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Listening to the songs of Sonam Kalra’s group The Sufi Gospel Project is like attending a great gig in the sky, it’s like walking in on an intimate conversation she is having with God—divine, calm-inducing and therapeutic. At the first Sounds of Freedom concert in Delhi on 23 March, Kalra’s repertoire will include a mélange of the hymn Abide With Me with Kabir’s doha (couplet): Moko Kahan Dhunde Re Bande, Main Toh Tere Paas Mein; and her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah fused with Sufi singing and the soul-lifting sound of the sarangi.

“Sounds of Freedom has been in the pipeline for quite a bit," says Sanjoy Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts, New Delhi, the festival organizers. Along with Kalra’s group, the festival’s first edition will see musicians and bands across genres and geographies celebrating the theme of freedom.

Winit Tikoo
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Winit Tikoo

Anadil first performed in Delhi with her then band Bangla during the 2007 Saarc Bands Festival. Full-throated, deep, heavy and powerful, her baul folk struck a chord even with those who rarely went beyond the quotidian. By amalgamating feminism, religion and revolution in her music, she has refashioned baul for an urban audience. Anadil will be also collaborating with Kalra, at the concert, for a couple of songs.

Kalra, who recently made an anthem for the global campaign to end violence against women, One Billion Rising, says, “Sufism means love of humanity, and gospel is truth, my definitions have widened." Her songs speak of breaking free of boundaries, labels and walls.

“I try and explore uncommon gospels and Sufi poems and songs; like a 100-year-old gospel In The Garden; and a lesser-known Sufi poem Alfat by Bulle Shah which I’ve blended with Irish medley; and the works of a female Sufi mystic, Rabi’ah al-Basri, from thousands of years ago," says Kalra, who appeared in the third season of MTV’s Coke Studio (India).

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Moni did his master’s in history from Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, but it was music that pulled him eventually: “Never once did I hear anyone in Kolkata listening to Abbas Uddin (Ahmed), the legendary bhatiyali and bhawaiya folk singer. The reason (baul mystic) Lalon Fokir is known so widely today is because (Rabindranath) Tagore wrote about him."

“I have grown up listening to boatmen singing. River is one of the 14 subjects of Bengali lok geet (folk song), which is bhaab-baadi (emotion-based), mystic and spiritual, and has so many forms beyond baul, like bhawaiya, bhatiyali, gombhira, sari, jari, dhuya, Murshidi, etc.," says Moni, who will be singing with his Majhi Mallah band, comprising riverine folk.

Roy says, “Young people must know that progress can only happen if you are free to express. Since they connect best with music, the festival was thus conceptualized; it also aims to create an indie music platform, like the ones enjoyed by bands Mrigya, Indian Ocean and Silk Route in the late 1980s and 1990s."

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Saurav Moni

The organizers hope to make the festival an annual affair and take it to a new city each year. “Next year will be Hyderabad, because of the unrest there caused by the Telangana issue," says Roy.

Sounds of Freedom will be held on 23 March, 1pm onwards, at the NSIC Grounds, Okhla, New Delhi. Tickets, 750 (for those under 25; carry your ID cards) and 1,000, available on Kyazoonga.com. For details, visit Soundsoffreedom.in

Also Read | Q&A | Anusheh Anadil

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