Nadia Brothers
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Nadia Brothers

Kolkata, Bengal, India | SELF

Kolkata, Bengal, India | SELF
Band Folk Folk


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"Music & meeting of minds"

GORBHANGA: Here there are no guns. Here, people don't thirst for revenge. Here, blood is not spilt at night, people don't disappear. Here, the killing fields of the rest of Bengal are a distant rumour heard of, but not felt.

What echoes through hearts and minds here are the lines of Lalan Fakir. "Mondo bhalor ei ki khela& bholamon (this world is a play of evil and good)", sings the little boy, as he runs along the edge of the field, his lithe form like a bird flying through the yellow mustard fields in the misty morning.
This is Gorbhanga, a small border village about 170 km from Kolkata at Nandanpur in Nadia, which is home to the largest number Fakiri singers in the country. The singers are immersed in the philosophy and humanism as preached by Lalan, the legendary ascetic who left a profound imprint on Bengal's culturescape and even influenced Rabindranath Tagore.

Almost all the Fakirs' huts turn into ganer akhara' (singer's cottage) every morning and evening. The tiny sleepy village reverberates with songs and music, rendered by Fakiri singers. The common theme is universal love and the human bonds that are bigger than caste, creed and community.

"Lalan Fakir addressed the scourges of his time, the caste problem and the disharmony among different religious communities. But the crying need of our time is harmony among political groups. Bloodshed has become the order of the day in our state,"says Babu Fakir as he went singing, Ke tomake e beshbhusan /porilo shuni/ sejechho saj/ bhaloi karo/&/ dukul hobe apomani (he made his own translation You are being dressed by the people/ it is good for you/ but you will be disgraced if you caught doing foul things). The political violence of our times can still be addressed by Lalan's songs, he felt.

The philosophy and its music was on show at the annual festival Fakiri Utsav' organised by NGO It saw hordes of visitors from different parts of India and abroad converge on the sleepy village. As the evening darkens and the lights are switched on in the golghars (thatched huts), people are seen enjoying the music with their eyes closed. In one hut, Golam Fakir juggles words and tunes, the lilting music flowing like waves from his dotara. He is the same Golam Fakir who collaborated with Goutam Ghose for his recent award-winning movie Moner Manush', based on the life of Lalan.

"We haven't watched the film in which my uncles sang and acted," says Rakesh, a school student and a nephew of Golam and Arman Fakir. "Dekhar khub ichchha, kintu ga-ganj to, tai ekhane aste deri hoy (We all are eagerly waiting to watch the film but we have to wait as this is a remote village)."

Some visitors had come here after watching the film. Some are keen to hear the songs from the film. A little far from the festival space, an elderly Mansur Fakir is engrossed in tuning his Dotara. The solitary Fakir is playing Sindhu Bhairabi at a low pitch. But every note is clearly audible. A policeman posted at the village for the festival suddenly sings, "Chander gae chand legechhe" a popular Bengali number also composed in Bhairabi.

This is how life is in Gorbhanga. A village where opposing political groups share muri and kancha lanka'( puffed rice and green chili) from the same bowl even during the tense elections. The spirit of love espoused through music could be a model for all the warring villages in the state. - Times of India

"Baul me over"

Baul me over

In and outside Bengal, Baul music is being given new platforms. Moumita Chakrabarti discovers that the song of the mystic minstrels is being feted in films, bands, festivals and books
Ghulam Fakhir still remembers the time when he carried dead bodies for civic authorities for Rs 400 a month. But even in the darkest days of poverty, Ghulam — who lives in Gorbhanga, a remote and underdeveloped village in Bengal’s Nadia district — found succour in music. And it was this passion for Baul geeti that caught the eye of a group hoping to revive music forms.

When Banglanatak dot com visited Gorbhanga some years ago, it zeroed in on Ghulam and his brothers — and helped them realise a dream. The brothers were trained and have been performing Baul songs across the world. Today, Ghulam Fakhir earns over Rs 20,000 every month.

But sustainability is not Banglanatak dot com’s sole mission. What it seeks to do is uplift folk music such as Baul gaan. “We have been striving to train 3,200 artists across India, practising six kinds of traditional art forms, including Baul, so that the art forms do not get lost,” says Amitava Bhattacharya, founder of the online group.

It’s not the only one promoting Baul music. Across and outside Bengal, the wandering bard’s song is being given new platforms. In the process, Gorbhanga is emerging as a hub of Baul music. The three-day Baul Fakhiri Utsav — an international festival of Baul music — being held in the village comes to an end today. Bauls are also expected to perform at a Sufi fest in Calcutta in February.

