For a seventy six year old man, Babunandan
was filled with boundless energy. His songs
were simple, like one describing the love
between a husband and wife, but he enacted
their settings, laughed, cried and enthralled
us. He showed us how the washer-men's songs
get their rhythm from the cloth hitting the
stone and the splash of water.
Lyrics of Babunandan's song
beg of you dear husband
me go for four days to my mother's home...
dear wife, the rivers and streams are all
will you go now
will make a boat of mango branches
row it across the river
dear wife, if you go
will I live without you?
had found Babunandan, and in him one small
part of the folk music treasure that is scattered
across the landscape of rural India.
the beginning of our search for folk music
and musicians, I had often asked myself "What
is folk music?" I was now finding some
answers. It is the music that is inseparable
from people's daily lives, which they sing
to ease the burden of work, to share their
joy and sorrow, or even to mourn death. And
though language and dialect may vary from
region to region - the essence of the songs
is the same and relevant to all human beings
from any corner of this earth.
search for folk music was part of an idea
conceived by four of us, friends, to create
a movement popularising the folk music of
India. We decided to start with recording
music from rural areas and then make it available
to people across the world - thus the search
for Babunandan and others like him.
first hurdle was the sheer lack of information.
Even Government bodies whose brief included
the 'preservation of traditional arts' were
not helpful. They either did not have information
or were too disorganised to access it. But
we discovered that the regional stations of
All India Radio, the national network, had
done extensive work over the years in not
just the popular film music field but also
folk music. Some of their officers, who had
interacted with artistes over the years, were
the best databases one could find. They knew
each artiste and what he or she had to offer,
but finding them was a challenge. What we
would get for an address was just the name
of a village. There are many villages with
similar names and people helpfully giving
us directions would often send us one hundred
and eighty degrees off the mark. Within the
village too, it was very difficult to find
someone with just a name, but surprisingly,
it was possible.
travelled hundreds of kilometres on roads
which seemed to exist only on maps and we
invoked the wrath of taxi drivers, sometimes
because of the bad roads and other times because
it led to a village of the lowest caste',
and just entering it might destroy his 'higher
caste' status for ever.
all this we found a lot of artistes and were
welcomed with open arms. The warmth was largely
because hospitality is at the core of Indian
culture but also because the artistes were
flattered by the fact that somebody had come
looking. The one case out of ten where we
were looked at with suspicion was usually
because the artiste had been exploited by
a cassette company, who had recorded with
the promise of a fat royalty but hadn't delivered.
of the most difficult musicians to find were
Anandi Devi and Santram, a middle-aged couple.
Although they had been recognised by All India
Radio in yesteryears, they now live a hand
to mouth existence in a dark and dingy room
approximately ten feet by ten in a Dhoulchina
village, tucked away in the hills of Uttar
Pradesh. Santram is blind in both eyes,
Anandi in one, and they survive on the alms
collected by singing at a bus stop. Language
was a big barrier and when our local colleague
translated what we wanted, they were overjoyed.
Santram took out his most valuable possession
- his hudka, a little hourglass drum, and
sang for us. The next morning when we set
up our mikes and started recording, they stopped
after every song to make sure that this was
what we wanted. It certainly was... they sang
together, with just the hudka for accompaniment
and their voices had the kind of sweetness
and expertise one doesn't find even in trained
the performance was over, we wanted to pay
them what we had set aside in our budget,
but they refused. After much coaxing they
took it, and when Anandi counted it and told
her husband, we could see that they were moved,
even though it was not a large amount.
story was not the same with all the artistes
though; there were also those who negotiated
hard with us before agreeing to sing. This,
to my mind, was not so much a reflection of
the 'commercial sense' of the artiste, as
a fear of exploitation at the hands of
travelled up to the border of Nepal to find
eighty six year old Jhusia Damai. The man
can rightfully be called a legend, though
not many know him outside his village apart
from a couple of academics. In a booming voice,
he sings and dances history and his two wives
and son accompany him. His songs are tales
of the kings and warriors of the region, and
this oral history tradition might well end
with him because nobody has learnt it. His
son may not carry it on after Jhusia's death;
his reasons are valid - today, there is simply
not enough money to be made from this as a
with a large number of incredible and fascinating
recordings, we embarked on the next step,
making this music available to a larger set
of people and finding some way to sustain
it before it disappears with this generation
of artistes who are mostly in their seventies.
World Wide Web seemed a good place to start,
because it is the easiest way to provide global
access, and listening to music on the web
is getting more and more popular. So began
the website, Beat of India.com, on which we
put up all the music and video clips along
with lots of other information.
our pleasant surprise, weve discovered
that even in this age of global pop music
there is a wide variety of interested people
- non resident Indians who want to keep in
touch with their roots, foreigners, looking
for a deeper understanding of Indian culture
and of course Indians, whose lives this music
is, or at least was, a part of.
are takers, but for a popularisation or a
revival in the true sense of the term, the
movement has to grow from the bottom. Artistes
must find a space to perform in their own
spheres and the base of listeners must grow
exponentially. The government, which used
to play a role in this, stopped many years
ago for reasons of its own and if the music
is to survive, it will have to find its own
feet again. There are no clear-cut routes
to that, but the search is on, and I am happy
to be a part of it.
would like to see the dream of one of the
artistes we met fulfilled. He said to me,
"Sister, I will sing for you when and
where you want. I only want my name to be
counted in the world of 'voices'!"
can go with you O parrot
Who can go with you...
day you come to this world
Is a day of celebration
And the day you go
a day of mourning
Your friends and family cry
But who can go with you O parrot
Who can go with you...
mother beats her chest and cries
Your brothers hold you
Your wife, she breaks her bangles
And loses her mind with sorrow
But who can go with you...
Parrot is often used as a metaphor for the
soul in Indian poetry.