Andrew Veihmeyer / The Collegian
Hindi vocals, sitar and Jesus
The sounds of Eastern musical culture mixed with the West permeated the Fresno State Grosse Industrial Technology building on Monday and Tuesday with Aradhna.
The group, formed in 1999 by Chris Hale and Peter Hicks, sings Yeshu bhajans, which are devotional songs to Jesus Christ, using ethnic instruments like the sitar and tabla and incorporating guitar and bass guitar into their sound. In Hindi, Aradhna means “devotion”.
Before the performance began, Hicks said the songs are meant to be sung as a call and response with the audience, and encouraged participation, dancing, clapping, or whatever was most enjoyable.
“It’s not about keeping things to yourself,” said Hale during the performance. “It’s about getting Him [Jesus] out.”
Hale, who plays the sitar and provides lead vocals for the group, grew up in Nepal since the age of one.
“My parents were both medical doctors [in Nepal,]” he said.
As a result, Hale had already been exposed to singing Nepali bhajans at a very early age and eventually learned Hindi. In high school he picked up sitar playing.
He now lives in Toronto with his family.
Peter Hicks plays the acoustic guitar in the group, with Steve Robertson on the tabla, and Travis McAfee on the bass guitar.
People of different faiths who have invited them to perform have responded well to their music and message, he said, but admitted that not everybody would take to it.
“Those that want to build bridges invite us. Not every church would accept everything, and it’s the same with temples,” he said.
Harinder Singh, 25, is a biology student who grew up in Punjab, India and recently transferred to Fresno State for a master’s degree. He came to experience Aradhna’s music.
“I’ve heard Hindi prayers in English before, but not the other way around,” he said, referring to how different it was for a group to have Hindi and Nepali influences and yet focus their lyrical content on Christ.
Although Singh was able to follow along with the Hindi lyrics quite well, the Nepali influence that the group also uses is significantly different, he said.
Dhaval Waghela, 24, a biotechnology major at Fresno State, served as the master of ceremonies for Aradhna’s second performance Tuesday night at Smittcamp Alumni House.
Waghela first saw Aradhna at a Christian conference on Catalina Island in California through a national organization called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The conference was geared towards international students, and the members of Aradhna shared their music with the group throughout the week.
“We were moved,” said Waghela. “For me, this [music] is pretty common. I’m from India. For Americans, it is going to be uncommon. But when you can read the lyrics with the music, it takes you to a different level.”
Martha Solis, 20, a history major, brought her bible study group to the performance.
“I really like multicultural stuff and it sounded cool,” she said.
In the second half of the performance, Robertson showed various rhythmic patterns on the tabla to the audience and had them keep track of the beat during one of the songs with percussive syllables.
The song “Amrita Vani” with lyrics, Jai jai Yeshu jai jai ho (“Victory, victory to be to Jesus, victory, victory”), slowly built up in tempo and became more passionate while the audience joined in the chant.
Aradhna’s next album releases in December.