Published: 21st May 2021
We cannot afford to lose it: Gharana Fusion on art of taking India to the world through folk and ethno fusion music
Using unique instruments, rare stage acts and ethnic attire, this three-piece band has performed at several prestigious national and international events and use every opportunity to promote Indian cu
Nothing captures what's happening culturally at a particular period in time like music does. Music isn't just about entertainment. It speaks volumes of one's cultural identity, it's like a time-capsule of the history of a region and that's what Gharana Fusion, a three-piece ethno-fusion band is trying to express through their music. They have been travelling across the world performing in various prestigious events and drawing attention to Indian culture through their music.
The band was founded when Susnata Har, an ethno-guitarist, was working in the music division of the Birla Group in Calcutta, and met the late Probir Narayan (tabla, pakhawaz, percussions, semi-classic vocals) in 2006. They started jamming together and worked on their own music and started playing for family get-togethers, friends gatherings and small parties. After a few months, a young sitar player named Rohan joined them and they formed a three-piece band. After Probir passed away, a new tabla player named Argha Dey joined the band.
Soon, they started getting invitations from different arts and music festivals, corporate events, music cafes and social clubs. Some of their high-profile events included performing at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (Mumbai) and Delhi International Arts Festival and so on. Occasionally, they also invite guest musicians and singers to perform with them. In 2012, Gurpreet Singh, who plays the Alghoza, joined the band.
What's unique about this band is the rare instruments they use. For instance, the Alghoza, a Sindhi and Punjabi double flute, played by circular breathing techniques, the Dizi, a special flute from China which gives a feel of distant mountains, the Ocarina, a conch-shaped instrument with holes which gives excellent ambient sound and the aerophone, which when connected to a laptop, produces sounds of different woodwinds and string instruments. They also have some unique style of vocals and unseen stage acts body drumming, Didgeridoo (blowing the Australian-made instrument while moving one's body side-to-side and Ghungroo (tapping feet). They also try to promote Indian culture through their attire wearing Rajasthani, Bengali, Assamese and Punjabi garb. "We wear traditional attire because it symbolises the regional cultures of India to the whole world," says Susnata.
So far, they have performed in about 35 Indian cities and nine other countries such as Russia, Egypt, Qatar, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Nepal, New Zealand and in the UAE. Most of their gigs are national concerts, arts and music festivals, performances at colleges, cafes, social clubs, corporate events, NGOs and school workshops.
All their songs are original. Susnata explains the songwriting process, "New places, new people, nature, new culture are my greatest inspirations. I listen to a lot of musicians and bands both from India and foreign lands. My music is an expression of my emotions and interpretation of life. It's about the environment, harmony among people, lifestyle of rural dwellers, universal cosmic energy and the celebration of life."
The band has had several light moments during their performances. For instance, Susnata recalls, "In 2016, we performed in Armenia in the most prestigious concert hall named the ‘Cafesjian Center for Arts’. Gurpreet and Onkar, who are Sikhs wear turbans on their heads. The foreign audience always liked our colorful ethnic clothes. But the Manager was curious and asked us why we wear helmets on stage." Incidents like this, although hilarious give the band an opportunity to talk about their culture.
Susnata says how travelling across the world with the band is an experience that cannot be compared. They had several memorable moments including once when they overslept and almost missed their train and had to run along the platform with all their instruments and bags, yelling and requesting the train driver to stop. When asked what makes them most happy about their performances, Susnata says, "When foreigners praise India and its culture, after hearing our music and when we get that respect for our motherland because of our music, that is our greatest reward."
Speaking about why he feels more young people should be introduced to folk music, he says, "Folk music is so rich, it should be explored more. These days, people are into commercial music, film music, software-generated music and folk music is being neglected. It is part of our history and we shouldn't lose it. In fact, in foreign countries, folk music still has a great place in people’s hearts."
Susnata Har (ethno guitar, backing vocal)
Gurpreet Singh (alghoza, bansuri, melodica, ocarina, dizi, vocal)
Argha Dey (tabla, khamak, cajon, djembe, cheek-beats, bols)