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Folk flavour
Eminent Punjabi folk singer Gurmeet Bawa talks of preserving and promoting her art

S. D. Sharma

Folk music is a living and integral part of any regional culture, living and growing through oral transmission from one generation to the next. Punjabi folk songs have been able to devotedly preserve the rich culture and traditions of the region for centuries, but over the years their definitive concept is losing its vigour and vitality, making a way for vulgarity in lyrics, tone and performing style," laments Gurmeet Bawa, the internationally known Punjabi folk singer.

An introvert school teacher but devout amateur folk artiste, Gurmeet was encouraged by her folk singer husband Kirpal Bawa, who groomed her for professional excellence. In the city recently on the invitation of the NZCC for a performance at Kalagram, Gurmeet shared her musical journey from a modest life in Patti Kothi village to performances in Paris and other venues in 25 countries, where she represented India at cultural fests.

The rigorous riyaz paid its dividends and in 1969 Gurmeet, teaming up with Narinder Chanchal, enraptured the Mumbai crowd, including noted film personalities, at the Baiskhi programme held at Sanmkhnanda hall. She created a sensation with her unique full-throated, high-pitched alaap (hek) for over 45 seconds and got a standing ovation. All top film stars, especially Raj Kapoor, repeatedly requested for a boli, "Mein jatti Punjab di meri meri Nargis vargi akkh."

"I became an obvious choice for Punjabi festivals and foreign cultural delegations," says Gurmeet. Besides, my music albums my songs in hit Punjabi feature films like Laajo, Sarpanch, Balbiro Bhabhi, Zora Jatt, Suhag diyan choodiyan and others added to my popularity.

"I have performed extensively in prestigious venues in 25 countries as part of government troupes and in private programmes," she adds. "The very memory of a state honour from France, where I was invited with popular Punjabi folk maestro Pammi Bai, still rejuvenates me," says Gurmeet flashing a smile. "Another memorable recording of my Punjabi folk songs was by a Japanese company in Tokyo. It was more surprising for us, as we were told that the recorded album will be released after my death! But they paid me beyond my expectations," she adds.

She recalls another memorable incident at Moscow, when due to indisposition she requested to opting out of the tour. "The then Indian Ambassador to Russia summoned me and advised me to continue, showing me my photos on the page one of leading newspapers. In fact, I owe my appreciation by art lovers to the the rich Punjabi folk cultural heritage, which has no parallel in the world. I feel indebted to and express my gratitude to the legends Surinder Kaur and Parkash Kaur, who pioneered the singing of saaf-suthri gayaki at stages by women folk artistes. Now, their royal legacy is being carried forward by the illustrious Dolly Guleria.

"Two of my daughters, Lachi Bawa and Glory Bawa, both postgraduates in classical vocal and instrumental music, are avid performers of folk music and ghazals, while Poppy Bawa is an amateur singer."

As a proponent of pristine Punjabi folk music she was candid to dismiss the impact of western culture on the young Punjabi singers. "The culture is a wider term and music is just a part, besides western culture is rich in ethical values and discipline in life. In fact, many of them are obsessed with the African culture but the onus lies on society, the people, recording companies and some TV channels, who exploit budding talent encourage and promote the lachar gayaki in the garb of pop music," Gurmeet adds.

The Tribune: October 23, 2011