Classical singer Chinmayi Tripathi was six when a family friend heard her voice and casually mentioned to her parents that she should pursue singing. Her parents, who are from literary backgrounds – her father is a Sanskrit scholar and her mother, a Hindi teacher – loved music. Keen to find out if their daughter was a singer, they sent her to a music school.

Tripathi was placed under the tutelage of Dr Alakh Nanda Palnitkar, the head of the Department of Music at Sagar University in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, to learn Hindustani classical music. Even though she had no inclination for the subject initially, Tripathi picked up the ragas quickly and aced her exams.

In college she started to feel truly passionate about music. “I started writing my own songs and composing tunes and that’s when I realised I enjoyed making music,” said Tripathi, one of the founders of Songdew, an open platform for artists that promotes independent music.

Last month, the singer-songwriter’s musical journey reached a turning point. She released the first song of the Music & Poetry Project – an album based on the works of Hindi literature’s most eminent poets.

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This isn’t Tripathi’s first album. She has released two albums in the past: Sun Zara and Mann Bawra, which feature original songs and compositions that combine the essence of Indian music with a contemporary touch. Three years ago, she formed a fusion band called Spice Route.

“It happened naturally,” she said. “I was jamming with friends on a few of my songs with some musicians and I liked the sound that was created. So, we decided to team up. We play 80% original songs, my compositions, and a few classical numbers.”

Tripathi’s formal training ended after school, but learning music is an ongoing process, she said, which continues through listening to music and watching live concerts of Hindi musicians and vocalists. “I pick up tips from people who inspire me a lot, even poets,” she added.

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One day, while discussing Indian poetry with friends, she came to a realisation: “We were discussing how we don’t hear anything beyond Kabir and Harivanshrai Bachchan in independent music and in mainstream consciousness today. I spoke about wanting to hear the works of Suryakant Tripathi “Nirala” and a friend turned to me and asked, ‘Who is Nirala?’” It was a joke, but Tripathi realised that there were probably many people who did not know about an entire world of Hindi poetry – she herself had grown disconnected from what she’d learned in college.

“We have so many rich poems that are contemporary and can have mass appeal and yet, you hardly get to hear them in song,” she said.

Photo courtesy: Chinmayi Tripathi
Photo courtesy: Chinmayi Tripathi

She started the Music & Poetry Project to pay musical tribute to the likes of Mahadevi Verma, Nirala, Shivmangal Singh Suman, Dr Dharamvir Bharti, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Anamika, Bhawani Prasad Mishra and Maithili Sharan Gupt. By including their poetry in her own songs, she hoped to increase their appeal for a younger generation. She tried out a few songs at house concerts and after receiving a positive response, began to make more music like it. The aim: to create a full album of songs.

The project is entirely solo. Tripathi has composed the music herself because she didn’t believe anyone else would be interested in collaborating on a project like this. For funds, she turned to the crowd-funding platform Wishberry – the campaign started last May and Tripathi met her target in September.

The album features some fine musicians – Baiju Dharmajan, Sharat Chandra Shrivastav (Mrigya), Susmit Sen, Shujaat Khan, among others. Actor-singer Piyush Mishra will also be doing a couple of recitals.

Now that the album is complete, Tripathi will be releasing one song with a video, every month. The first song Khushgappiyan is based on a poem penned by contemporary writer and poet, Anamika.

“It talks about going back to your roots and is the story of anyone who comes to a big city for work and misses the simplicities of their home life,” she said. “The video is of a girl trying to go back to her small place in Himachal Pradesh and her memories of that place.”

Photo courtesy: Chinmayi Tripathi
Photo courtesy: Chinmayi Tripathi

Tripathi chooses the poems based on how they personally connect with her. “I’m not a scholar who can judge poetry,” she said. “Sometimes I read a poem and just start singing it.”

Before shortlisting the six poems she included in the album, she first created a list of 15 poems that were timeless and universal in their appeal. Her parents chipped in too – the Mahadevi Verma poem Jaag Tujhko Door Jaana, was her mother’s suggestion.

The entire project is in Hindi but Tripathi hopes to branch out to include poetry in other languages as well. “I’m starting with Hindi, tomorrow there can be nazms of Urdu or poems of other languages,” she said. “This project has the potential to grow into a movement which leads to music creation, events, workshops and even a music festival.”