Crafting a Contemporary Soundscape for Indian Folk Music: Hari & Sukhmani

Photo: Simran Jagdev

Download podcast (16 mins)

India is the startled host to a flurry of music festivals this autumn. With ambitious music ventures like Only Much Louder fueling the independent music scene, the last few years have seen a competitive frenzy for venues, artists, and tickets. Talent is not lacking—but as each festival stretches to upstage and outnumber one another’s lineup, they start to restrict artists to playing at only one. Hari & Sukhmani are sought after at several.

“We played Sunburn last year, so this year it’s the NH7 Weekender,” Sukhmani Malik tells us. According to the spirited duo, it’s a good time to be making music in India. Their goal is grander than becoming a fixture on the festival circuit, however: they are using their distinctive talents to revitalize Punjabi folk music.

Punjabi folk songs date back centuries and are still sung at weddings and family functions, but to Hari Singh, they’re repositories of a culture and way of life that is fast disappearing. Hari’s training is in electronic composition and production (in Chennai and Manchester)—he’s done his time blending trance and house but has come to rest in a den of vocally-rich ambient ranges. Sukhmani gives depth to these sometimes-frenetic tempos, summoning centuries of ceremonial and everyday verses. Her classical training became formative when she found her guru, whom she credits for the development of her sound.

We found shade in the Hauz Khas Fort for this conversation on the dominance of Bollywood music, the beauty of intergenerational audiences, and the value of reimagining tradition.

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