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Sonam Kalra’s Sufi Gospel Project Is An Example Of How Music Unites People

Posted: May 8, 2020

Listening to Sonam Kalra talk about music, sufism & her love for it was a wonderful experience. Here’s why I loved her live session with Raga Olga D’Silva.

A positive experience I have had during the COVID-19 crisis is getting the opportunity to listen to a series of live chats on social media. Author and motivational speaker Raga Olga D’Silva, has been conducting discussions with a number of people on a wide range of issues. She is the co-founder and director of Speaking Minds.

Her guests include artists, actors, writers, activists, and citizens from all walks of life. I found these chats quite engaging, and some of the topics she covered were interesting enough to inspire me to put my thoughts down.

On May 1, her Facebook live featured the Sufi singer, songwriter and composer Sonam Kalra. Sonam has earned appreciation for her Sufi Gospel project. I believe there can be no mission nobler than the one to unite humanity.

Sonam aims to unite humanity with music!

Sonam’s project aims to blend the many voices of faith to create one universal voice of faith. The music is a harmonious blend of Sufi, gospel, jazz, bhakti, and contemporary. But also of anything that spontaneously and organically flows into the stream.

It is interesting to learn how the seeds were sown for the creation of the Sufi Gospel project. To mark the birth anniversary of Sufi saint Inayat Khan in 2011, Sonam was invited to sing gospel at Nizamuddin in Delhi.

That event planted an idea in her mind. If a Sikh girl could sing gospel in an Islamic space, it is possible to create a form of music that encompasses all faiths. Hence the project was born. And Sonam over the years has been performing with her band across India and beyond.

The session was appropriately titled Matters of the He(Art)’ And the conversation was informal in nature and a heart-to-heart talk between Raga and Sonam. I make a humble attempt to highlight snippets from the conversation which to me were particularly appealing.

Sonam, music and Sufism

Music as an art form was discussed in a lucid manner minus the jargons that sound alien to ones uninitiated to the discipline. A trained singer who has earned wide acclaim for her prowess, Sonam doesn’t talk about music in technical terms.

She beautifully describes music in our lives as a friend that will never leave us. According to her, every individual connects to music in some way or the other. One does not need to sing in order to understand and appreciate the art.

To quote Sonam, “If we were all singers, there would be no listeners!” This, I thought, was a very valid point.

As daunting as it may sound, Sonam assured that ‘Sufism’ is not the big word. She explains in simplistic yet profound terms that Sufism is nothing else but the acceptance of all of humanity as equal.

The variety of music and liberty to enjoy music that appeals.

Sonam considers herself immensely blessed to have grown up in a house filled with music. She fondly reminisces sitting on her mother’s lap and listening to the ghazals of Begum Akhtar.

From a very early age, she was exposed to diverse genres of music. Melodies of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Bellafonte, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Abida Parveen filled her ears. She also recounts her sisters listening to the Beatles and Eric Clapton.

Sonam expresses that one should be open to listening to different types of music. However, one should be at complete liberty to embrace the form of music that appeals the most to their heart.

What does Sonam bring to the table in the corporate sector?

Sonam has been contributing to the corporate environment by organising workshops. Art is usually used as a medium for meditation or for de-stressing, and she wanted to extend its wings into the workplace too.

“Finding Your Voice” is one such module in her program. It helps people tune in and develop their artistic side. Voice here does not necessarily mean the singing voice, but rather one which aids to communicate better.

Sonam talks about an exercise where a person is asked to stand in a corner and hear himself or herself speak. When the voice bounces back, one realises what is wrong in the manner of speaking. That help set the rhythm or tone to facilitate effective communication.

The importance of Riyaz and the loud, aggressive voice?

When Raga asked whether riyaaz is needed prior to presentations in the corporate world, Sonam responded in the affirmative. She calls herself a “big stickler” for rehearsals and shares what one of her teachers from theatre had said.

It is important that a performer rehearses to a point that it becomes one’s intuition. The outcome: even if one forgets, the matter is so deeply ingrained that one will still be able to deliver.

A leader does not necessarily need to have a loud, aggressive voice to be heard, says Sonam. The magic is in the art of communication, and even in a calm voice, one can express what he or she needs to say.

Sonam said that just as one needs to play the notes in their mind before singing a song, one should also get their thoughts straightened out in their head before vocally expressing them.

Women have been conditioned for far too long to have a soft, sweet voice. This extends not just to singing but even while handling issues on a day-to-day basis. Sonam is of the opinion that one needs to go beyond these walls created, push the barriers, and find one’s core voice.

The lockdown and the light at the end of the tunnel

The COVID-19 lockdown, in Sonam’s perspective, is going to be a kind of a rebirth of the earth. She sees light at the end of the tunnel. And she is positive that people will have the opportunity to reflect on what really matters to them and will be more compassionate than ever before.

Sonam’s open-mindedness emerges as one of the most admirable traits during her conversation with Raga. She looks upon the world of music as a space that embraces all of mankind.

Her definition of a singer transcends stereotypical norms. She dislikes the use of the phrase “non-singer” and is certain that every person has a voice. Sonam articulates that anyone who loves music should step outside the boundaries, give expression to their desire to lend their voice, and cast aside the fear of being judged.

What makes one a real artist is when their love for the craft is soaked in honesty and sensitivity. Sonam Kalra is one such gifted singer who puts faith in truth and the free sprit.

She strongly believes that one does not have to emulate others but simply needs to find one’s own soul voice. Sonam endorses the philosophy of the great Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi, who once said: “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.”

Picture credits: YouTube

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Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.

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