Bhagat Bhooro Laal in the music video of Ram Kali
Bhagat Bhooro Laal in the music video of Ram Kali

The Lahooti Live Sessions, an online-only platform featuring music by indigenous artists and sometimes their collaborations with more mainstream ones, is back. Their latest release is the ‘Wandering Ascetics version’ of Ram Kali, one of the poems of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. As with their Coke Studio collaboration, Dastaan-e-Moomal Rano, Ram Kali features a sort of duet between Saif Samejo and Bhagat Bhooro Laal.

The song also features another musician who’s become a familiar face down south, Nepal-based Roshan Sharma. He’s one of the most prominent musicians in Nepal and considered the country’s top guitarist. Roshan Sharma is also famous for being the only person in the world that knows how to play the chaturangi — a lap-slide, 24-stringed guitar developed by classical maestro Bhattarcharya. The latter is credited with creating the ‘trinity of guitars’ — the chaturangi, the 14-string gandharvi and the four-string anandi.

But on to Samejo ...

There’s a dizzying array of indigenous instruments used in the song …

Saif Samejo from The Sketches talks about taking inspiration from indigenous culture and wisdom in their latest song, Ram Kali, and on what to expect from the next Lahooti Melo

Saif Samejo: Yes, other than the acoustic and electric guitars, there is the surhando, frame drum, pakhawaj, mirdangam, ghungro, shakers, tambourine and the khartaal [what Bhagat Bhooro is holding in the video]. These are the instruments that were played and recorded live. In the studio we added a couple more, including the veena, in the background.

For those that don’t understand Sindhi, what are the lyrics about?

SS: The lyrics are about yogis, lahootis, ascetics and such characters. The kind of people that don’t take any burden upon themselves — of thoughts, ideologies etc. They aren’t bound by society’s relationships and rules. They are free. They are governed by the laws of nature and they understand better who we are. This is one of the many qirdaars [personas] of Shah Latif.

You’ve been focused on a lot of indigenous poetry lately, why?

SS: It’s indigenous, but I think the message is universal. I find it to be liberating compared to aj kal ke invisible cages mein band [boxed in] expression. Whether it’s Shah Latif, Sachal or Bulleh Shah’s poetry, it feels like they’re talking about us. This is not to say that all contemporary poetry is bad — I write songs myself as well. I just find great pleasure in singing the expressions and the layer-upon-layer of emotions present in indigenous poetry. Achha lagta hai. [It feels good]. Maybe there is an old soul [within me] that is affected by it.

Is this part of an album that you’re planning to release?

SS: This version that we released also features Bhagat Bhooro. The album version only features The Sketches.

You’ve featured Roshan Sharma. Are you planning on working on a bigger project with him?

SS: It’s been almost three years that Roshan Sharma has been a part of The Sketches. Because he was in Nepal, his shoot took place over there as well which is why he might seem separate in the video. [Together] we’re working on the soundtrack for a foreign film, in Pakistan we’re collaborating on [the Sindhi-Urdu film] Jugnu and hopefully by September we’d have finished the album.

When is the Jugnu soundtrack coming out?

SS: We’ve written the songs for Jugnu and they’re almost ready. We’ll begin working on the score in September. As far as the release, that’s up to the director and what he’s got planned. You’ll find a very mazaydaar mailaap [enjoyable melding] of Sindhi, Urdu and Hindi in them.

The next Lahooti Melo is due to take place in January 2019. Have you thought of a theme?

SS: Yes. Global warming and climate change. We’re going to try and have scientific discussions on this and also bring forth indigenous knowledge/wisdom as well. We will try to take it as sensitively as we can. It’s our collective responsibility to take care of our environment. We should feel responsible for every act we do to nature.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 25th, 2019