Imagine a large group of male musicians wearing turbans and white robes and sitting in the dark on the floor at different levels. Suddenly the background lights come on illuminating these men. As your eyes marvel at the startling silhouettes in front of you, haunting music seeps through your other senses as many voices and instruments blend in an enchanting melody. The Manganiyar Seduction, a group of nearly forty musicians presenting the folk music of Rajasthan haven’t stopped making waves since their first performance a few years back. Episode 3 of RaagTime features them and other folk musicians from India.
Folk songs showcase the rich cultural diversity of India. The theme of folk songs range from every day problems of the people to deeper philosophies of life. Some of the songs are poetic expressions of philosophers and saints such as Kabir, Chishti and Kuvempu while some like the bhangra, dandiya and kolattam are dance-oriented set to a beat. Folk songs highlight the traditions of different regions of the country and are handed down from one generation to the next.
When Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and patriot penned the verses of the song Jodhi Tor he was talking about a simple philosophy of life. In this song the writer points out that when a person gets no support from his friends and family, he must continue his journey alone. The song became a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi and the rendition by playback singer Kishore Kumar continues to be very popular.
The songs of the fisher folk are essentially a call to nature. As the fisherman rows his boat he sings aloud, sometimes alone or as part of a group. Mee Dolkar from the western ghats of the country is a famous folksy tune of the fisher folk in the region. In the song, the sea is compared to a lover waiting impatiently for her partner.
In India, arranged marriages are the norm. When a bride enters her husband’s home it is believed to be the start of a new journey for her. She has an uphill task ahead of her as she learns to adjust to her in-laws who come in all shapes and sizes. The quirky folk song Sasural Ghenda Phool from Chattisgarh talks about this scenario.
A qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in southern Asia. Runa Laila from Bangladesh was a popular qawwali singer of the 1960s and her song Dama Dum Mast Kalandhar was a tribute to the Sufi saint Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar .
Click here for RaagTime Episode 3 – Folk Music of India