A concert of contemporary Indian folk music by Harpreet and his band was held on Friday 8 March in the River Hall at El-Sawy Culturewheel in Cairo.
This was the first in a series of events scheduled as part of the annual 'India by the Nile' festival.
Although the words “Indian folk” may conjure the image of colourful turbans and thundering drums, this was not the case this time. Casually dressed in jeans and equipped with electric guitars, the musicians showed how contemporary Indian urban youth put their own twist on their traditional heritage.
The concert opened with 'Heer Ranjha' - a romantic folk story from Punjab reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, which is traditionally performed as a song. Harpreet, the lead singer and composer, would give a short introduction before each piece during the concert, giving an idea about its message.
The programme was mostly based on poetry by renowned Indian authors from different eras, from the 15th century saint Kabeer to 20th century authors such as Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and Bhawani Prasad Mishra. Some of the lyrics Harpreet penned himself. There was also a piece by popular contemporary lyricist Varun Grover and a heartfelt version of a folk song from Rajasthan, 'Choti si Umar.'
Alternating between lyrically introspective songs and more lively items, Harpreet led the audience through a range of topics that anyone can relate to, from meditation to social issues such as freedom of speech.
Harpreet sings while playing an acoustic guitar, and is accompanied by Anirbhan Ghosh on bass guitar, Sumant Balakrishnan on electric guitar, and Varun Gupta on percussion.
The group, in its current lineup, has been playing for the last six years, although Harpreet started jamming with some of the band members in 2009.
“We call it contemporary folk just to give it a label," frontman says. "Actually it is more like free experimenting.”
The singer admitted that at first he was “very nervous about how the audience would receive it,” but the Cairo crowd never fails to enjoy Indian music. After the initial tension, the frontman’s interactive skills took over and soon everyone was eagerly clapping and singing along, despite the lyrics being in a foreign language.
Many of those who gathered for the concert are also following the other activities of the India by the Nile festival.
Among those dancing to Harpreet’s lively hit 'Babli Banarasi' was choreographer Gilles Chuyen, who is visiting Egypt yet again this year with his Bollywood dance workshops, accompanied by his students, who applied to practice the steps and movements they’ve learned.
The concert was also attended by the ambassador of India to Egypt, HE Rahul Kulshreshth, who congratulated the artists after the performance in accordance with Indian tradition.
The band has two more performances in its schedule; on 9 March at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, and on 15 March at the Cultural Palace in Port Said.
Harpreet, the lead singer and composer (Photo: courtesy of India by the Nile)
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