Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The 7th Baul-Fakir Utsav and notes from there

Seven years of a festival, an Utsav, which has total dedication but no worthwhile sponsorship or patronage, which has some of the best in ethnic Bangla folk music, audiences of no particular stereotype thoroughly enjoying themselves, and then you hear it may be the last one you'll get to attend.

Not good news when the day is washed out by unseasonal rain and the second day of the Utsav becomes a damp squib too. Still, the music never stopped.

Tipaniya and troupe from Maharashtra rendering Kabir were a revelation. It was the first time non-Bangla folk was performed here. Fakirs from Bangladesh and India dominated the first day and the rain stopped late night Baul performances. Not being able to go the second day, I heard disappointment all around, all due to the weather gods. But the music continued in the temporary akharas where these wandering minstrels held court in various locations around the Shaktigarh math.

The other not-so-good news I heard was that an organisation which has so far been doing fairly commendable work to promote ethnic musics like Baul, Fakir, Sufi and other strains has suddenly decided to aggressively promote their own edition of a Fakiri utsav at another location in a different district of Bengal on the same days when the iconic Joydeb Mela happens in Birbhum. This is also sad because the Shaktigarh Baul-Fakir Utsav of Calcutta takes pains to ensure their schedule never infringes on another similar music festival and they have a built-in convenience with their dates which lead naturally to the Joydeb Mela, next on the calendar for the performers and listeners.

The good news or thing that I saw this time was that there were significantly larger numbers of young people than previous years and more people spread the word about the Utsav through social network means. I’m unaware of how this may have translated into better revenues for the organisers but I sure hope it did. But this time I personally heard less music and indulged in a whole lot more of social niceties. And that made me wonder again about the future of such festivals.

Perhaps you do need aggressive promotion and corporate patronage. Where's the cut-off point? How do you know that the music and the musicians will not succumb to playing to the money, as opposed to playing for the money? Where's the guarantee that with changing listening dynamics, the music will not be completely corrupted into the fusion/confusion nonsense that has already taken hold in the world of music? I have no answers for these questions. I have some experience of promoting music and all I can say is that the lines are being blurred every day. Rock guitarists performing their own stuff at classical guitar concerts are a scary indication of how things are changing.

I’m far from being a purist. In fact I advocate change. I would not otherwise be a jazz lover. I’m not sure where these changes will lead, though it is a fact that all change leads to some where else. Ever the optimist, I have hope that the musicians themselves will be true to their calling and their creativity. The increasing presence and keen interest of younger people at such utsavs and jazz fests are surely indicative of not just change but also new directions, and this need not result in desultory fusion, that formula as dependable as Bollywood.

I am not one who wants things to be the way it was when I was young, or when I first heard the music. I’m just hoping that a lot of these unfortunate experiments in fusion music will die quick deaths. That as a listener and a regular purchaser of recorded works, I will be offered a bigger variety of new talent and skills who will adapt, interpret and improvise on what I believe are standards in music. Yes, of course social, political, economic and cultural changes will affect and influence the music. This is necessary. The direction it needs to go is not a bastardisation but a seamless development, a continuous process where external factors are incorporated, adapted, improvised with, rather than itself becoming the change. I’m not sure if I can explain because I’ve been writing about my feelings about music for so long and I’ve never been completely satisfied with what I think and how I express it.

Still, the Jadavpur Shaktigarh Baul-Fakir Utsav holds a special place in my heart. I don't want it to wrap up because the economics don't work out any longer. So if it comes to paying the piper then one might as well, provided of course that you are allowed to play your own tunes too.


daniel said...

Interesting read. I have no exposure to such music, I hope they will continue for those who love them.

p@tr!(k said...

Thanks Daniel. Check out YouTube for some of this music. But listening to it live is far better, even if you don't know the language. In the words of Stevie Wonder: "Music is a world within itself/It's a language we all understand."