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'We are always in a pond': Gully Boy Singer Vibha Saraf

We are always in a pond: Gully Boy Singer Vibha Saraf

Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 17 Sep 2019, 4:30 PM

It would have been yet another train journey for the Saraf family had their co-passengers not played the musical game of Antakshari. Seeing them croon to different melodies, their four-year-old daughter Vibha chimed in. The Sarafs were stunned, as were the fellow travellers, who alerted the family to the fact that their daughter sang rather well.
Many years later, it is this destiny that Vibha Saraf finds herself fulfilling - one popular song at a time. If you haven't heard her Kashmiri folk singles, there is a good chance you remember her singing the Kashmiri verses in Dilbaro alongside Harshpreet Kaur in Meghna Gulzar's Raazi last year. The heartwarming vidaai (send-off) song was instrumental in catapulting her into public imagination. Of course, it only helped that the song's popularity was followed by that of Kab Se Kab Tak from Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy and Roshay from the web series Made in Heaven. Today, her voice has become synonymous with Kashmiri folk, a genre many may be unfamiliar with, but her gentle tweaks and melodious voice make them all the more appealing to the ear.
For someone who spent much of her adult life in Delhi (her family had moved from Kashmir in the 90s), her music is unmistakably rooted in nostalgia. Vibha admits that she does not have defining memories of her childhood in Kashmir; yet, it is very much present in her music. "Sometimes, you may not have active memory of things," she says. "What I have are fleeting memories of a bridge [her house was next to one], a saffron staircase, apple orchards - essentially the landscape of the place. When you are a baby, that's all you remember," she says.
Every 'outsider' has a story - one of inspiration and perspiration - a struggle that is often romanticised once they taste success. Struggle is not a word Vibha claims to understands fully - her version of it relates to the time when she worked in a corporate set-up to pay bills and music was firmly in the backseat. She joined advertising where, among many things, she also sang jingles. "Essentially, every now and then, I did things to keep the stove burning."
That was until she collaborated with Nucleya, one of India's renowned music producers. It is in this collaboration that Vibha, who has a formal training in music from Bharatiya Kala Kendra, discovered a younger audience drawn to Kashmiri folk. "Folk is a malleable genre," she says. "You can contemporise it, make it more audience-friendly by having a good lyrical breakdown of the translation. Even if it's a very literal translation, it's alright because people need to understand. Nucleya's audience is aged between 13 and 19. When we collaborated, his quirkiness only made the music more saleable."
The turning point was Dilbaro. "They were looking for a song for the situation Alia Bhatt is in that also had a poetic resonance. Roshay from Made in Heaven followed, but wasn't released before Gully Boy. "I recorded it first with a friend in five minutes." When Ankur Tewari, music supervisor of Gully Boy, heard it, he roped Vibha in for Kab Se Kab Tak. This apart from a theme song with Kashmiri lyrics in the Telugu film 24 Kisses.
Today, playback singing aside, she is also actively involved in producing, writing and singing her own compositions - her newest single Jalwe being a case in point. As an artiste, she says, it has been a liberating experience. "The idea is to have more control over one's content. When you are writing lyrics, there is greater involvement, everything impacts you more. I strongly believe singers should also be song writers. Music has to be within you. It has to have more creative involvement from an artiste."
While her journey may be in its nascent stage, Vibha admits that the challenge now is to not be swayed by the recognition nor become complacent. "When I came to Mumbai in 2013, I thought I was out of the pond, that this was the world. But we are always in a pond. It's always important to remember why you started the journey."
Why did she start hers? As we pose the question to Vibha, there is a moment's silence. "You begin a journey because the idea is to be closest to your own self. I began because I wanted to find my soul."

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