Backtracks | Kumar’s inspirational musical journey

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Umesh Kumar at his home. Picture: ANASEINI DIMATE

Umesh Kumar spends most of his leisure time singing bhajan.

The 54-year-old building foreman of Rovadrau, Navua, has always loved singing and could be found humming a tune since his early years.

He was mainly inspired by his mum, who was a well-known lokgeet singer of Navua.

In fact, his mum Imla Wati wrote and gave him his first bhajan.

She recognised his early interest in devotional songs and so encouraged and guided him on his musical journey.

“I was born and raised in Nakaulevu, Navua,” he said.

“We are four brothers, and I am the second eldest.

“I started singing bhajan in 1984 when I was 13 years old and was in form one (Year 11). Apart from bhajan, I had a lot of interest in other music as well.

“When I was in Year 11, an event was organised at my school, Rampur Secondary School. I was encouraged to sing a bhajan at that event. My mum wrote a bhajan and my form teacher, Master Ramesh, guided me on how to sing it.

“With my family’s support and teachers’ guidance, I sang my first bhajan on stage in my school.”

He said the event helped him overcome his stage fright and sing in front of the public.

“After that, I got lots of motivating talk and encouragement from everyone, so I kept developing my talent by taking part in various programs.

“Anywhere I went, people requested me to sing because they knew that I had an interest in singing bhajan.”

Mr Kumar took part in his first bhajan competition at the age of 18.

“It was a fundraising event organised by a temple and I had to take the stage with other singers.

“After this stage performance, the nervousness and fear of going on stage was no more.

“My musical journey continued. Even after my marriage, I continued singing.”

He said he loved to sing old tunes.

One of them was chauki bhajan which were sung by girmitiya.

“I sing those bhajan mostly in death rituals and during religious events. I try to promote our traditional songs which our girmitiya used to sing.

“I don’t charge money from people to sing in events. I have a passion to sing bhajan and when I am free or have time, I go out to events to sing.

“I am also a member of a Ramayan mandali (Ramayan group) operating in my area. We organise Ramayan recital programs every Tuesday which I take part in and sing.

“After Ramayan recital, we sing bhajan and kirtan and allow everyone to take part. Women, children, and men, all are encouraged to learn how to sing kirtan and bhajan and play instruments.”

Mr Kumar said he took part in bhajan competitions just to help the needy.

“I have taken part in five bhajan competitions. The events were organised for charity purposes and fundraising for medical purposes.

“I never took money for this because it was to help families.

“Some Ramayan mandali organised bhajan competitions to raise funds for their mandali and temple projects. I took part in those competitions to help them collect funds to complete those projects.

“I never took part in competitions to make money. Those competitions were organised for a purpose.”

He said his family was very supportive.

“All my brothers love to sing. My elder brother is a good dholak player and others sing bhajan and kirtan.

“My father was not a singer, but my mom sang at weddings and other occasions.

“She inspired us a lot. I still know that bhajan she gave me when I was a kid.

“She is now 86 years old and she likes to hear lokgeet, bhajan and kirtan.”

Mr Kumar said with the help of his Ramayan mandali, they were encouraging children to sing as well.

“Some like to play musical instruments. We involve them in our events so that they are motivated as well as our culture and tradition is preserved.

“My 22-year-old son plays dholak and he encourages other youths and children.

“During our Ramayan programs, we always put children in front and allow them to sing and play instruments.

“I request all parents and especially Ramayan mandali to do the same. Parents should also encourage and allow their children to participate in singing activities.

“During our days, we had music classes. That was very helpful. Children were motivated and teachers helped them develop their singing talent.

“I am happy to see that a lot of children are singing bhajan and kirtan these days. It’s good, but I advise them to have a ‘guru’, someone who can guide them on the correct path.”

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