Folk songs and
(This article is excerpted from a paper presented by the author at one of the sessions pertaining to music industry of third UN conference on the LDCs on May 19, 2001 in Brussels. The author is a teacher of Bangla literature in Rajshahi University and also a former Vice Chancellor of the same campus)
William Thoms was the first scholar who coined the term
'folklore' in English in 1846 to replace 'popular antiquities' and 'popular
literature. After the introduction of the word 'folklore', there arose a
controversy about its definition. Twentyone definitions were given by different
scholars, as quoted in the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, edited by Maria
Leach (New york 1949, 398-408). According to a prominent folklorist Archar
Taylor, "Folklore is the material that is handed down by tradition, either
by word of mouth or by custom and practice. It may be folk songs, folk tales,
riddles, proverbs or other materials preserved in words. It may be traditional
tools and physical objects like fences or knots, hot cross buns or Easter eggs;
traditional ornamentation like the walls of Troy; or traditional symbols like
the swastika. All these are folklore."
Folklore of Bangladesh can be broadly divided in two categories such as, (i) Material folklore and (ii) Non-Material or literary folklore. Folk tools, folk carts, folk notes, folk weaving, etc., are the examples of material folklore. Folk tales, folk drama, folk ballads, folk songs, etc, can be identified as non-material or literary folklore.
Folk songs of Bangladesh are very rich both in quality and quantity. The themes that figure in them are of joys and sorrows. They are the expressions of the elemental passions, impulses, and emotions of such people as cultivators, fishermen, boatmen, weavers, potters, blacksmiths and so on.
Let us now turn to the divisions of Bangladeshi folksongs. More or less there are seventy types of folk songs in Bangladesh. Such as Bhawaiya, Bhatiali, Baul, Songs of Lalon Shah, Songs of Pagla Kanai, Songs of Hason Raja, Sari, Murshidi, Gambhira, The Snake-Charmer's songs, Jhumur, kavi song, Alkaf, Tarja, Jatra, Toppa, Jari, Sampanwals songs, Baromashi, Marfati, Boat-race songs, Songs of Santals, Songs of the Oraons, Meyeli songs (Songs of Woman), East Bengal Ballads, etc. Some of these can be explained here shortly:
Bhawaiya: It is a very popular kind of folk-song. It is native to the northern districts of Bangladesh, viz., Rangpur, Dinajpur and Mymensingh, Cooch Bihar, Goalpara of Assam, Jalpaiguri and West Dinajpur of West Bengal. It portrays the pangs of love and separation in the local dialect. The characteristics of the land are reflected in its sharply rising and falling rhythms. Example of a Bhawaiya:
The substance of the song is:
"I am in the prime of my youth
And still a virgin I am-
O'my bitter fate, tell me,
How long do I have to stay unmarried?
My parents are unsympathetic:
They haven't given my hand in marriage.
And I can't express myself to them for my shyness.
O'my bitter fate!
Slowly my body burns within and there is no end to it.
I wish I had gone away with a young man of my choice.
I know that people will blame me.
Let them do so: I care not a fig for that.
For I shall then happily enjoy myself."
Bhatiali: Bhatiali is native to the 'bhati' or low-lying regions. In other words, the kind of folk-song belonging to the low-lying areas of Bangladesh is known as such. In fact, the term 'Bhatiali' has come from the word 'bhati'. Most of the lyrics belonging to this kind are characterised by a longing for the eteral. The dominant theme is love and its pangs. Bhatiali is very popular in lower Bangladesh. It is sung solo.
Baul songs: Baul song is a kind of mystic song. This kind of song originated from a class of religious devotees, known as Bauls. This mystical order has been in existence since time immemorial. The Baul seeks the simple path and aims at reaching the height of spiritual experience through music.
Lalon Shah, the chief artist of Baul songs and a remarkably gifted poet, infused a new spirit into the Baul song and caused it to develop on a new line. The innermost experiences of the human soul have found expression in his songs. Lalon Shah was illiterate but composed songs in lucid and simple language in keeping with his natural genious. The following can be taken as a fine example of Lalon song.
"Where is Lord the sympathizer?
Search for him with the sentient guide
The mind misleads the eyes
The mountain is often lost behind one's own hair,
What fun, O my Lord, you always see
While sitting on the nigam
If I am so fortunate as to meet him in the world hereafter
How shall I possibly recognise him
For I haven't had any glimpse of him as yet?
You should adore him intelligently.
You may find nearby the treasure
After which you have set your heart."
In this song Lalon expresses the idea that God can be found with the help of a spiritual guide. If one has no teaching, a lock of hair can stand between him and a mountain. If one does not know God in this world, how will he know Him in the world hereafter?
Sari: Sari song is connected with boats and water. Sari is a functional song. It inspires group spirit and deepens the morale of the oarsmen and the boat, cutting its way through the water at great speed. The sari song has lively and quick rhythm.
Gambhira: Gambhira song is a kind of musical drama, so it suggests diverse settings or scenes and presents different kinds of conflicts and dramatic actions. In fact, the art of play- acting outstrips the appeal of its music. Principal singers in its performance are two: a grandfather and his grandson. Their witty dialogue depicts all sorts of social and economic evils. Its is full of bitter satire and spares none. Harmonium, tabla, mandira, khanjani and do-tara provide the musical accompaniment.
The Snake-charmer's songs: "Bedes" catch snakes and play with them. Like gypsies, they travel from village to village by boats and entertain people making tricks with snakes. As they play with their snakes, they sing a certain type of song, which is known as snake charmer's song and which differs from other types of folk song in content and rhythm.
Alkaf: Alkaf is a kind of action-song. Its singing is, therefore, accompanied by dramatic action. A handsome boy is dressed as a girl when it is sung. Alkaf song is a combination of song proper and rhymes. Its common themes are the love of Radha and Krishna and current events and problems.
According to the statistics of the Bangladesh Folklore Society, folksongs are at the top of the Bangladesh music industry. Folksongs capture about seventy per cent of the market in the Bangladesh music industry. Here I can mention the name of some renowned folksong artists who are contributing in the music industry:
Rathindranath Roy Ashraf Uddin
Kironchandra Roy Shefali Ghosh
Ferdausi Rahman Selim Chaudhuri
Farida Pervin Bari Siddiqui
Indramohan Rajbonshi Akramul Islam
Abdul Quddus Boyati Liton Sarkar
Abdul Rahman Boyati Borhan Uddin
Kanghalini Sufia Seraj Boyati
Momtaz Begum Kallyani Ghosh
Courtesy: The Weekly Holiday
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