New Delhi, In the fields of Punjab where he grew up, farmers would sing Sufi songs – even his family sang. That is how popular singer Hans Raj Hans learnt his music. Today, he believes, Bollywood takes liberty with the genre.
“The words and the essence of the ‘kalams’ (works) cannot change, only the orchestra can change. It is a good thing that Sufism and its music are reaching out to the masses, but the music should not detract from tradition. The exponents cannot play around with the compositions of the great saints,” Hans Raj told IANS in an informal chat.
The musician, who has performed with Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, feels, “Bollywood has been taking liberty with Sufi music”.
Hans Raj nurtures a dream – he wants to build an ashram for Sufi music so that the centuries-old genre can be passed on to future generations.
“I want to build an ashram of Sufi music for children. But someone has to set it up for me,” said the noted Sufi musician, who performed at the Delhi International Arts Festival Saturday.
“The road to Sufiana is tough,” Hans Raj says. “Most contemporary musicians want to become stars overnight. It is not possible to achieve instant fame in Sufi music – it takes time to become famous,” the musician said.
Walking down memory lane, Hans Raj says: “I was born in Shafipur, a village near Jallandhar which is home to the dargah of Sufi saint Shafi Mohammed.
“Every year, the shrine hosts a ‘Sufi darvesh’ (live congregation of Sufi saints) that is attended by minstrels from across the country and Pakistan. My village is steeped in Sufi music.
“I was very young, around five or six, when I first heard farmers sing Sufi folk songs in groups while working in their fields. Even my family sang. I followed them around and learned the songs,” said Hans Raj, who grew up in a family of farmers.
He has also been conferred the Padma Shri for his contribution to music. “I have been singing for more than 20 years,” the musician said.
Hans Raj, who spreads the message of “peace and amity” through his music, is known for his “live border concerts”.
“Every year, on the midnight of Aug 14, I visit the Pakistan border and perform at a candle light concert to reach out to the people of Pakistan. Over the years, it has become an important event on Punjab’s Independence Day calendar,” he said.
“This year too, I went to the border and sang in the presence of politicians, performers, journalists and intellectuals, including Salima Hashmi, the daughter of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. My border concerts have also been attended by (writer-poet) Gulzar and (actor) Raj Babbar,” he said.
Hans Raj, who is passing on his legacy of Sufi and folk music to his two sons, likes to sing “in places where my music is appreciated”.
“People who love Sufi music are always drawn to my concerts. They are blessed,” he said.
The musician has cut several Indipop albums.
“This year, I released an album of Baba Farid’s kalams set to music by Jagjit Singh. I try to bring a classical touch to Sufi folk,” Hans Raj said.
Distinguishing between “Punjabi, Rajasthani and Kashmiri Sufi music”, he said, “Sufi folk from Punjab is very similar to that of Rajasthan in language. They are a blend of Urdu, Hindi and the local language.
“The Sufi songs from Kashmir are mostly in Urdu and the Kashmiri language. But the philosophy is one – to reach god through music,” he said.
The musician is currently working on an album of Punjabi folk songs.