Of course you are going to listen to Rabbi. The point is – how? I suggest, with time and the CD jacket in your hands. The 29-year old singer from Delhi, is a poet of the urban soul, rendering ancient forms contemporary, creating music of the city from a memory of the village. Son of a priest and a teacher, Rabbi counts among his influences Springsteen, the Guru Granth Saheb and Delhi’s West Mukherji Nagar – “ordinary and unremarkable place which gave me a place to incubate my ideas.”
Where great Punjabi singers have all taken a jolly vow to remain pre-modern forever, this album is supremely cool for its individual intelligence and interiority. It sidesteps market platitudes to engage with form, style, and feeling – both musical and literary. “There’s a direct link between language, experience and emotional intelligence. Some people can calculate the angle of the sun, I can find a song.”
And he does. Each song is crafted from lived experience and felt observation – the proto spiritual, much played Bulla ki Jaana Main Kaun, Jugni, about a woman mendicant wandering through present day Kashmir, Bombay, Punjab and Delhi in search of meaning; Gil te Guitar, about the slow drift apart of friends; Tere Bin, an impossibly intimate love song whose rhythms owe as much to a wedding gidda as dancing alone, semi-drunk in a softly lit city room.
“The artist’s job is to be honest, to absorb wisdom, experience and then do his thing. We seek freedom through artists. I lived an unremarkable existence in a boring place and spoke about it. I wasn’t thinking how people would react to it. I just preached to the nation of myself.”
Is this all a dream, will the market wake us up? Rabbi shrugs. “My anxiety is only about one day writing a crap song. It’s like Hemingway says – write the truest lines. I don’t want to write the second truest line.”