The final night of the Winter Music Fest at The Agenda in Dubai Media City on Saturday night featured two powerhouse singers: Rekha Bhardwaj, known for her soulful voice, and Harshdeep Kaur, often referred to as the “Sultana of Sufi”, known for her powerful vocals.
They performed in a Sufi-themed concert — and they put on a show befitting a finale.
Bhardwaj, whose song Tere Ishq Mein from her 2002 album Ishqa-Ishqa, catapulted her to fame, explained on stage how the record was instrumental in steering her towards Sufism, which she describes as a path of love and compassion, to help dissolve the ego and understand and accept oneself with all the flaws.
Whirling like a dervish several times during her performance, she said the act is a kind of meditation.
Naina Thag Lenge (from the film Omkara, which was directed by her husband Vishal Bhardwaj) kicked off the almost four-hour concert, and was followed by some of her most famous Bollywood hits, including Kabira (from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani), Phir Le Aaya Dil (Barfi), Genda Phool (Delhi 6), Namak (also from Omkara) and Mileya Mileya (Happy Ending), as well as her recent release Aise Kyun from the Netflix show Mismatched.
Bhardwaj also paid tribute to the "Sufi music master" Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan by performing Tere Bin Nahi Lagda, as well as Meri Zindagi Tera Pyar, which Khan sang with legendary Pakistani songstress Noor Jehan.
“Malika-e Ghazal” Farida Khanum’s Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo was one that featured on both Bhardwaj and Kaur’s playlists, with each singer lending their own style to it. Personally, I enjoyed Bhardwaj’s rendition more.
Bhardwaj also offered a teaser of her coming release Ae Re Sakhi, the lyrics for which were originally a poem by 13th-century Indo-Persian Sufi singer Amir Khusrow.
Kaur took to the stage after Bhardwaj’s stellar set and made an entrance to an excellent piece by flautist Parth Shankar, who was also a big hit with the audience on Saturday night. The first song on Kaur's set list was the Punjabi prayer Ek Onkar, which she also sang for the film Rang De Basanti.
As a performer, Kaur interacted far more with the audience, making them a part of her performance, revealing stories and experiences behind some of her most popular tracks and speaking about artists who inspired her growing up.
She also paid tribute to Khan, performing some of his most popular hits, including Sanson Ki Mala Pe, Kinna Sona and Piya Re. She cited Pakistani folk artist Reshma as one of her biggest inspirations, and Kaur’s rendition of Lambi Judaai was certainly one of the highlights of the night as she flawlessly hit the high notes.
Shankar’s performance of the popular flute interlude that features in the song was also a highlight.
Some Bollywood hits were up next, including Heer (Jab Tak Hai Jaan), her version of Kabira in the Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani album, Channa Mereya (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) and Zaalima (Raees).
Radio and theatre artist Gaggan Mudgal, who Kaur has worked with on a radio show in the past, joined the singer on stage for an “unplugged” section, featuring a medley of songs including Lag Jaa Gale, Sanu Ek Pal Chain, Tere Bina, Allah Ke Bande and Tu Jhoom, performed by Kaur, complemented by shayari or couplets by Mudgal. The night rounded off on a high note with the Pakistani folk song Jugni Ji.
With a run time of almost four hours, the show was overly long, but the performances of the two female artists made the wait worth it.
While it was touted as a Sufiyana concert, the inclusion of the singers' popular Bollywood hits certainly kept the audiences happy, with the public requesting encores.
The two artists have very distinct styles and voices, and even though Bhardwaj is a veteran in the industry and Kaur a relative newcomer, they enthralled audiences equally and in their own ways.