SOUL MUSIC: (From above) Baul singers at a Jalpaiguri event and the Gorbhanga group at Tagore Society, London:Purna Das Baul
Baul singing — once the soul of rural Bengal — is being given a new lease of life. The music form, at its peak when Purna Das Baul shared the stage with singers Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel decades ago, is being propped up by music lovers. The song of the wandering minstrels — who roamed the countryside of Bengal in their saffron robes, singing spiritual songs with a one-stringed instrument — is being feted in films, by Bangla bands, writers and groups supporting folk music.

Percussionist and music composer Tanmoy Bose has been doing his bit. “Baul geeti in itself was not lost. But better packaging was required to present it to an urban audience,” he says. So Bose brought in other instruments, apart from the traditional ektara and dotara (one-stringer and two-stringer), to rev up Baul geeti in the band Talatantra. “What they present today is neither a remix nor fusion. It is a more structured form of Baul geeti which appeals to urban audiences,” he says. On the other hand, there are some — like Baul veteran Purna Das — who believe that the musical form requires no pepping up. “Neither Bauls nor their traditional songs can ever be erased from the minds and hearts of the people,” says Purna Das, whose music has taken him to 140 countries.

Baul music, adds Parvathy Baul, another well-known singer, keeps evolving, and is therefore a living tradition. She has been taking the music to areas outside Bengal with her husband Ravi Gopalan Nair, who belongs to Kerala. “We have organised Baul concerts in villages in Kerala,” she says.

Writer Mimlu Sen points out that traditionally the audience for Baul singers consisted of rural folks from Bengal. “The audience was deeply religious and often from the poorest of the poor — the Vaishnavas, village troupes of kirtan singers and sadhus as well as ordinary farmers, tailors, tinkers, cops, robbers, hookers and con men,” says Sen, whose 2009 book Baulsphere focused on her journey with her partner of long years, singer Paban Das Baul.

But over the years, the profile of the audience has been changing, with a spate of domestic and international festivals, and with popular Bangla bands taking up Baul tunes. “The younger generation is jaded by the rampant corruption in urban life and is definitely attracted to the Bauls. Listening to Baul songs is therapeutic,” she stresses.

Baul music has been in the forefront of cultural activities for a while now. Director Gautam Ghosh’s 2010 film Moner Manush —based on the life of Lalon Shah and starring Prosenjit — has been critically acclaimed for its treatment of the life of the spiritual singer.

Ghosh says he chose to direct the film because of religious divides in contemporary society. “Baul geeti binds Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and others with one string. Its philosophy has the power to soothe the disturbed and distressed,” he adds.

Bands such as Bhoomi and Bonnie Chakraborty’s Oikyotaan too have been highlighting Baul music. “Oikyotaan means a thousand melodies transforming into a unique song. The idea was to make folk music accessible to a global audience,” says Chakraborty. The founder and lead singer of Bhoomi, Surajit Chatterjee, stresses that the appeal of Baul music is universal. “More often than not, the theme is spiritual; it spreads the message of brotherhood, love for fellow human beings and common folk. Considering the turbulence in our society, these songs soothe our soul,” he says.

It’s not difficult to make Baul geeti match contemporary music, the singers stress. “Keeping with the spirit of Baul music that keeps including the new, our compositions often merge with contemporary music influences,” adds Chatterjee. “The drum, guitar, violin, keyboards and English flutes play along with traditional instruments such as the khamak, ektara, dupki and ghungroo when the instruments gel with the mood of the song.” Clearly, Bauls — who celebrate life — are not going to hang up their ektaras. The voice of the bard is as clear as ever. - The Telegraph, Newspaper

"Fakirs' music spells magic in land of dotara"

NADIA: Music wafts in the air and tunes float around in this tiny hamlet. In Gorbhanga, every villager can sing, it's said. From the farmers and grocers to the children playing on the street, you can catch them all humming one tune or the other.

It's perhaps not strange then that the village in the vicinity of Nadia town sees a congregation of more than 150 fakirs from Nadia and 80 from Murshidabad in the music festival this time of the year. For three days, they sing, chant and dance. Songs of Lalan, Jalal, Rezzak and other illustrious composers are rendered here. Fakir singers from this little-known village have even performed abroad. They are perhaps the last practitioners of Bengal's own ethnic musical tradition.
Fakirs put up their own akharas which serve as their shelters. There, they sing, compose and perform. Clad in their traditional robes (alkhallas) and sporting their trademark flowing beards, these minstrels enthrall visitors with their earthy compositions. Their dotaras spell a magic as they go into an ecstasy with their passionate renditions.

