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Students express themselves through Bharat Sangeet club at UNC

bharat sangeet club pic 1.jpg
Photo courtesy of Swathi Balaji.

Every Thursday in Greenlaw Hall, singers' voices blend with the sounds of instrumentalists playing violins, flutes and percussion instruments during the club meetings for Bharat Sangeet at UNC

First-year student and club member Suhan Asaigoli said the meetings are a unique sensory experience.

Bharat Sangeet is the only UNC club dedicated to solely South Asian classical music. Its Instagram bio says the club welcomes all styles of Indian classical music. It was previously a joint organization between UNC and Duke University and was revived in 2023 by junior Samarth Rao, the club president and a drummer

Rao said he wanted to restart the club to provide a space for people interested in South Asian classical music to meet others and perform. 

John Caldwell, the club’s adviser and associate teaching professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, said South Asian classical music originated more than 2,000 years ago in the Indian subcontinent. 

“That’s why the tradition is really continuous and is one of the oldest in the world,” he said

The tradition developed from ragas, melodies based on a particular subset of notes. The name also references a mostly improvised performance that follows a strict framework of notes.

Caldwell said there are two major traditions of South Asian classical music — Carnatic music, from Southern India, and Hindustani music, from Northern India. 

Carnatic music is mostly vocal but features instruments like the violin and the veena, a stringed instrument originating from India. The Hindustani tradition also uses vocals, but it emphasizes instrumental music and uses instruments such as the sitar.

Both traditions incorporate ragas and include percussion accompaniment, such as the mridangam, a double-sided drum common in the Carnatic tradition. 

Club member and first-year Sathvika Kommera has been an Indian classical vocalist since she was 5 years old. She learned about Bharat Sangeet at UNC through Heel Life and has been a member since January

“It’s just a way for me to express myself and for me to kind of let go of all the stress and just delve into music,” she said.

The club consists of a Carnatic group, Hindustani group and fusion group that sings Indian pop songs with a classical music influence. Kommera learned a Carnatic song titled “Deva Devam Bhaje.”

Many of the groups’ songs are related to Hinduism. Members sing Carnatic songs in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada languages, while they sing Hindustani songs in Hindi, Sanskrit and Urdu

“It’s really cool in that way, we get to learn little bits about other languages and other cultures within India just by virtue of practicing and learning these musical styles,” Asaigoli said

During club meetings, members prepare for upcoming performances by deciding on the set list and making musical arrangements, such as translating musical notations for members without experience with Indian music. Rao said he hopes to have more performances in the future. 

Asaigoli’s favorite memory in the club was the performance with Duke Sangeet on April 5 at Duke University. He played the tabla, a drum from the Hindustani tradition, for a couple of classical pieces during the performance. 

The show ended with a full percussion performance known as a talavadya. Asaigoli said the show was a collaboration between the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions. 

“There’s an element of spontaneity in there as well; a lot of it is very improvised, and we’re kind of bouncing off of each other,” he said. “And in the end, it was really fun.”

Bharat Sangeet’s next performance, which will center around the theme of Hindu festivals such as Holi, is on April 23 at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black History and Culture and is free and open to the public.

@milaaamascenik

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