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Play it like a woman

Are there musical instruments meant to be played specifically by the men? Perhaps the Tumbi, tabla or the flute? These women from the region don’t think so. Spurning all gender bias, they are on a musical high By Navleen Kaur Lakhi

chandigarh Updated: Mar 08, 2014 12:30 IST
Navleen Kaur Lakhi
Navleen Kaur Lakhi
Hindustan Times

Are there musical instruments meant to be played specifically by the men? Perhaps the Tumbi, tabla or the flute? These women from the region don’t think so. Spurning all gender bias, they are on a musical high.

Sukhmani Karanbir Singh, 16,

Bass guitarist, Chandigarh those who are ready to conclude that they have seen ample girls play the guitar, Sukhmani would like to clarify. "People generally don’t know the difference between a guitar and a bass guitar. For them, both the musical instruments are the same, when actually they are not. There are many girls who play the guitar, but very few playing the bass guitar. In fact, I don’t know of any other girl in the city who does."

Besides this, another ‘weird’ question that Sukhmani gets asked, mostly from the boys, is why she is interested in playing an instrument that is usually used in background music. “This is how narrow-minded they are. They think a girl would only pick up instruments that help them flaunt or show off,” she says, aghast.

A Class 10 student at Vivek High School, Sukhmani has been learning to play bass guitar since the past one year, though she has already been playing the piano since the last seven years. Talking about why the bass guitar isn’t too common amongst the girls, she says, “A lot of girls don’t pick it up because they get busy trying to prove themselves and thereby prefer picking lead instruments. They aren’t aware of the potential of the bass guitar.”

However, nothing is going to stop Sukhmani, who is already learning to play the saxophone, another instrument which has ‘male dominance’.

Kaveri Sharma, 24

Flute player, Amritsar was all of nine when she gave her first public performance on the sitar in her hometown, Amritsar. Though her mother is also an instrumentalist — a sitar player — Kaveri doesn’t think her love for music is hereditary. "Nothing had ever been forced on me. When I joined BBK DAV College in Class 11, I was amazed by the way our music teacher played the flute and requested him to teach me," she says.

An MA in vocal music from Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar, the young girl is currently pursuing master’s in instrumental music from Himachal Pradesh University. Quiz her about how she feels when people say the flute is played mostly by men and she says laughingly, “I have a group of nine girls who play folk orchestra. Each girl plays more than 10 instruments and when we are performing, we play a total of 90 instruments. Each of those instruments is believed to belong to the male bastion.” Kaveri adds that she is the lead flute player of the group while her teammates play the dhol, sarangi, ghada, khanjari, algoza, kenchiya and chimta, amongst others.

While sharing information about the different styles of flutes available, such as the side flute and ‘wanjali’, Kaveri says many girls get intimidated by the difficulty levels in playing the instrument. “Also, they might not see much scope in learning it and would rather prefer indulging in other activities,” she adds with a naughty smile.

Sukhinjeet Kaur, 21

Patiala, multi-instrumentalist, dafli, ghada, khanjari, nagada, sap, chimta, manjeere — name a traditional Punjabi musical instrument and this young girl knows only too well how to play it. Ask Sukhinjeet the skill required to master so many instruments and she says simply, "One only needs to understand the beat, after which one can play any instrument. Also, if you’re passionate about something, then there is nothing difficult about it." The Patiala girl’s interest in playing these traditional instruments stemmed majorly from her interest in them and her family’s background in music. "My maternal grandfather was the head raagi at gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib, while one of my maternal uncles runs a music school in Canada. My mother is also into singing, so there is no wonder that I love music so much," she smiles.

Sukhinjeet is a part of the folk orchestra group of Punjabi University, and her team has performed in six different youth festivals, winning six gold medals. In a few words, she sums up the current scenario with one question, “Today, girls are not lagging in any task. Then, why does this difference exist in the world of music?”

Amrit Kaur, 24

Tumbi player, Ludhiana the daughter of a folk singer, it was natural for Amrit to pick up musical strains as a child. The chords of the Tumbi that her father Dhanna Singh Rangeela struck, moved Amrit and so, her love for the folk musical instrument grew steadily. "From the very beginning, I was inclined towards playing the Tumbi. And it being a light instrument made me feel eager to pick it," says the Ludhiana girl, currently pursuing M Phil in vocal music from Punjabi University, Patiala, and plans to later pursue PhD in the same subject.

Having participated and excelled in youth festivals in various regional colleges and universities since the last seven years, Amrit says the best compliment that she ever received was people’s surprise at seeing a girl play the Tumbi. “Munde Tumbi bajande bahut vaar dekhe ne, par kudi pehli
vaar dekhi hai… (We’ve usually seen boys play the Tumbi. It’s the first time we’re seeing a girl play it),” she hears many say.

Apart from the Tumbi — a Punjabi folk instrument that many believe might be on its way out — Amrit is also good at playing the harmonium, sitar, dhol, doru and khanjari. The young girl, who was recently conferred the Punjabi Koyal Narinder Biba Award at Mela Dhiyan Da, a festival organised by Government College, Ludhiana, where she was also awarded Rs 25,000, wants to take up music professionally.

Aman Lata, 26

Nawanshahar, Qawali singer a master’s degree and an M Phil in vocal music, and with qawali — an energetic musical performance of Sufi poetry — the topic of her research, Aman Lata has probed deep into the musical strains of qawalis. It must have helped that she was born to a qawal singer, Harmesh Rangeela, whose performances Aman grew up watching. "My initial training started at home, followed by learning music at the Punjabi University, Patiala. Youth festivals held by different colleges don’t have qawali singing competitions, though I have performed at various functions across India, including the World National Conference of Sufi Music that was attended by delegates from Pakistan," she claims with pride.

Aman, who belongs to Siana, near Balachaur, has also given performances at famous dargahs at Ajmer Shareef, Nawanshahar and Bharta Khurd. “Our society is dominated by males, hence boys get importance everywhere. So, it’s not surprising that there are hardly any girl qawals found. Even the seasoned qawals prefer to teach their sons and not their daughters. But, I am thankful to my father, who was keen that I learn qawalis,” she smiles.

After having bagged nine gold medals for singing in various genres such as folk, western, semi-classical and ghazal, Aman says she is very proud to be breaking into a male stronghold. “When I perform, apart from appreciating my singing, people also get amazed by the fact that a girl is singing qawalis,” she laughs.

Ragini Sharma, 26

Tabla player, Himachal Pradesh most 11-year-old girls stay enamoured by pretty dolls, Kangra’s Ragini Sharma would fiddle with the tabla. But, apart from her interest in the instrument, it was an incident that prompted Ragini to master the art of playing it. "Once, a student of my father’s (Shambu Nath Sharma, a known tabla player), said, ‘ Yek ladkiyon ke bas ki cheez nahi hai…’ (Girls can’t handle this).

It really pinched me and I decided to take up learning the instrument,” says Ragini, who adds, to our surprise, that she was originally not as inclined towards playing the instrument, though her father was a pro at it.

Ragini has done master’s in instrumental music, specialising in sitar, from the Punjabi University, Patiala, and is currently pursuing PhD there. In another male-dominated sphere, Ragini has bagged the distinction of winning awards for being the only tabla player in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

“In 2007, I received an award from the chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal for being the only female tabla player of Himachal Pradesh. In 2009, I got the Sankalp Shree Award at Dharamshala, followed by Kala Sanskriti Award at Delhi,” says Ragini, who also holds the Sangeet Visharad from Pracheen Kala Kendra, a three-year degree in music equivalent to bachelor’s degree.

First Published: Mar 08, 2014 12:17 IST