Leading musicians on what goes into making festive songs - Hindustan Times
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Leading musicians on what goes into making festive songs

BySoumya Vajpayee
Mar 17, 2022 04:51 PM IST

On Holi, leading musicians tell us what goes into creating music that represents a festival or culture, and why it isn’t a cakewalk

We love grooving to festive numbers – both filmi and independent songs. But composing such tracks that represent a festival or tradition is no cakewalk. While the process is fun, it’s laden with responsibility and sensitivity. On Holi, we speak to leading names from the world of music – Salim Merchant, Kailash Kher, and Dr Palash Sen – to understand how the treatment that such songs get is different, the challenges that come along, their favourite Holi numbers, and more.

Leading musicians on what goes into making festive songs
Leading musicians on what goes into making festive songs

Salim Merchant

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I always try to capture the spirit of the festival. Whether it’s Eid, Holi or Diwali, what one feels during a festival and the cultural representation or tradition associated with it is most important. For instance, Holi is connected with Radha, Krishna and Vrindavan. I wanted to do a song for Holi that represented that romance and ched-chaad, so we (Salim-Sulaiman; composer duo) did a song called Biraj Mein Jhoom. Similarly, when there’s Ganesha, Maha Shivratri or Eid, we try to capture the devotion. Such songs (related to a festival) are difficult to make, because a lot of them have already been done. So, how to reinvent and come up with a new idea that’s celebratory, yet representative of the festival is challenging. Such songs are treated differently because they are timeless. So, we try to give them extra love.

Favourite Holi songs: Rang Barse (Silsila; 1981) and Baalam Ji (featuring Sattar Khan)

Dr Palash Sen

Making a song is a fun process, but when you’re working on a festive number, the journey becomes more colourful and traditional. As kids, we were always excited about festivals, so when you make a song like that, it becomes a part of your system forever. What also go into these songs are your own memories, so they become heartfelt. In India, all festive songs have a folk or classical flavour. But, when I make such songs, I try to incorporate some modern elements, too, keeping the organic fabric intact. I think all the festivals have become a mix of tradition and modernity, and that’s how the tracks should also be. I also think that songs dedicated to festivals should be made more often.

Favourite Holi songs: Holi Ke Din Dil Khil Jaate Hai (Sholay; 1975) and Holi Re Holi (Paraya Dhan; 1971)

Kailash Kher

Whenever I compose a song for a festival, I’m extremely particular about keeping our heritage, traditions and authentic rituals intact, using the right kinds of words and sounds. Working on such songs is not particularly difficult, but you need to be very precise. We shouldn’t lose the focus from what we want to concentrate on and what we’re celebrating through a song. While making such tracks, we make sure we use sounds that are traditional, yet have an international appeal. For instance, while making a song on Maha Shivratri, we use instruments like the shankh, pakhawaj, chimta, mridangam and damru. These are unconventional instruments, yet they have a psychedelic sound, which appeals to people across the world.

Favourite Holi songs: Tan Rang Lo Ji Aaj Mann Rang Lo (Kohinoor; 1960)

Vishal Mishra

A lot of knowledge of India and understanding of your roots, history and sentiments go into making any festive or cultural song. Such tracks are very difficult to make, because the number of expressions out there are so many, but you have to touch them in a different way and since those festivals are deeply rooted in our genes and culture, you need to be very honest while working on such songs. Also, festivals matter a lot to people, so making such numbers is a huge responsibility. Every festive song requires a different treatment, as all the festivals in India differ from each other. I made a song on Chhath Puja and it went viral. But that was not the intent while making it. I just wanted to live up to the sentiments attached with the beautiful festival.

Favourite Holi song: Rang Barse (Silsila; 1981)

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