April 20, 2024

Global outreach of Baul music, newer voice schools and instruments specialisation

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By 1940 Baul music made rapid yet cautiously progressive strides capturing the imagination of the Kolkata elite. Over time it became a connoisseur art form and found acceptance in the burgeoning urban middle class.  Heartened by the initiatives made possible by Khoda Buksh Shah Sr, these newly emerging stakeholders remained loyal to the Akhara tradition yet saw the need for adjustment and a radical change to mindsets. It commenced with creation and promotion of standalone icons i.e. individual performers/singers and musicians who could raise awareness of Fakir Lalon Shah’s music and thereby seize newer opportunities.

The era of professionalism had dawned on Baul music. For the more conservative Bauls, these trends were a ‘shocking departure’ from the Akhara tradition where efforts of the entire community were emphasized. The age old debate on authenticity got further embroiled in harmful shades of neo-puritanism as well as closet sectarianism. This was harshly criticized by the new exponents of Baul music for they argued that it defeated the purpose of Fakir Lalon Shah who was opposed to any form of puritanism. Baul music was reaching out to ordinary people in great numbers and shedding of its unnecessarily sacrosanct status.

The notable new entry for dissemination of music was All India Radio established in 1930. Baul music courtesy the radio was heard all across the Indian subcontinent and the led to newer curiosities as well as a whole range of literature on Baul music, notations and philosophies emerged. None other than the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore made the most significant contribution in global outreach and understanding of Baul music.  Deeply influenced by Baul music and Fakir Lalon Shah, Tagore in 1930-31 undertook a lecture tour of Europe and presented several papers which were later compiled in his epochal book ‘’ The Religion of Man’’. The book touched upon and factually documented the Baul belief system and its humanist philosophy.

The influence of Baul music and philosophies drew parallels with Tagore’s adherence to the reformist Hindu ‘’Brahmo Samaj’’ movement that began in 1828, and saw the commencement of the great Bengali Renaissance. By 1940, helped by many Bengali literati and musical stalwarts Baul music went global.  Tagore also archived many of Lalon’s work in Shantineketon and set into motion the ‘’Baul-angyo’’ genre i.e. Baul influenced verses into the Rabindra shangeet repertoire.

  Meanwhile in Chaudanga of erstwhile Nadiya district a lot was happening. The foremost of musical disciples of Buksh Sr, was Shukchand Shah a versatile and extraordinarily gifted vocalist.  After a historical meeting between Shukhchand’s spiritual Guru Amulya Shah and Buksh Sr, Baul music assumed a dimension hitherto unheard of. Impressed by the groundbreaking work of Amulya, Buksh Sr, handed over his long preserved and documented archive of Lalon’s song to Amulya Shah and simultaneously, the mantle of vocalization to Shukhchand. The Amulya-Shukhchand duo thereafter charted a new fusion course, whereby Baul music infused with different musical instruments and influences became hugely entertaining and widely celebrated as it shed off much of the drab, dull and somewhat depressing sounds of the Akhara.

What happened next was emergence of new schools of Baul music that replicated the modes, methodologies and rigor of the Indian classical ‘gharana’ (apprenticeship in comprehensive musicological ideology) tradition. This in turn resoundingly addressed two basic areas of contentions, i.) Gurus from the Akhara tradition would train disciples in music regardless of whether the subject was a seeker or a music student and ii.) usage methods in musical instruments itself became a discipline whereby only under the tutelage of a Akhara master would the musicians be guided. Other than voice training, this phase in Baul music saw the rise of Baul Gurus who introduced and trained disciples in musical instruments such as dotaara, harmonium, violin, khamak, gomok etc and a variety of percussion instrument from pakhwaz,  khol, dhol, mandira to prem-jhhuri and kartaal.

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