When it comes to Sufi music, people usually recall of artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Sabri Brothers and many other male Sufi singers. Sufi is one such sphere of music, which people believe to be is a male-dominated one. However, there are Sufi singers like Roohani Sisters, who being women, have made a mark in the Sufi world. Sufi music holds an altogether different place in the hearts of music lovers. Through the years, it has transformed but still there is an unusual essence to it.
There are some Sufi singers who have worked immensely hard to keep the beauty of Sufism intact and two of them, Dr. Jagriti Luthra Prasanna and Dr. Neeta Pandey Negi, are popular names in the Sufi world. The Jugalbandi performs Sufiyana Qalams, Qawwali, Kaafi and Ghazals in traditional style along with their own improvisations and variations, merging it with the Jugalbandi style of Indian Classical Music.
The two women have created a place for themselves through the years and it is commendable how beautifully they have succeeded. Woman’s era had a chat with Roohani Sisters recently, here are excerpts:
Some excerpts from the interview with Roohani Sisters.
Q. Sufism holds a special place amid all different music genres. How did you step into this sphere?
A. As Roohani Sisters, we started out 10 years ago. We were in college together. So we started out as a group of five girls called Sajda. But somehow it didn’t work out. Even when we all used to rehearse together we both used to feel that among us five, the two of us have a better understanding. We felt that we’d rather make efforts in making each other better and improving ourselves. Later we felt like doing something unique with Sufi music as almost everyone is into mainstream Sufi music. We wanted to create a mark for ourselves. So we started by listening to Ustad Nusrat Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and we tried to understand the nuances of their music. So you’d find most of our music on the lines of their music. We are hugely inspired by them.
Q. Why the name “Roohani Sisters”?
A. We are soulful sisters. We are two bodies, two souls. But when we are on stage and we are singing our souls unite. We are not related by blood. But we are related by our souls and our passion for Sufi music.
Q. Tell us about your journey and equation with each other?
A. Our journey has been fantastic but full of struggles. We started out when we were in college. We had similar mindset and mannerisms. And that is evident on stage as well. If one of us misses a note, the other immediately backs the other up.
Q. What all challenges did you face through the years?
A. We both are professionally trained in classical, Sufi and Ghazal music from Benaras, Rampur and Dilli Gharana. To start out we had to have our bases strong. Our gurus chose us, chose to train us, put their faith in us and approved us. All gurus expect their disciples to take their legacy forward. We had, and still have, the responsibility of making them proud. But in-between all this, we faced a gap of around four years because we got married, had our babies and had a lot of other domestic responsibilities. Apart from that, we are also pursuing our PhDs from Delhi University. All this while we had a lot of second thoughts that we can easily get good lucrative job offers with the education and degrees that we have. But we still didn’t give up. We continued our pursuit of Sufi Music.
Q. We recently read somewhere that you compose your own Qalams. What process goes behind composing them?
A. As I said earlier that we look up to Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He is not with us. He is hidden in our souls. Whenever we are composing, we just close our eyes and think about him. What he thinks while he sings, how he uses lyrics at that time. And we start composing. In our songs, we choose raag according to the lyrics. If we want to show sadness, we choose soft raag. And if we want to show love and happiness we use saarang, megh-malhaarraag. So we keep in mind the feel of the lyrics while choosing the raag.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming compositions?
A. We’ve recently composed a song in the video format which you all would be able to listen and watch very soon. It’s called Bedardaa. The original song is by Baba Bulleh Shah. But we have tried to modify it so that everybody who is listening to it can understand.
Q. Now that you have made a big mark in this field, what is your take on the future of Sufi music?
A. Sufi music has a very big and bright future. From senior citizens to the young generation, it is loved by all. And everyone relates to it. It makes people really think about the lyrics. In Sufi music, it’s all about perspective. You can think of your lover, your God or your beloved while listening to it. Sufi music is all about true love and how you connect with your loved one through it.
Q. In all your performances, we have observed you wearing these three dots and a unique bindi. Do they hold any significance?
A. In Sufi music, we believe there are dhaai-qalandar. I.e. two and a half dervishes. They are Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Bu Ali Shah Qalandar and the third and the half Qalandar is Hazrat Rabia Basri. To symbolize these maestros we wear these dots and bindis. Sufism is based on these three pillars, these Qalandars. We look up to them. That’s why we wear these symbols.
Q. If you could give any tips for aspiring Sufi singers?
A. Train in good classical music under great gurus. Focus on your language, accent and notes. You will have a good grip on raag and language if you train under great gurus.