The revered Folk singer, composer and playback singer who’s rustic voice texture in the title song of the film ‘Shivaay‘ and Dheere Dheere for Coke Studio has astounded her listeners…Megha Sriram in an initiative to popularise Folk music, has brought a group of Adivasis from the state of Jharkhand, who take inspiration from the Gandhian thought and his philosophy to win through their everyday struggles in life. Sriram reveals about her journey into the world of Adivasis in the quest of some authentic, meaningful compositions in a tet-a-tet with Loudest.in
“Many people in the present generation have forgotten the values and teachings of Gandhi, but to my surprise, as part of my research I came across these communities across the regions of Jharkhand who have imbibed them in their everyday life,” said Megha Sriram in her opening remark.
Johar Gandhibaba held at NCPA Mumbai saw folk songs imbibing the Gandhian thought, says, Sriram, “Songs like ‘Gandhibaba Namak Banaye‘ depicts the Gandhiji’s salt movement to bring salt as an ingredient to the Indian households disobeying the British salt laws. The Adivasis thank Gandhi for giving salt to the society where they can only survive on eating roti with salt, at a bare minimum. This song gets tears to my eyes, seeing how much gratitude the Adivasis give to the Mahatma and so every Indian must.”
Addressing the occasion, Dr. Swarnalata Rao, Director, NCPA said, “Johar Gandhibaba was indeed a challenge to bring it together, since on one side we wanted to be a part of the Mahatma Gandhi’s 150 years celebration, but on the other side we did not know how we could connect with the subject with an artist of eminence. We were surprised to discover Gandhiji ‘s omnipresence being a part of the tribal life and the amount of artistic material, that was available which were brilliantly presented in various dialects of Jharkhand by singer-composer Medha Sriram Dalton.”
The presentation included tribal songs in five regional languages with traditional instruments like the Nagada, Flute, Bowl, Banjo with a Bow, Dholak and Tabla as well as western instruments like drum, piano to give a touch of fusion. While Sriram sang the folk melodies, the Adivasi men and women sang in chorus dancing along in their traditional attires, white and red cotton sarees for women and shirt and dhoti for men. Dance being a custom for them, without which no occasion is complete, that being the traditional way of Adivasi music presentation.
What’s more astonishing to know is that none of the Adivasi performers were trained in any kind of music as Sriram tells further, “Coordinating with them was a challenging task, since every day one or two of the singers would drop out as they had to go to do their daily cores working in the fields etc. They work in the fields during the day and sing at night at the Akhara which is like an entertainment place, that adjoins every tribal house, and that’s a part of their daily practice or riyaz as you may say for singers. So, an entirely new set of people finally came to rehearse and perform in Mumbai. Also, bringing them to a formal performance arena was a challenge, as they are tribals, who haven’t either learnt singing anywhere not are technically sound, but they have very intuitive singing and playing skills, and I relied on their experience!”
Sriram had done extensive research on the folk music of Jharkhand travelled across nooks and corners of the entire regions, as she elaborates, “I travelled in the interior regions of Jharkhand and found diverse forms of regional music which the Adivasis sing, and it was similar to searching the ‘Jadi-Booti’s’ in the woods. As every region has a different music like the ‘Palamo’ has Kuruk music, the Tarai’s of Mitarhat has the ‘Sadri’ music, moving towards ‘Latur’ I found Kuruk and ‘Panchparganiya’ music, which are in the regional languages, and towards the places like ‘Gumla’ and ‘Ghagra‘, I found a different accent of singing ‘Sadri, while towards ‘Devgar’ I found ‘Kurg‘. So, I found a lot of diversity as there are 10-12 regional languages which the Adivasis sing.”
Elaborating on her research, Megha Sriram says, “During my research, I found 10-12 songs which were inspired by Gandhiji, which I learnt from Adivasi singers of Jharkhand. I wonder how they have so much vibrato in their voices and sing while they dance, and even the women tie the infant’s on their waists and dance so that the child imbibes that rhythm naturally.”
“Their songs bring hope to life as they are greatly inspired by Jatra Tana Bhagat who was their tribal leader who met Mahatma Gandhi during the Ramgarh Mahaadhivesan when Gandhiji visited Ranchi. When Gandhi was leaving the village, Tana Bhagat asked for a token of his remembrance and Gandhiji gave him a Tiranga, and to the women, he gave a Gandhi cap, and till date, the entire community displays Tiranga in the households, and the women wear a Gandhi cap and worship Gandhi. It’s said that even Gandhiji was very inspired by the Tana community as they too followed non-violence. The Tana community still sings the praises of the Mahatma in their day today songs, and he is a part of their entire musical repertoire which includes Gandhian philosophy sung at any occasion starting from the birth of a child, wedding or any celebration,” said Sriram.
“In 2015, I received a fellowship from the Ministry of HRD to work on the folk music of Jharkhand, and so I started working with a village. The roads and access to the village were terrible, and so I spoke to the District Collector of the region to help build the road. I told him that I will sing to build this road, and started performing with the Adivasis. It is a susceptible area, and so when I was singing, people of nearby villages started coming, which helped people resolve their differences as they started pouring in to listen to our music. The District Collector also came and saw the condition of the roads and instead of one village he ordered to build the road of the 5 villages. I believe that lots can be changed through music and you don’t need to protest every time, music is a universal language which melts hearts.”
Talking about her endeavour to film the Adivasis Sriram said, “I started working with the Jainagra village people and with my husband, Sriram Dalton. We opened a film institute there, ‘Netarhat Film Institute’ under which we create 22 films, which had some 8-10 films, which were based on the lives of the Adivasis to include films like ‘Lota Pani’ and ‘Dhumkuriya’ in the ‘Sadri’ and ‘Kuruk’ languages respectively.”
Known for her power-packed rendition of the folk song Dheere-Dheere, Sriram shares her journey of dwelling into Folk music professionally saying, “K.J Singhji heard me at one of my performances in Mumbai and recommended me to perform folk music at the coke studio. While I was doing my segment the song, ‘Dheere Dheere’ went quite well, but in the second portion where I had to fuse with Shankar Mahadevan, Leslie Lewis and Aakriti Kakker in a composition, I was unable to pic the commercial tune. Leslie told me to sing any of my folk tunes, and that’s how I just sang it in the flow, and I was appreciated.”
“It was then on the coke studio platform in 2011, I got the wisdom that folk music is my actual call, and then I decided that I will take forward by traditional folk music. Since then till today, I have travelled far and wide in search of the tribal music of Jharkhand meeting tribes across the entire region travelling with my kids and family, living in the villages with minimum facilities, recording at my own costs. The journey has not been comfortable, but this is my chosen path, and I dedicate my entire life to the cause of propagating the music of the Adivasis.”
Sriram has performed at the most prestigious stages across the country, as she tells about the repertoire of her folk performances, “The journey went on as I was invited to perform at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi to sing the Folk music of Jharkhand. At the Paddy Field’s festival in its first edition in 2016, I performed the ‘Khel Geet’ of Jharkhand. The Adivasis are much ahead in time and thought, and they don’t have issues like feminism, as they believe that there is no need to ask anyone about their rights. These Adivasi women are self-empowered, and the kind of songs they sing give the Adivasi women a powerful self- identity. The song, ‘Ke Hokum Diya Nadi Utre Donga Chalao’ depicts women who ask a question to the society and who can give women the permission ‘where’ to row the boat in the river? And answers it’s the women who have given birth to this society and her blood runs through everyone’s body and the river itself. The protagonist further says It’s only the Almighty whose command I bestow to row the donga(boat).“