Many come up with their own tunes based on 'ragas'. The rest play around with folk tunes. On a misty Sunday morning, one of them sat cross-legged, fiddling with his dotara. He sang a combination of different ragas and then moved on to 'Kalavati' and 'Shivaranjani'.

Teenager Jamsher Islam says, "E gayer matite gaan achhe, mathe kaaj korti korti gaan gabe tao darie shunti hobe" (Music is in the soil of this village. You would be stunned by the way farmers sing casually while working on the fields). However, he rued that youngsters are now hooked to TV serials and cinema. A pan and cigarette shopkeeper near the only cinema hall at Nazirganj, about 6-7 kms from this village, agreed the number of youngsters interested in music is steadily decreasing.

"This village is far from the lure of 'modern life' and consumer-oriented social structure. But how long this condition will remain is surely a challenge," said Rashid Ali, a college student. However, Amitabha Bhattacharjee, director of Bangla Natak Dot Co, the organizing body of this festival, is working for the economic development of the singers, was not ready to buy this logic. "When the younger generation will see their fathers and elders singing, making music and earning through it, they will naturally follow their foot steps."

The nights are cold. At the end of the festival village, a group of foreign tourists sit with a numbers of fakirs around a fire pit. The countdown for the next festival has started. - The Times of India

"Art as an element of change"

Art as an element of change
Baishali Mukherjee, Feb 17, 2013, Trans World Features
Folk sounds

Living in a far away village in Nadia, West Bengal, nobody knew Golam Fakir as an artiste six years ago. Belonging to a marginalised community, without formal education, Golam used to carry dead bodies from the police station to the morgue. His is a fascinating story of transformation, from a non-entity to a celebrity singer of Baul Geet, a form of Bengal’s folk song, all in a span of six years.

He has performed all over India and has travelled to many countries including the UK, Switzerland, France and Scotland. His income has gone up from Rs 200 to Rs 30,000 a month. Golam narrates his experience in his own fashion, “I never thought of anything beyond my two meals a few years ago, and now I’ve the opportunity to travel across the globe and perform on stage with great performers, and represent my country. It fills my heart when people appreciate and applaud Baul music.”

Moyna Chitrakar is a patua artist, who specialises in the scroll painting of Bengal. Her story reflects how women have been empowered through art. Moyna and her husband would earn about Rs 1,000 a month, six years ago. Today, her family earns many times over. She has travelled with her paintings and other products to different parts of India, attending fairs and festivals. She even went to Shenzhen to attend an industrial fair. She has now constructed a two storey house in her village for tourists. A confident Moyna says, “We can now concentrate on our work and not worry about our next meal.”

Crafting this change since 2004 is, a social development organisation in Kolkata. Speaking about the process of change, Amitabha Bhattacharya, director, says, “Culture is a great enabler. It fosters social inclusion. Performing art traditions are an asset for developing rural enterprise.” New markets and new brands help promote traditional performing arts and crafts, he points out. “Heritage becomes a means of livelihood and empowerment. The motto is ‘to preserve art, let the artists survive’,” he adds.

The Ministry of Culture, West Bengal, supported the initiative from 2005-09. In December, 2009, EU provided support to the project named Ethno Magic Going Global to take ethno art to the global arena. The project has created a tremendous impact.

Reviving these heritage skills as means of livelihood necessitates mobilising changes in mindset as the folk artists become ‘cultural service providers’. A comprehensive training and capacity building programme was undertaken after the formation of a self help group to help innovate ways of rendering the traditional art forms. The aim was to establish a guru-shishya parampara, where skilled craftsmen pass on their knowledge to the practising artists.

Winds of change have now started blowing elsewhere too. Recently, a fast growing company in the Indian energy sector has come up with the documentation of Swang, a popular form of folk theatre in Haryana and Punjab. It aims at introducing the form to facilitate its promotion.

According to Kishan Kumar, a theatre activist, the government organises Swang to raise money from the public for repair or construction of schools or roads. Its popularity may be gauged by the fact that around three lakh rupees was raised from a performance of Swang in Haryana.

Taking the cultural revival a step further, has also taken the initiative to enliven the age-old art forms of Bihar. Efforts are on to rejuvenate the feisty cultural inventory of Bihar that includes folk songs like Sohar, Nirgun, Kajri, Byaas; dances like Jhijia; dramas like Ramleela, Nautanki; tribal dance like Santhali dance and crafts like Sujni and Sikki.

