How do you say 'hallelujah' in Hindi?

An Indian woman was so moved by gospel music she decided to blend it with the work of Sufi poets and introduce it in India.

By , Contributor

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Gospel music has a new home. Sonam Kalra, a vocalist trained in Indian classical music, took up gospel some years ago because of its soul-stirring qualities. One of a few Indian gospel singers, Ms. Kalra was invited to perform at the shrine of a Sufi saint. Later she wondered, could she unite traditional and Western devotional genres?

After months of experimenting, she created The Sufi Gospel Project. Her dozen songs combine the rhythms of gospel, old spirituals, and jazz with the verses of mystic poets. “It’s about the union [of] the soul with the beloved,” Kalra says of gospel and Sufism. “It’s about singing your heart out to God.”

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In May, at the project’s debut performance in Delhi, she seamlessly skipped from Hindi chants to upbeat tracks that had her Indian audience hollering, “hallelujah!” Traditional Indian instruments, such as the tabla hand-drum, the string sarangi, and Indian flute, melded with the guitar and keyboard.

Kalra, who is Sikh, says her ensemble comprises musicians from Hindu, Muslim, and Christian backgrounds. The group is recording an album, slated for release by July.

Kalra’s musical efforts are a feat in a country where religious differences can still trigger tension. “It’s poetry, prayer, and music that transcend ... boundaries of religion,” she says.

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