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The Statesman Saturday July 29 1989

Collecting folk music of the east

Swapan Basu is addicted to folk music.He not only sings and plays almost all the folk songs and instruments of eastern India, especially of north-east, but also has a rare collection of folk instruments, among which "ksing dieng phong" - a xylophone-like cane instrument known among the Garos as "dim srang" - is a prized item. Swapan, in his early thirties, claims to have collected at least 10,000 folk songs of eastern and north-eastern India that, he says, can be preserved if transformed into notations.

Swapan has a six-episode TV serial to his redit, telecast on the Second Channel of Calcutta Doordarshan recently. If tried to document the folk music of West Bengal. Its target was the urban audience, which is almost totally unaware of the rich folk heritage of the State.
But, Swapan's versatility does not end here. He was awarded a three-year national scholarship of the Department of Culture. Government of India, in 1980-81 for training of folk songs under the guidance of the late Hemango Biswas Even before that, in 1979, he was selected by All India Radio and Doordarshan. In the same year he won the " Ujjal Protiva" award of AIR.

He worked as a research fellow of Anthropological Survey of India in ethno-musicology from 1984 to 1987. During this period he did some field work on Meghalaya's folk songs.Another research paper to his credit is: " Ko Lapalang song" an ethno-musicological study of Khasis of Meghalaya. He was awarded the research fellowship for outstanding arts by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, in 1987.

Swapa was initially at tracted to theatre and joined Sansaptak a theatre group, in the early seventies. After about five years and numerous action and musical stints he enrolled himself with Badal Sarkar's theatre group, famous for its "third theatre" and street plays. He composed the music for "Gandi", - Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle - directed by Badal Sarkar in the early eighties.

Early in his performing life, he came into contact with Hemango Biswas and Kalidas Gupta, two outstanding folk music artistes who helped him in shaping his future. Later, the late Ranen Roy Choudhury and Bihar Barua (now living almost in recluse in Assam) guided Swapan in his endeavours.

Swapan particularly excels in bhatiyali, bhoyaiya, chatka and jhumur folk songs of Bengal and plays the ektara, dotara, ananda lahiri, guitar and janjo with equal ease with his songs. It has been a 13-year journey in folk song collection for him, but he is worried about the future because, as he says, the penetration of "urban culture" - an imitation of Western countries has done more damage than anything else to India's rich folk heritage.



Remarkable flexibility

Swapan Basu, a scholar and performer of folk music, has every thing going for him. He has superb voice which is both tuneful and full of life, is smart, witty and prompt and has had a thorough grounding in folk songs. Arts Acre must be congratulated for presenting him in a solo vocal recital on November 17 at Rabindra Sadan.

Basu has been inspired by the late Hemanga Biswas and the late Ranen Roy Chowdhury. Playing the dotara, he began the evening with Moner bhab janarabe. He managed to charm the audience with his clear concept of folk songs. It is evident that the artiste has struggled hard to preserve the songs from different parts of our land and he easily proved that language is not a barrier to any performing artiste.

In the first half, Basu selected some songs the lyrics of which described the conversation between a young girl and her parents. The parents are eager to marry off their daughter. Tin jug chalia gelo was specially appealing for its tal and tune. Bardai bardai dari kilaye (Chittagong), a khasia folk and a Garo folk song showed his clear experession combined with his sense of promotion.

After the interval, Basu sang several songs devoted to Radha and Krishna.Prankrishna, Kinu muin abhagini nari, (a song from Kamrup), Mathaihat dai sai bal and aamar kalo pakhi gelo ure were attractive. The artiste concentrated on all aspects of his gayaki and reflected remarkable flexibility and dynamism. The Bihu brought out a colourful and joyous mood.


AUGUST 17 1991

Two rising talents

Swapan Basu's Indianisation of the Western folkmusic tradition of singing and swaying in a rhythmic balance did not clash with the unspoilt arena of the common folk. His package began with "Moner bhav tarale kise" included the immensely popular "Thakle dobakhana" and concluded with the poignant "Barda bhabire dhore ki", the world of domistic violence seen through the helpless wife's child brother-in-law.



Swapan Basu created a highly personal sound that was spontaneous and communicative. The out going and life loving characteristics of folk music found apt expression in all the songs rendered by him. Specially to be mentioned are "E mon ulta desh be guru (belonging to Bholagunge)","O bhai fakir mulla re","Mathaye haath diyosol balo" and "Jhanp diyona Kamnadite".

Five Reasons For The Popularity of Folk Songs
TRADITION: Folk songs have a really long history. Nobody can tell you for sure exactly when these evolved. Therefore, folk songs have an archival value. This, along with their oral tradition, will ensure that they continue to attract people of all classes and will hold its own beside the other forms of music.
SIMPLICITY: Simple words highlighting simple thoughts of people from the bedrock of all folk songs. This makes for a refreshing change from the complications of everyday life, and provides a welcome break from the tedium.
COLLECTIVE APPEAL: No single person is responsible for a folk song. A folk song writer must borrow ideas and feelings from an entire class of people. So, people listening to them feel as if the songs have been written and composed specially for them.
ATTRACTIVE LYRICS AND RHYTHM: The lyrics, tunes and rhythm of folk songs are not just catchy but also quite distinct from any other genre of music. So, it is wrong to assume that pop songs are challenging the position of filk songs.
REGIONAL: One can identify easily the region from where a particular group of folk songs has originated. So, by listening to a folk number one can easily conjure up an entire region, and the ethnic groups residing there.
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