The hugely popular Navratri garba and dandiya is fast becoming a Coke Studio for its musicians who aspire to make it to the big band league some day.
It is probably India’s biggest music and dance party. Navratri is the time when people flock to Dandiya events in great numbers, dressed up traditionally in ghagra cholis that are colorfully embroidered, and dance all evening to dhol beats.
Over the last couple of decades traditional music for garba and Dandiya has evolved into its modern popular version, incorporating disco beats, Bollywood and the prominent usage of western instruments. The increasing popularity of Dandiya Raas has also increased the number and size of such events organized; as well as the number of bands.
Some bands have become so popular over the years that they are the main draw of a Dandiya programme. Names like Satellite Beats, Phalguni Pathak, Rajendra Gadhvi enjoy celebrity status and are called to perform at the largest events in the country and places abroad like Canada, United Kingdom and USA, earning upto tens of lakhs. A closer look at the Dandiya programme band scene in Mumbai was revealing:
The thump of Beat 16
Performing with his band since 1986, Tushar Sonigra is an established name in Dandiya Raas programmes. His orchestra contains over 40-60 musicians on stage at any time including percussionists, guitarists, keyboards and other western instruments. His band also has 4-6 vocalists to render folk tunes or modern numbers. Beat 16 has played internationally in Dubai, Hong Kong and London; and perform every year at the Sharad Poornima in Bangalore. This year Beat 16 performed in Borivili and also at the Kalidas NatyaMandir at Mulund, two suburbs in the western and central areas of Mumbai.
The stage for a Stage 16 show is set high up with back props of flourscent changing lights in the shape of lotus petals. Artists are dressed in colours matching the fancy of the occasion. Huge display screens are set up at vantage points. The event is usually recorded and telecast through a television channel and a local cable network.
By the street lamps: Pankaj and friends
Pankaj and his troupe are music enthusiasts. Some join in occasionally when their interests beckon and some like him practise regularly in the hope of become a formalized band that is as popular as Beat 16.
Where Pankaj plays, residents have been celebrating Navarati for 40 years now. The increasing popularity of Dandiya, not traditionally a part of the culture of the people of Maharashtra, has however also infringed into their celebrations in the last 20-25 years.
Pankaj often plays in modest localities, with no fanfare, mostly to a floating population of office-goers. Light means one halogen light and existing street lamps. The band has however managed to procure necessary instruments for the programme, some purchased with their savings and some taken on loan from friends.
To be paid is not expected, though they may be compensated with a few hundred rupees for their contribution. There is however no lack of enthusiasm and happiness within their small stage.
Drummer man Sachin Nakhwa
Sachin Nakhwa is a percussionist who has been an accompanying musician for many of the large bands. He has travelled to many countries and performed to massive crowds. Belonging originally to a small area in Thane, very similar to Pankaj, Sachin has managed to put food on the table through drum playing. Sachin has his own band called the Seven Keys that perform on various occasions but Navratri is always the busiest.
While Seven Keys played commercially this Dussehra, after a gap of 11 years, Sachin went back to his own backyard. Joining friends who had jammed with him in his younger days at local mandals, this year was a time to go back to people close to him, and home, where his journey began. He and his friends have contributed in cash to ensure a successful event in Thane. In the group of people playing with Sachin is an old man, in his seventies, who they claim was a part of the famous playback singer Manna Dey’s troupe.
The music played by the bands is not much different across the different stages with the exception of vocalists that are part of the larger bands. In the larger events, one is bound to be lost among strangers. In smaller places, almost everyone knows each other and the event sparks a reason for the community to get together and socialize. While the concentration of the musicians in the large bands is towards the performance and entertainment, for the smaller ones, it creates a connection to their community and gives them a chance to contibute. As Sachin Nakhwa mentioned when I was chatting with him – it is his “Seva” to the Goddess and his community.
As Dandiya celebrations get bigger and better, however traditional, modern or pop, its most undervalued contribution is perhaps in creating a means for aspiring young musicians to become a Sachin Nakhwa or Tushar Sonigra.