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Sargam generates space through musical collisions for Western and Eastern cultures to interact

Sargam
Sargam sings in many languages while bringing together music from different cultures.

By Viplav Subramanian

Euphonic, harmonious, and jaw-dropping. That’s how some have described Sargam, a UBC Indo-fusion club, which creates instrumental and vocal pieces that combine varied worlds of musical art and performance across the globe. 

As a member of the club, I’m biased—and I agree with that description. But I digress. Essentially focusing on blending Western and Indian music, the members at Sargam UBC have a background in Hindustani and Carnatic classical singing, Indo-western rock, and a fascination for popular Bollywood and English songs. 

 Sargam, signifies the presence of a space that propagates a symbiosis between Western and Indian music. This club symbolizes the appreciation of diverse cultures, the celebration of similarities among differences. To showcase this work, Sargam, after four years, presented its year-end performance, Raagini, on March 19th at the UBC AMS Nest.  

To classicalize popular English songs, Sargam, employs musical notes, swarams, to conduct a synthesis of Western music and classical Indian ragas. The collision of these distinct cultures indicates the orchestration of art that provides a platform to appreciate diversity. 

Listen to Sargam’s cover of “Tujhe Bhula Diya x Hello”.

Sargam reveals how cultures overlap

Club president Shraddha Kaushik tells Pancouver that regardless of one’s culture, people engage with it through music. 

“There are a lot of differences between Western and Indian music, which sometimes makes it a difficult task to come up with things that they have in common, or the ways in which they complement one another,” Kaushik says. 

“However, it is really incredible seeing the end result and finding things that they have in common,” she continues. “It’s rewarding to see ways in which the cultures overlap when brought together in our songs.” 

Specific examples of its work include…

“Maps” 

Sargam, in its efforts to classicalize this song, has engaged with replacing lyrics sung by Adam Levine with “swarams”. This elevates the original song to a whole new level that signifies the combination of the cultures of the Western and Eastern worlds. 

“Shades of Yaman (Multilingual piece)”

This piece contains over eight languages, including Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, English, Sindhi, Malayalam and more, to provide unprecedented inclusion. The songs selected here have been based on the Hindustani classical raga Yaman to inform its choices of Hindi songs, the Carnatic classical raga Kalyani to bring in songs of various South Indian languages, and the Lydian mode to integrate an English song. This showcases versatility and the possibility of intricate musical collisions.  

“The idea behind curating ‘Shades of Yaman (Multilingual piece)’ was to create a song that showcases the extensive nature of Indian music—the different styles, linguistic variety, as well as its evolution through time—all within one musical mode,” club member and co-creator of the piece, Malavika Kannan, says. “The little touch of Beatles within the piece was an attempt to showcase how West can meet East organically.” 

“Journey of a Raga” 

 Universalizing the joy of music, Sargam explores the journey of the Kaapi Indian raga, through combining a Hindustani Bandish called “Karat Mose”, a Carnatic classical Keertanai titled “Enna Tavam”, the Bollywood song “Saathiya” sung by Sonu Nigam, and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day. This song also incorporates instruments such as the electric and bass guitars that originated in the West to support its Indian classical vocals. 

Public perceptions  

One of the attendees of the Sargam year-end performance, novice songwriter Chantal Scott, says it was her introduction to Indian and Bollywood-style music. It helped that the club  included other pieces that she knew. 

“I think that was a great way for an English-Canadian individual, like me, to know about Indian culture,” Scott declares. “The combinations of the two music styles made it more accessible and incited greater interest for me. It was interesting, surprising, and fascinating” 

Another attendee who was new to Indian fusion was Reena Said. She was impressed by the seamless ways in which different languages and cultures could be integrated. To her, it was a reminder that we live in such a diverse community and one in which we can connect so deeply through music. 

“It also served as a reminder of the importance of cultural integration and a need to better understand each other,” Said says. 

More than 150 people attended Sargam UBC’s event on March 19th, suggesting the growing appreciation for such musical talent and artwork. This indicates the need for more spaces and platforms that showcase the blending and fusion of Western and Indian music and cultures. It was an authentic celebration of Canada’s diversity, witnessed in the work conducted by Sargam.  

Viplav Subramanian is an international graduate student at UBC with a passion for music. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia

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Viplav Subramanian

Viplav Subramanian is an international graduate student at UBC.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.