Tuesday, July 08, 2014
From Akhara to Fusion - the transformation of Baul music in Bangladesh - Part 7
by Maqsoodul Haque
A Baul with an Ektaara and Baya has since remained the most enduring image in the media.
7. From Akhara to mainstream – use of new musical instruments in Baul music
Historical records suggest that the Ektaara a single stringed lute was the only musical instruments used inside Akhara premises from the times of Lalon and that tradition continues in many cases even today. The simple yet highly sophisticated instrument when played in accompaniment is believed to convey ‘secret instructions’ by Lalon, decipherable only to adept Bauls, who will therefore never deviate from the same. Baul music in its earliest forms was not based on any complex raga of the Indian classical tradition, nor were any taal, beat or accompaniment instruments used.
Nonetheless while evolving as a musical genre during the times of Lalon, there is no denying that many tunes or ‘soor’ of the times were used and they were based on existing Murshidi, Marfati or other popular Sufi genres, as much as Kirtans and Bhajans from the Vaishnavites. Baul tunes have similarities with folk music from such far off places such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Persia, Turkey and Iraq, even with complex ones from Carnatic music traditions. As an independent genre it became recognized over time and after many musical elements, motifs and forms mixed and gave it the complete shape that we hear today. Baul music has traditionally fused with newer trends and ideas.
Rusticity coupled with simplicity of the music, was the pre-eminent beauty of Baul music, which remained strictly confined to Akhara centric Shadhus and Fakirs who had no aspirations to become professional singers. Over time this became a problematic aspect in the spread of Baul music, because all too often singing was off key, as basic tuning methodologies were not understood. Also within Akharas, no one much cared, as how one sang or how instruments sounded as long as the messages within the songs were decipherable. These idiosyncrasies in fact added up in creating the Baul music genre which was exceptional and unique.
Emphasized within the Akharas as far as approaches to musical instruments are concerned, there has not been a marked shift to the earliest standard fare even to this day. Staying true to ancient traditions Bauls sing live and without microphones or amplifications of any kind in open air concerts. It is therefore not unusual that many Bauls acquired distinctive vocal skills with high pitch rendition of songs that reaches out to hundreds of assembled listeners. With the general acceptability and popularity of Baul music over the years, saw the incorporation of several instruments to join in as accompaniment.
It was in fact about 2 decades after the transition of Lalon, that Baya or small drum slung to the waist and played with the left hand was included into Baul music. A Baul with an Ektaara and Baya has since remained the most enduring image in the media. Many even strapped a Payel or Ghungroo (small bells) to their ankles to improvise and create rhythm. Baul repertoire moved on the same principals applied by ‘one man bands’ with minimalism in everything from what they wear to the instruments they play being part and parcel not only of their music, but also their belief system.
Initially it was the bamboo flute and the 4 stringed Dotaara, then progressively rhythm instruments such as the mandira, khartaal and jhuri, wooden castanets, later drums such as dhol, khol, naal as much as pakwaz made their steady entry. The Vaishnavite and Sufi influences in Baul music meant that many instrument favored by the Mughals and other aristocratic and feudal classes such as the Serangi, Shehnai, Santoor, tabla, tanpura, Chimta, Khamak as well as harmonium and Sitars made their inroads and sooner than not, became an integral part of Baul music.
The inclusion of various instruments into Baul music were never imposed, but the need and demands of times, because while the music practiced and pursued in the Akhara institution was the base parameters set by the stakeholders themselves, it was gradually moving out of the Akharas and gaining mainstream acceptability. Since Bauls never believed in any prescribed musical forms nor were they ever dogmatic or puritanical in matters of what instruments can or or cannot be used, incorporation of newer instruments and trends thus became inevitable.