The Optimist Citizen

Witnessing the Magic of the Dohas of Kabir with modern, fusion Music

Kabir, his writings and their learning have always been deeply rooted in our cultural identity. Usually witnessed in childhood anecdotes, textbook alliterations, spiritual texts, devotional songs and wise musings, his writings have always been the epitome of spirituality and harmony.

But, what If we tell you that Kabir’s words are being used in progressive ROCK. Yes, you heard that correctly. Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café, is a band based out of Mumbai, which mixes Hindustani, Rock, Metal, Funk and Blues music with the poetry of Kabir to give a pristine dimension to his work and preach his message of harmony. The group of 5 considers harmony as their extension and amicably decided to be called as Kabir, their eponymous mentor and deep passion, while answering the questions

TOC: Tell us about Kabir’s Cafe and the story behind its surreal name?

KABIR: Neeraj Arya, our lead vocalist has been singing Kabir and spreading his messages across India for the past 9 years. It came to him instinctively, after watching a film called ‘Hadh Anhadh’ by Shabnam Virmani that documented Kabir folk music across India and Pakistan. When he came to Mumbai and met the rest of the band, we all connected to the idea– of the poetry and the musical exploration it allowed – and fell in love with it.

Raman suggested the name “Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe”. Amongst the three of them, only one disagreed with the name, which was Neeraj himself! Raman felt Neeraj had to get his due, after spending more than 9 years in re-interpreting Kabir’s verses by fitting them into guitar chord structures, and also performing them. Mukund agreed within half a second, but it took Raman and Mukund an entire night to convince Neeraj that his name had to be the face of the band. So, that’s how Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café came into existence.

Neeraj Arya's Kabir Cafe
Image courtesy – Deccan Chronicle

TOC: Tell us more about all of you and how did you guys came to be associated with the band?

KABIR: It was a very organic thing, as each of us came with different musical sensibilities. Neeraj is a freestyle singer with no formal training. Mukund Ramaswamy, a mechanical engineer by profession and our violinist, has been playing Carnatic music for 20 years. Viren solanki, the drummer, comes from a Hindustani background – having learnt the tabla from Ustad Fazal Qureshi and the Djembe from Ustad Taufiq qureshi. Our Bassist Britto KC comes from a western background, filled with rock, metal, funk and blues and Raman Iyer, the mandolin player, comes with a mix of hindustani and western influences, after having played the mandolin for 16 years. The fusion is just an extension of our individualities, which reach a beautiful confluence at Kabir’s poetry.

TOC: What is the preferred genre and music style of your band?

KABIR: We call ourselves a folk fusion band. Though we are highly influenced by folk music, we love all types of music. We also try to incorporate other genres like Carnatic, Hindustani, Rock, Pop, and Reggae.

TOC: Amidst the contemporary setup today, why did you think Kabir and his work would sound relevant and why would it appeal to the masses?

KABIR: Kabir’s words, though they belong to a bygone era, are timeless. You can take up any of his dohas and they will still hold true. So there’s no real need to interpret his words in a contemporary way, expect by giving current, relatable examples when we explain our songs on stage. We feel connected with his works because we see a sense of celebration of the divinity that’s within all of us, which his verses resonate. One of our most loved songs “Halke Gaadi Hako, mere raam gaadi wale” says Ram or divinity is right inside us. Thus, Kabir not just fills us with a lot of positivity, but also makes us realise that there is a Ram in every one!

TOC: Your song Fakiri with Vishal Dadlani, on the show  The Dewarists, was a huge hit. Can you tell us more about that?

KABIR: We were quite lucky to receive an offer from The Dewarists to perform in it. We eventually collaborated with Vishal and the fusion gave a new rhythm and meaning to the lyrics. The song received wide applause and it helped in pushing the concept of Kabir Folk to a more mainstream and a young audience.

Neeraj Arya's Kabir's Cafe

TOC: Which other musicians have you guys worked with as a band?

KABIR: We did a live performance with Swanand Kirkire and also released a video with Vivek Rajgopalan, a Carnatic percussionist.

TOC: What are you working on right now?

KABIR: We have been working on an independent album which consists of 11 tracks, all of which hold deep reflection of Kabir and his writings.

TOC: What are the plans for Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe in the next couple of years?

KABIR: The plan is simple. As our first independent album releases, we want to travel as much as possible, taking the verses of Kabir to people across the globe and keep his legacy of a better world alive. But, to tell you the truth, the real plan is to always stick together and keep humming our music. Because we have realised, when we hang out with Kabir together, magic happens.


Watch Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe new music video ‘FAKIRI’ featuring Vishal Dadlani


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