With rock, jazz, hip-hop and EDM gaining popularity among the audience, the local Indian traditional music has taken a back seat to fill up this void, Swaraag – an indo western fusion band hailing from the land of Rajasthan — took the initiative to bring to fore the traditional local folk music of their state on global scale.
The band was started by lead zitar player, Arif Khan and other members include, lead vocalist – Mohammed Asif Khan, drummer – Sajid Khan, Shahid Hussain on tabla, Tasruf Ali the saxophone player and the second Arif Khan of the clan plays khartar. They are known for blending the Rajasthani folk tunes with other genres to make it more entertaining for the audience.
The band recently performed in Italy their first international performance. Their latest gig was at Rotary Delhi NCR Thanksgiving Festival, at Zorba Entertainment Private Limited, Sultanpur in New Delhi. Called Southend Stars Award Nite, it was a gratitude event and an award giving ceremony. They also performed, at cioclub.com concert.
In an exclusive interview, Arif Khan, the lead zitar player spoke about the band, the idea behind choosing traditional folk and more.
Tell us about Swaraag band?
Swaraag is a Rajasthani folk band, where we create Rajasthani fusion music. Apart from this, we are also proficient in sufi fusion and instrumental. We also play Bollywood fusion occasionally based on the audience.
What led to the formation of the band?
It was during my freelancing time in 2011-12 as a sitar player with various bands and individual gigs that I met Pratap Singh, the manager of our team. He proposed working together. Initially, we started with classical instruments, but later incorporated saxophone and drums. As we got a call from corporate sectors, we realised that singing was missing. So, we involved my brother Asif, who has been singing since childhood and is a trained singer.
Why did you choose Rajasthani folk?
Rajasthani culture has always been famous, especially among foreigners and Rajasthani music binds people, no matter from where they are. But, Indians do not promote Rajasthani music like other music. Even Rajasthani metros like Jaipur are not fond of it and it is just popular in rural areas. In fact, Rajasthani musicians and singers and their performances are famous abroad. Hence, we thought of using it as the face of our band, while tilting it a little bit.
Wasn’t it risky getting into a space with niche audience?
We initially didn’t take risk; hence we came up with the idea of fusion, where we would blend traditional Rajasthani folk with some other genre. But, we kept a pure Rajasthani folk track at the end of our shows to check the audience response.
Tell us about the other music genres, your band fuses music for?
We have a good hold on sufi especially Asif. We use songs of Nusrat and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan amongst others and blend it with saxophone, drums to give a fusion performance that has an acoustic flavour.
What is that one thing people like about your band?
The fact that we play instruments live and there is no track in the background as done by most of the artist today. We don’t lip-synch either. Not a single track is recorded. If we have to play table for two hours, then it is completely live. Even we make a mistake, it will be heard live.
Why didn’t you opt for pure original Rajasthani folk?
Most of the original Rajasthani creations were composed long back and the details of the original creators are unknown. Musicians have been just playing their creations for ages now. We also got some insights from our grandmother’s old music collection. Since, in our initial stage, we were unable to give pure Rajasthani folk flavour, we opted for fusion. Also, the idea was to make it more engaging with the public. We do not change the original vocals, but create music with sitar and saxaphone.
Are you planning to make your own folk songs in future?
We have created two folk songs, they are very good. We will launch them soon. Our next target is to record our songs and create a recorded album.
Can you tell us about your performances so far?
Our performances on records are over 800 as of now. We do three to four shows of ICICI monthly. They are very fond of our program. Besides, we have performed in cities like Hyderabad, Delhi, Indore, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkatta, Chennai, and Goa amongst others.
How has the response of audience been so far?
Everything depends on the type of audience and the atmosphere. We have come across two types of crowd; one enjoys dancing, while the other is the seated clan. Sometimes they like one thing of ours and at times other. Hence, we created music accordingly. We get a judgement of the audience once we are present at the venue and twist our performances. We have to take care of both type of audiences. Most of our songs are made on saxophone, which is not usually done in other songs. We also blend Bollywood songs. Our manager Pratap Singh sits in the audience to understand our clients better.
Any genre you are looking forward to experimenting?
Blues and Jazz is something we are interested in. We have saxophone, whose main intent is to introduce jazz. We, therefore, want to make some jazz music by making use of drums, saxophone and guitar.
Are you also releasing your own album?
We have also created three tracks, which we haven’t released officially yet. We do play them sometimes.