Ethnic folk music finding echoes in capital

New Delhi: The audience for Indian ethnic folk music is getting fashionable, with performers moving from their open air venues in jungles and villages to perform in closed spaces across cities. And the national capital is scripting a new statement with its enthusiastic response.

"I love the old classic rock music of the 70s, ballads, blues, country, reggae and Sufi. For me, the sounds of Indian folk is an extension of this love. It is the sound of the soil; salt of people`s lives, sufferings, joys and the everyday things we live with," Maryann Lalthangwala, a student of Delhi University and native of Mizoram in north-eastern India, told reporters.

She was one of the hundreds of university students who had thronged the third Lok Sangeet Sanmelan in the capital last week.

Imphal-based king of Naga blues, guru Rewben Mashangva, and his 10-year-old son Saka cater to this segment of neo-urban audience with their fusion of traditional Hao Naga ballads and Western blues.

The songs are accompanied by ancient Naga instruments; some of which are extinct now. The clan inhabits the hill slopes of the Nagaland-Manipur border.

"I am trying to revive the dying music of our tribe by creating new sounds from the villages for Naga youngsters so that they know their folk instruments and the stories," Mashwanga told reporters.

The musician has improvised the tingletia, a single-string Naga instrument and the yankahui, a long bamboo flute, to sound Western.

The folk guru - he has been honoured by the Manipur government - travels across India and Southeast Asia to promote the musical legacy of his tribe and has made two award-winning movies on the music of the Tangkul Naga tribe.

"God keeps us alive in the hills of Uttarakhand," says Basanti Devi Bisht, the high priestess of jagar, a ritual poem sung to music in the Garhwal-Kumaon region of the Himalayas.

"In the last 20 years, hagar, a genre of bhakti music traditionally recited by men, has women exponents. We are also moving out of our open air venues to perform on the proscenium stage," Bisht told reporters.

Bisht, who has made her mark at the national level, leads an ensemble, Roopkoond Sanskritic Dharohar, across the country and on Doordarshan and All India Radio.

"I sing of the pahadi life; sangharsh (struggle) of the pahadi (hill) people, women`s struggle and the 16 sanskar-bidhiyas (rituals) of the temples. The plight of the women has not changed much in the hills in centuries. They still have to toil despite the fact that they composed the early folk songs," Bisht said.

The Uttaranchal folk is the simplest form of folk, says novelist Namita Gokhale, a native of the Uttarakhand hills.

"It is popular around the world where there are people from Uttarakhand, folk videos sell. The songs are elemental - of joys and sorrows but they are being interpreted in modern ways. One can often hear shades of Uttaranchal folk in Prasoon Joshi`s music," Gokhale told reporters.

The traditional "Bon Bibir Pala" from the Gangetic delta of the Sundarbans stirs young listeners with its combination of performance, drama, storytelling and music. It tells the tale of tiger king Dakhin Roy, Maa Bon Bibi - the presiding deity of the forest - and Dukhe, a poor boy who was rescued by the goddess from Dakhin Roy.

For audiences in Delhi last week, the enactment of the tale in the traditional Bengal "paala-gaan" or "jatra" style was a revelation, with several young listeners admitting their unfamiliarity with the genre.

The Bastar Band led by Anoop Ranjan Pandey that builds a mini-forest on the stage with huts and totems for performances finds close spaces difficult to tackle.

"But we are trying to adjust to closed podiums because we have been performing regularly in big cities," a member of the band said. The band has of late been singing of insurgency in the forests of Chhattisgarh.

"Folk is the real music of India, binding the ethnic communities together. In The Bastar Band one finds all the tribes playing together and picking up one another`s rhythms. Tribal and folk ensembles carry the ethnic traditions forward," Rajeev Sethi, a leading culture activist and promoter, told reporters.

Sethi, a collector of Bengal "pata chitras", said the rural scroll performers of Bengal were singing of social realities like politics, warming, tsunami and terror in a departure from religion and mythology.

According to Sethi, "the growing acceptance of folk music in cities represents a resurgence of forms that we think are dying".


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