The Baul Influence
Who can't trace the influence of Baul songs in Tagore's Rabindra Sangeet? The mystical nature of Tagore's lyrics is also a product of his affinity to these wandering bards. Edward Dimock Jr. in his The Place of the Hidden Moon (1966) writes: "Rabindranath Tagore put the Bauls on a higher-than-respectable level by his praise of the beauty of their songs and spirit, and by his frank and proud acknowledgement of his own poetic debt to them." The Baul pattern also inspired many other successful poets, playwrights and songwriters of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bauls are bards, composers, musicians, dancers and actors all rolled into one, and their mission is to entertain. Through their songs, pauses, gestures, and postures, these nomadic mendicants spread the message of love and ecstasy to lands far and wide. In a land devoid of mechanical entertainment, Baul singers were a major source of entertainment.
People still love to watch them sing and dance, their narration of folk tales, and even commentary on contemporary issues through highly melodious songs and an extraordinarily high-pitched rendition. Although their lyrics speak the language of the village folks, their songs are appealing to one and all. The songs are simple and direct, profusely emotional, enjoyable, and needs no special knowledge for appreciation.
Lalan Fakir is considered the greatest Baul artiste of all ages, and all other later Bauls regard him as their guru, and sing songs composed by him. Among the contemporary Baul singers, the names of Purna Das Baul, Jatin Das Baul, Sanatan Das Baul, Anando Gopal Das Baul, Biswanath Das Baul, Paban Das Baul, and Bapi Das Baul are prominent. Purna Das Baul is undisputedly the reigning king of the Baul clan today. His father, the late Nabani Das "Khyapa", was the most famous Baul of his generation, and Tagore conferred upon him the title "Khyapa", meaning "wild". Purna Das was induced into the folds of the Baul music from his early childhood, and at the tender age of seven, his song won him a gold medal at a music conference in Jaipur.
India's Bob Dylan!
Referred to as the Baul Samrat, Purna Das Baul, introduced Baul songs to the West during an eight-month tour of the US in 1965 with stars like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Robeson, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, et al. Dubbed "India's Bob Dylan" by the New York Times in 1984, Purna Das Baul has played with Bob Marley, Gordon Lightfoot and Mahalia Jackson and the likes.
Along with sons Krishnendu, Subhendu and Dibyendu, Purna Das Baul is planning a special tour of the US, intended to reunite an array of top stars around Baul music. Their fusion band 'Khyapa' is all set to unveil their Baul fusion at the US folk-rock-jazz-reggae fest in 2002. Then there is the grand tour of the US and Japan with concerts in New Jersey, New York City and Los Angeles. Purna Das is also hoping to rope in Mick Jagger to sing Baul gaan in Bengali on stage and on record. 'Khyapa' is also optimistic about a show with Bob Dylan, the long-time friend of Baul gaan.
Earlier this year, the famous French Theatre de la Ville invited the global Baul band 'Baul Bishwa' group at its Musiques de Monde (the World Music) meet in Paris. Led by Bapi Das Baul, an eighth generation baul artiste, the group has performed at several places around the world. In this context, the collaborative effort of Paban Das Baul and the British musician Sam Mills ("Real Sugar") to produce Baul fusion music for a global audience is discernable. Did you know that Paban Das's music has also been used by Microsoft to represent the music of Bengal in its World CD-ROM Atlas?
Is It Fair?
However, such efforts to globalize Baul music are being vehemently criticized by the detractors of Purna Das Baul for allegedly deracinating the Baul heritage. But don't you think this is a natural course in the evolution of Baul music - a step that needs to keep the tradition alive and kicking?