British singer Tanya Wells has gained fame on the internet in the past year for her soulful and non-accented renditions of Hindustani music. In the past she has sung compositions by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Nayyara Noor and Mehdi Hassan.
This time round she sings a lyric by one of the greatest of the subcontinent’s Urdu poets, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Welcoming spring, she sings Gulon Mein Rang Bhare (video above).
In this interview to the Tribune, Wells says she doesn’t understand Urdu. But she sings in the language with remarkable comfort. Besides these covers, she also creates original mash-ups. The one below is of the Sufi favourite Dam Mast Qalander with No Diggity, a track by American R&B group Blackstreet.
“For me, learning to sing their music is a joyful journey because it’s all about feeling the words you sing. It’s all about pure expression. Yes, I imitate these singers, the way Mehdi Hassan changes his tone when singing a certain word just to bring out emotions, and it’s something I pay attention to. I study how he sings his expressions. For me, singing is like painting a beautiful picture of emotions, you have to find the right tone of colours to express what poets feel,” she says in the same interview.
The singer's fascination for Hindustani music comes from the time she spent studying in India. “I lived in India for a while and I studied at an international boarding school for around three years. The place was beautiful since it was situated in the foothills of the Himalayas. We used to sing bhajans in various languages – such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit and Urdu. It’s because of this reason that I developed a flair for singing in different languages.”
“I love the feeling and freedom of devotional music. I began listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in my teen years and loved the passion and power of Sufi music. My interest in ghazals evolved rather recently when I visited India in 2012. I took singing lessons from Guruji Pandit Prabhakar Dhakde. He taught me beautiful Urdu compositions, ghazals and light classical music. I was absolutely in love with the rich and emotive melody of ghazal music.”
Here she performs the song Mann Kunto Maula at Mumbai's Bluefrog.
There's this mash up of Vande Mataram too that she did last year for the 'Being Indian' youtube channel.