HomeLifestyleA musical adornment for Faiz's only poem on Partition

A musical adornment for Faiz’s only poem on Partition

Amira and Vasundhara explore Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Subh-e-Azadi’ in a sonic landscape of traditional ragas and electronically modified sounds

Amira and Vasundhara explore Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Subh-e-Azadi’ in a sonic landscape of traditional ragas and electronically modified sounds

Delhi-based composers Amira Gill (25) and Seattle-based Vasundhara Gupta (27) lend voice to the verses that form a horrific narrative of Partition. His composition, a synonym rendition of the famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s iconic poem ‘Subh-e-Azadi’, is the theme song of? kingdom child, an Animated, VR (Virtual Reality) docu-drama. Produced by Project Dastaan, a peace-building initiative that reunites Partition refugees from their childhood homes in VR, and Anju Films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2022 in January. Released on 26 August across all music-streaming platforms. The tune explores Faiz’s poetry in a sonic landscape that transcends layers of traditional ragas and electronically modified sounds.

The film’s screenwriter Omi Zola had approached Amira last year to work on its music score. She took this opportunity and chose Vasundhara, whom she had first met in 2015 at the Berklee College of Music (Boston). The two have previously collaborated for two experimental projects: a spoken-word for a 2021 album called Ambient Pieces. Manami and Delhi-based art gallery Nature Morts Arts Sounds in 2020. “We started working on the score of the film by mid-August last year. Usually, the score of the film is written after it is locked, but due to time constraints, we wrote it while the film was being made. The theme song was commissioned to us in October and it took us three weeks to complete it,” says Vasundhara.

Vasundhara Gupta

Vasundhara Gupta | photo credit: special arrangement

Produced by Vasundhara and mixed by composer Ishan Chhabra, the song features Chennai-based percussionist Praveen Sparsh and Japanese sarangi player Yuji Nakagawa. It is layered with over 15 percussion instruments – kanjira, pakhawaj, dholak, udu, mridangam, taiko, djembe and pandero – to name a few – that blend with the melodious tones of sarangi and amira. “I wrote the sarangi intervals and recorded them for Yuji. For Praveen, I laid out a small rhythm belt, using electronic elements in percussion with a kanjira, a bell and a tambourine. That was my first layer. I sent it to him and he brought so much to me that it suited the song,” says Vasundhara. Amidst several Zoom calls and research on the poem, the duo had no reference to the song’s composition. “When we started writing the song, there was no other rendition of the poem. Initially we thought of composing it in Raag Bhairav, but later we stopped thinking about the raga and focused on the emotion and mood of the song. Focused. We prepared an emotional chart,” shares Vasundhara.

Both wanted the song’s introduction to convey the mysterious, dark and sad opening line ‘Yeh daag daag ujala, ye shab gazida sehar’ (This light, bleak and speckled; this night-bitten dawn), and the poem’s end. The last line ‘Chale chalo ki abhi woh manzil nahi aaye’ (keep going, because we have not reached our destination yet) resonated with a sense of hope. “The introduction is modest; The outro is more of a lead melody, acoustically speaking. The ragas used are Puriyadhanshree and Yaman,” says Vasundhara, who arranged the song using software like Ableton Live.

Amira Gill

Amira Gill | photo credit: special arrangement

One of the biggest challenges for the duet was opening the song lyrically and arranging it in a rhythmic pattern. Amira says that the poem was written as a journey; An Urdu poem, not a song. “There was neither a clear rhyming plan nor an understandable structure that could fit the context of a song. Also, we were asked to keep it under five minutes,” she says. Both not Urdu Speaking. To get the pronunciation right, he listened to several YouTube recordings of the poem and reached out to Urdu speakers.” Then we chose the lines we wanted to keep, arranged them into sections, and corrected the rhythmic patterns. We also ran it by Faiz Sahab’s eldest daughter Salima Hashmi ji as we didn’t want to offend anyone for changing the poem,” says Amira.

The song has been produced in association with Faiz Foundation and Salima. “When she heard the song, she said it was modern but powerful, but most of all she was excited about the fact that people of our generation could relate to Faiz’s poetry and it is the only poem by a prolific writer on Partition.” Amira adds.

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