For them this is the best way to remember their mother and pay tribute to a folk artiste bar none. Siblings Navneet and Satya Aditya Waiba are readying to release an album Aamalai Shraddanjali in memory of their mother late Hira Devi Waiba, a renowned folk artiste, who passed away on January 19, 2011. It is a compilation of late Hira Devi’s songs sung by daughter Navneet and produced by son Satya, and they were in the Capital to re-record the songs.
“She (Hira Devi) was a legendary folk singer and her songs had the typical Purbeli bhaaka,” recalls Navneet. “Her songs depict some kind of a story and have a lot to do with our culture, traditions and festivals and also the ways of people way back.”
Folk songs are about people and places and do not belong to any one person. When one of her ancestors migrated from Palpa (Nepal) to Kurseong, India, he took with him his culture, tradition and music. The music got mixed in its own way. Geography too impacted some. It passed from generation to generation. Her mother’s father Sri Singh Man Singh Waiba, a writer, composer, lyricist and poet became her mother’s guru. He gave her a new flavour — some new lyrics for songs and combined those with her voice. Hira Devi grew up learning the songs, she grew up singing and living them.
“She was always the singer in the family and my grandfather used to push her. He trained her hard. She used to sing at occasions, then started singing for All India Radio, Kurseong. She was an announcer as well,” informs Navneet.
It was in the 1960s that Hira Devi recorded Fariya Lyaidechhan. Radio Nepal then aired the song. “Her actual musical career started from Nepal. After the song was aired, she became very popular instantly. People really loved her songs. Today too if you ask about Hira Devi Waiba and her songs, the older generation will know. In every festival and important occasion, my mother’s songs were played,” recalls Navneet.
To pay tribute to such a mother, Navneet has finished re-recording her mother’s songs in her voice. She has sung a total of seven songs of her mother’s — Yeh Syangbo, Fariya Lyaidechhan, Chhuiya Maahaa, Dhankutai ko Dadaidada, Jhilke Naacheko Dekhere, Ramri ta Ramri, Kahubela.
Though Navneet grew up listening to her mother’s songs, she could not listen to the songs for almost two years after her mother’s death as they used to bring back painful memories.
“I had to go through a lot of emotional process, that’s how I started singing her songs. Now I feel good about it because I need to listen to her songs over and over again, and every time I listen to her songs, I find something new. My respect for her grows each time I listen to her as those songs were difficult to sing,” she says.
The songs have their own stories to tell — day-to-day stories of husband and wife and historical events. “Yeh Syangbo talks about the time when 14th Dalai Lama was exiled from Lhasa, Tibet and what the general people went through then. It’s all hidden in the layers of meaning in the story. Fariya Lyaidechhan is a song again about lady. In those days, husbands and wives didn’t speak to each other directly. This husband brought his wife a fariya (sari) made of ghanana (fabric). She didn’t like it as it was red in colour. She couldn’t express it directly to her husband, so asks the help of her sister-in-law, brother-in-law to pass the message to him. Chhuiya Maahaa is about when people do the first threshing and how the young boys and girls get together and dance and enjoy,” she explains.
Navneet says she has always been interested in music and this has helped her in re-recording her mother’s songs. She could not pursue music after she joined an airline and lived in Hong Kong as she got busy with her career. But a few years after her mother’s death she resigned and thought of doing the project. “The main purpose of this project is to pay tribute to our mother. We want to revive her music and present it in an attractive way to the new generation so that people do not forget her music. Our mother has contributed a lot to Nepali folk culture, so we want to continue doing so,” adds Navneet.
Re-recording popular songs is a challenge in itself, and Navneet feels there is added pressure on her as her mother was a legendary singer. “I feel I have to meet certain standards. Therefore, I must work hard. I have to focus mentally and get into the songs and research, and sing it in my own way,” she expresses.
Navneet has her own expectations from listeners. She hopes they like the songs and her singing. She also hopes the new generation will connect with the songs and that they will be able to appreciate what traditional folk songs are all about. “I would like to inspire the younger generation to go back to the roots we belong to. I feel that the songs will bring back those memories,” she says.
Aamalai Shraddanjali is set for an April release.
A version of this article appears in print on January 10, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.