music and whatever work is being done by organisations like the Sangeet Natak Akademi is just not enough. Hence we decided to go to these folk artistes themselves and give them a platform through the Internet," Shefali said.
That's when beatofindia.com was born in 2000. Joined by two more colleagues and armed with some information, the team set off for the Kumaon belt. And thus began their journey.
"We first went to a village near Haldwani in Uttaranchal where we met a 15-year-old girl who sang two beautiful songs in Nyoli folk form for us. Then we went to Nainital where we met a poet and he recited some of his poetry. We recorded all of these," she explains.
They even went all the way to the Nepal border, where they met an old man who sang for them for hours. "It was amazing. He must have been 85 years old but had each line of the song inscribed in his mind," exclaims Shefali.
From travelling to the deep interiors of Allahabad in search of an Ala singer who was popular once upon a time for singing in households in monsoons to sitting up the entire night to record songs of the Kabir Pant - a group of singers who have been singing for generations in Malwa, Madhya Pradesh - Shefali and colleagues have done everything!
"This journey has been like re-discovering India itself," Shefali remarks.
Nearing 800, all the songs are now up on their website and, as the team says, has caught on with the people.
"Now we have a record label and are on the verge of signing a distribution deal with a big brand so that we get an even better platform," she says. Ten per cent royalty of the revenue goes to the artistes.
They have also released albums, organised live concerts and solo performances of the artistes. The group has made a documentary film called Colours of the Earth, based on the life of a folk artiste, and has been screened in India and the US, and has earned rave reviews.
While they admit that distribution, marketing and publicity are the biggest challenges that they face, Shefali says that the response is nonetheless very encouraging. "We are flooded with enquiries, suggestions and requests ever day."
She adds that although the response is extremely good from NRI communities across the globe, many small metros here have also responded well. The website has over 11,000 members at present.