Swarathma and Jumma Khan: Harmonizing Folklore with Modern Melodies in New Docuseries

In an ode to the power of music to unify disparate worlds, Swarathma, an ensemble celebrated for their effervescent folk fusion beats and socially charged poetry, embarked on a fascinating musical odyssey with Jumma Khan, also known as Jumma Jogi. Khan is an artist deeply rooted in the musical traditions of Rajasthan. Their joint venture, making an appearance on the Equals docuseries streaming on JioCinema, signifies the transcendent capacity of music to meld the contemporary with the time-honored.

Produced by the Anahad Foundation, the series which premiered on January 25, navigates the unexplored seas of sound and partnership. Equals curates a unique auditory experience by pairing well-known indie musicians with folk virtuosos, setting out to craft unprecedented auditory vistas while highlighting the often-overlooked maestros of India’s widespread musical tapestry.

Vasu Dixit, lead vocalist of Swarathma, expressed his fervent excitement for this genre-blending endeavor. “Collaborating with folk musicians excites me. So, I didn’t hesitate for a moment when the opportunity for Equals came up,” states Dixit. This zest is indicative of a deeper desire to engage with the unadultered core of folk music. Initially, he harbored some reservations about the collaboration, wondering if it would simply be a rehash of past projects or if it would establish a novel harmonic domain. Fortunately, his concerns soon vanished, as the partnership unfolded with each artist contributing their distinctive sound—a collaboration as unique as musical notes themselves.

Fusing the diverse sounds of Swarathma with Jumma’s traditional refrains posed a unique challenge. However, within these tribulations, the enchantment of their teamwork truly emerged. Recalling the experience, Dixit notes, “Our recent collaboration wasn’t drastically different from previous ones… However, in our collaboration with Jumma Jogi, it was mainly Jishnu and me who were mostly communicating, as we aligned closely with his musical style.”

Dixit explains how the diversity within the band, with each member bringing in their distinct interests and expertise, empowers Swarathma to shine in various musical contexts. Depending on the collaboration’s nature, different members lead the charge, akin to specialized players in different cricket formats.

Jishnu Dasgupta, the band’s bassist, found the collaboration to be an immersive journey into the essence of storytelling through music. Reminiscing over the process, he points out Jumma’s ability to infuse satire into his songs, underpinning a rich fabric of life experiences. A particularly impactful moment was a day-long jam session, which was condensed into a mere minute of screen time, where Kannada rap met Rajasthani folklore to produce a truly novel convergence.

Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The advent of technology in music collaboration has been nothing short of revolutionary. Varun Murali, Swarathma’s lead guitarist, reflects on how recent advancements in recording technology have democratized music creation. With the capability to capture sound in its most authentic essence, these technological strides have made possible collaborations that were once impractical, ensuring folk music’s authenticity is both preserved and highlighted.

Despite the underlying celebration of this musical union, Equals does not shy away from the grim realities confronting India’s folk artists. Jishnu points out the economic and logistical barriers they face, including the deep-seated corruption within state-sponsored showcases.

Jumma Khan himself underscores a grievous issue in the episode: the government-mandated rates for performances at state-funded events. Although these rates should standardize artist compensation, corruption is prevalent, requiring musicians to pay off officials to secure bookings. This dishonest practice not only siphons off the artists’ earnings but can result in their exclusion from performance opportunities should they choose not to comply.

Bridging the gap between folk traditions and a global digital audience is at the heart of Equals. This docuseries not only aims to celebrate these musical genres but to transform the mainstream’s appreciation and understanding of folk music. Through their showcase, the producers hope to illuminate folk music’s priceless cultural legacy, advocating for its preservation and continued relevance in the fast-paced modern world.

Vasu Dixit echoes the ultimate goal of Equals: to ensure every musical voice and genre has a platform for expression, lest they vanish into obscurity. The encounter with Jumma and witnessing his staunch belief in his craft has brought to light the essence of remaining open-minded and sensitive to India’s rich cultural diversity.

Echoing through the digital waves, Equals is a symphony that transcends language, style, and place. Offering up a tapestry of sonic tales that connect with listeners universally, the series heralds the uniting strength of music as a global language. Streaming now on JioCinema, the docuseries stands as a vibrant reminder of music’s enduring and eclectic beauty.

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