Beating Mumbai’s crazy traffic, I made it just in time to attend Sona Mohapatra’s Sufi-rock concert, aptly titled ‘Songs for the Beloved’. The breezy amphitheatre proved to be a pleasant change from the hustle-bustle of commercial Mumbai. Settling myself in the first row, I had an animated conversation with a fellow member of the audience, Ms. Alice, who “just loved Sona’s idea of music”.
Bang on schedule, Sona dazzled onto the stage against the backdrop of some soul-stirring music. Clad in a fusion self-cut sari and Rockstar-boots, she stayed true to the essence of the concert. (Post-concert, I did ask her whether this was deliberate. She said, ‘Not really. This is how I usually dress. Crazy and unique’.)
I was hooked.
In a near-trance, she belted out the 1st track ‘Aise Jaagi Re’, which set the tone for the evening. The songs performed were a mixture of her previous and forthcoming work.
Following this, she sung ‘Tere Ishq Nachaaya’ (my new personal favorite). Boy! I was mesmerized! Oblivious to everyone, she imbibed the rhythm and gyrated to the song. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look:
After a thundering round of applause, Sona welcomed her audience by crooning a modified version of her famous song ‘Aaja Ve’. Describing it as “a call to the divine”, thus establishing an ‘intimate personal one-to-one’, she cried out to her beloved amidst a beautiful fusion of the dholak, guitars and the keyboard.
The sound of shakers led to her version of ‘Tori Soorat Ke Balihari’, written by the famous Indian poet Amir Khusrau. The song was relatively fast-paced during which she broke into a seemingly never-ending sargam. ‘Ma Dha Ni, Pa Ni Sa’.
I was incredibly annoyed with a famous singer’s concert happening at a hotel next door. The music was too loud and tended to overlap. Jumping like a bubbly school-going girl, Sona egged her audience to cushion the noise by singing along with her. At this point in time, a grass hopper landed on my head and refused to budge. Its attention was probably drawn towards the beautiful lady serenading the audience with ‘Nit Khair Mangna’, a Sufi track with a heavy infusion of the guitar. Eventually, I flicked it away!
Refusing to pause, ‘Dum Dum’ was next. Composed by Ram Sampath and written by a Chandigarh-based lyricist, Munna Dhiman, the song required the singer to oscillate between extreme pitches. Sona pulled it off effortlessly with her voice reverberating into the night.
An old, slow yet enchanting Rajasthani ‘Baadalaan’ ensued with heavy doses of the ghungroo and tremendous beats of the djembe. A welcome change indeed! The song was a heart-wrenching call for the return of one’s beloved. On a contrasting note, the slow and soothing melody, ‘Abhi Nahi Aana’ requested the lover to wait a while before coming back. Sona asked the audience if they had ever made such a declaration to their lover. I have, have you?
Sona sung ‘Gokula’, a song written by Soordas and originally rendered by her hero, the late Kumar Gandharva. If she wasn’t in a trance earlier, she was definitely in one now. The tremendous modulation of her powerful voice as she performed an enchanted dance was breathtaking. Bravo!
Featuring the poetry of Meerabai and composition of Ram Sampath, ‘Shaam Piya’ was next in line. According to Sona, generations of women have been inspired by Meerabai. A true icon of liberation, Meerabai sang fearlessly and danced publicly, despite existing in the land of purdah six centuries ago.
‘Barsai Badariya Sawan Ki’ had Sona sensuously swaying to the background score. Predominantly an instrumental track scattered with vocals, it gave rise to a dichotomy between Indian and Western music.
It was time for the grand finale. Sona dedicated her last performance of the evening to her family, specially mentioning her sister who, despite having battled an acute illness, had flown into Mumbai to surprise her. Amir Khusrau’s ‘Main Toh Piya Se Naina’, a “timeless song with a liberated interpretation of love which celebrated celestial love”, was performed amidst a chant of ‘Khusro Nizam Ke, Bali Bali Jai Hai’ by the audience. She surrendered herself to the music. Her energy was contagious. I could feel it oozing from her tall stature. Just as the song started to fade out, she jumped back with an extremely fast continuation of the aforementioned phrase.
And the curtains were drawn.
The completely-packed amphitheatre seemed to echo with the deafening applause that ensued.
Sona bowed graciously and exited the stage.
Vocals – Sona Mohapatra
Piano: Beven Nathan Fonseca
Drums – Manoj
Bass – Rushad
Guitars – Sanjoy Das & Hitesh
Percussions – Naitik
Photos and Video Credit: Shresht Poddar