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A folk journey

Oye tractor engine! Temple bells Oye


Sneha Khanwalkar has been lending a ear to all kinds of everyday sounds, and mixing them into folksy, pop songs.

The growl of a tractor engine. The thwack of a cricket bat. The blare of a siren. The drone of a tumbi. The clanking of temple bells. These were just some of the sounds that Bollywood music director Sneha Khanwalkar needed to string together to make music.

Known for her penchant for exploring the interiors of the country to record and uncover talent - she travelled through Punjab and Haryana looking for that authentic folk-infused sound for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, a film that catapulted her from anonymity to fame - Khanwalkar was the perfect choice for a television show that aims at turning everyday noises into music.

Armed with a digital recorder and a keen ear, Khanwalkar, who describes herself as a "sound junkie", set off on a sonic journey through ten Indian cities, to capture sounds and voices that encapsulate each city's culture and soundscape. "The focus of the show was on sounds that would sum up a city, and not just find new singers, " she explains.

"Travelling for Oye Lucky! was great practice for this experiment, " Khanwalkar told TOICrest, shortly after returning from Assam where they shot an episode on the river island Majuli. "But this show is actually a lot more ambitious. When I was scouting for sounds for the movie, I had an idea of the sound I wanted but here it was all new. We were in each place for 3 or 4 days, and we had not only to record and hear, but even make a song in that time. Constantly working on a deadline wasn't easy, but a lot of fun, " she grins.

The show, Sound Trippin, premiered last week with a journey to Punjab, the land of masculinity and mustard fields. Brilliantly shot and slickly edited, the show is an interesting take on what we assume is noise. The classically trained Khanwalkar transforms the disharmony in the cackle of everyday sounds into hummable harmonies.

For the first episode, Khanwalkar travelled to Qila Raipur for the 76th Rural Olympics and Jalandhar. At Qila Raipur, where she was presented with a cacophony of sounds, Khanwalkar recorded a funny kabaddi commentator, a revved-up motorcycle engine, the yell of a weightlifter and the whack of a hockey stick. She mixed all those sounds with a siren she recorded at a cricket factory in Jalandhar, the distinctive Punjabi instruments tumbi and dhad, and set the soundtrack to Punjabi lyrics sung by Jyoti and Sultana Nooran, the granddaughters of eminent folk singer Bibi Nooran. A dubstep treatment makes the song, Tung, tung both contemporary and folksy.

Converting scraps of sounds - the sounds at a leather factory, bird song, traffic - into a pop song that would appeal to a wider audience is what she describes as a "difficult but stimulating process". "It was challenging because we need sounds and voices that have to be evocative and come up with a song that could be enjoyed by anybody. "

Just as she discovered names and voices like Des Raj Lakhani who sang Jugni in Oye Lucky!, this time round too she met some unique singers. The 28-year-old, whose last major project was Dibakar Banerjee's Love Sex and Dhoka and is currently working on Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur, was taken aback by the 'big momma' voices of the Siddi tribe she encountered in Yellapur, Karnataka. The Siddis of Karnataka are a tribe of African descent that have made Karnataka their home for the last 400 years.

"That was a breathtaking yet ironic experience, " she tells. "The assimilation of these people of African descent with the local culture is so high. They don't even realise that they look any different, but when they started singing, their lineage was difficult to ignore. They were pitch perfect and had such powerful voices. They couldn't really understand why it was important to record what they do on a daily basis. "

Affable and genuinely interested, Khanwalkar drew people and noises out. "People hate to be pushed because at the end of the day singing is an art, " she explains. "Once they open up, they all have a childlike enthusiasm. A bit of 'gaa na, arre gaa na' always works. "

Reader's opinion (1)

Kyle LongDec 11th, 2012 at 14:27 PM

Nice piece on this brilliant artist.

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