A glass of Scotch — usually draped in a white paper napkin serving the dual purpose of hiding the contents of the glass and making it easy to hold — isn’t always enough to get the groove going at a big old wedding. Music plays a role too, naturally, in getting those bums off chairs and on to the dance floor. Indian weddings (all weddings, really) are a grand affair where each detail has been painstakingly discussed, debated, argued and (hopefully) agreed upon — “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says Subir Malik, the keyboard player for the popular rock band Parikrama, as well as the founder of Parikrama Inc, a company that manages and handles bookings for a whole range of diverse musicians and bands. “The family will go through the remotest details — the buaji will give her suggestions, then the chachaji; then the mamaji will show up.”
The options are endless, and, while it’s common to spot DJs playing Bollywood, Sufi or dance music at a majority of weddings, a number of people also tend to opt for bands or ensembles performing live at the wedding party. Hari & Sukhmani, a duo that plays a delicate fusion of folk and electronic music, have, further to their status as an established band performing across the country and beyond, also become wildly popular in the wedding circuit — they’ve already received bookings for weddings slated to take place in 2017.
Sukhmani Malik, one half of Hari & Sukhmani, expands upon the process, explaining how they try to create an ambience that’s unique to them, that differs in some way to the typical fare that Bollywood or dhol-driven music serves up. “We don’t pre-decide our set. We don’t do anything specific for a wedding — we just create what we enjoy, and thankfully people like what we do and invite us to perform. Our music isn’t like Bollywood or bhangra where you can grab everybody’s attention with the first song. Every wedding party has the same music; see, party music is the same wherever you go: Bollywood or house music, or maybe you’ll have someone explore UK Punjabi music — that’s it. The whole point is to create a different vibe.”
“Frankly, 90% of the requests I get are all related to Bollywood or Sufi music. Ultimately, people want to hear popular Bollywood songs that everyone can dance to,” says Subir Malik. People are essentially looking for peppy, accessible music to dance to.
Many of the bands Subir Malik manages at Parikrama Inc perform at weddings frequently. For starters, it’s a great opportunity financially since, as Subir states, the budgets for a wedding, due to the rarity and significance of the occasion, are often preposterous, meaning that families will often be willing to spend a fortune on the bands performing. How it works is that customers get in touch with the bands directly — through their websites or Facebook pages — or go via event planning organisations, who in turn contact the artist management agencies, thus setting up the booking. He gets plenty of requests for brand name artists who play at weddings often — Honey Singh or Sonu Nigam — which he directs to their management, instead choosing Parikrama Inc to focus on quality musicians who may not have yet received the kind of mainstream attention as some of their celebrity counterparts.
Beyond that, there’s a limited scope for variety. “Frankly, 90% of the requests I get are all related to Bollywood or Sufi music. Ultimately, people want to hear popular Bollywood songs that everyone can dance to.” There’s a lack of understanding of the nuances of Sufi music and how its watered down variations end up as representative of the form, but that’s a digression — people are essentially looking for peppy, accessible music that makes you want to move. Sukhmani agrees: “The older generation can’t move their legs; they need fast music to move. Younger people are more open to our kind of music.”
The main difference between performing at a gig or a concert, as opposed to playing at a wedding, is in the reaction of the people. “The entertainment is only part of the wedding — there may be a few people there to hear us, but the main reason people are there is because they’ve come for a wedding. People are socialising; the thought process is different. At a Hari & Sukhmani gig, the people are excited to hear us. The entire energy in that venue is one; at a wedding, it’s always scattered.” The difference in purpose tends to dictate the nature of the music as well. While Hari & Sukhmani generally steer clear of catering to requests or predetermined briefs pertaining to the performance — “We do get the odd request for Sheela Ki Jawani or Baby Doll,” — a lot of bands tend to craft their lists as per the requirement; there’s no real formula to it as such.
The Sufi rock band Nasha has become a regular fixture at weddings. Astitva, another band on the Parikrama Inc roster, plays their own music for the most part, but they play commercial Bollywood music at wedding events. Jasleen Royal, the young singer-songwriter, has a very popular song called Dil Shagna Da, recorded versions of which are now often played at ceremonies at the point the bride enters. At an extra cost, Subir reveals, she often plays an unplugged version of the song live — on a makeshift stage next to the wedding — to accompany the entry of the bride, as a precursor to her regular set list. There’s also Tripti, a classical fusion band, in addition to Jazz Connection, who play at weddings from time to time. The ever-evolving and expanding wedding market is seemingly establishing a symbiotic equation wherein musicians get the chance to earn a livelihood while simultaneously improving the experience and variety on display.