Apart from art forms, the scope for developing ethno-cultural tourism is also being explored in places like Gorbhanga, Pingla and Jangal Mahal in Bengal, Tinsukia in Assam and also Goa. The important impact of developing tourism in these places will be the restoration of peace in the disturbed areas of Bengal and Assam through the inclusive growth of the aboriginal people.

In today’s world, culture can prove to be a potential tool for establishing universal peace. For, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.” - DeccanHerald

"The Fakirs of Gorbhanga"

The Fakirs of Gorbhanga

However you describe them, the Bauls of Bengal are unique. They are traveling minstrels, mystic singers, beggar philosophers - and a deeply free, altruistic people.

At dusk, the Fakirs of the village of Gorbhanga sit under the “akhra” (or “ashram”), a circular and open-sided hut, and play music on the dotara (a five-string, bird-headed lute), on the harmonium, on the jhuri (small cymbals), on the dholok (drum) or on the tabla.

The musicians usually play two main different repertoires : the Baul-Fakir gaan , devotional songs with bakti and sufi influences which are widely inspired by Lalan Fakir poetry (1774-1890) and the bangla qawwâli – closer to the Pakistani qawwâli, and associated with guru Gaus-ul-Azam (1826-1906) from the Tarika-e-Maizbhandari, in Bangladesh.
- The Barbican Festival

"Fakiri 'den' makes a mark"

GORBHANGA, Nadia: Thommy Andersson was crossing a mustard field with his huge cello box. Aesha of the village asked him, "Do you have a person in your box?" Andersson smiled, his beard moved : "Yes I do. 'Moner manush', a man of heart." He touched the child's cheek with affection.

Andersson came to Gorbhanga for the fakiri festival with the Orient West Orchestra of Denmark, that comprises musicians from Sweden, Copenhagen, Cuba and Israel. The event, held on the third weekend of January every year, celebrated the meeting of musical minds this year with a lively band of guests from abroad.
Though the celebrated Golam Fakir refused to utter the word 'foreigner', ever smiling, he said, "It seems I know them for years." In a poorly-lit corner of the 'akhara' at a 'gol ghar' (a round-shaped thatched hut with all sides open), Dalia Faitelson of the choir played a Western tune on her six-string guitar and Shyam Khyapa immediately adjusted to the rhythm and the tune.

The Gregorian chant seemingly transformed into 'Jhijhit raga'. Shyam sang, 'Prem bine bhajan hobe na (prayer is useless to a person without love)'. Dalia responded with an impromptu Hebrew song about a woman going to the beach in a white dress to meet her lover. The singers do not know each others' language, yet they were synchronized. "It's not just skill, but soaking our mind in the same syrup of music," said a beaming Shyam Khyapa in his multi-coloured alkhalla.

Nearly 160 fakiri and baul singers from Fazil Nagar, Asaan Nagar, Goash, Chapra, Narayanpur, Nabadwip, Jalangi and Behrampur joined the fest. Shohreh Sharzad, a dancer of Iranian origin, gave a scintillating performance.

The three-day-long musical journey experienced the serenity of fakiri, baul songs, the excellence of palla or Bangla qawali and the marvels of Orient West Choir's songs based on the forces of nature like storm, sky, snow and wind. "But the jam of Danish and fakiri, baul music, the spirit, is one," said Amitava Bhattacharya, Banglanatak chief.

Gorbhanga has already earned a place in the West Bengal cultural heritage tourist map.

Two policemen at the festival site were having their snacks with muri and telebhaja. Visibly relaxed, one of them broke out, "Chander gaye chaand legechhe.... amra bhebhe korbo ki." The other one reminded him he was in uniform. But the cop went on and told him that he might find 'boro babu' (the officer in charge) in one of the gol ghars, appreciating the music.

The snacks seller said, "This is the quality of the soil. Even police presence in this village is rare." An elderly man echoed his thoughts, "Music makes the difference. In these times of unrest, violence and atrocities against the fairer sex, we respect our women."

Close to the mustard field, glowing in the nascent sun, Babu fakir sang a melody on 'deha tatwa', based on Mishra bhairavi. He played the cello while Andersson was busy playing his dotara.

Suddenly, the mobile phone of a teen boy rang: 'You're my pumpkin pumpkin, hello honey bunny.'

After the musical session, Andersson called the boy, gave him the bow of his cello, and taught him the basics. Still holding his hand, he played, 'Ami kothay pabo tare... amar moner manus..' - The Times of India

"Sufi Sutra, Kolkata India"

Check URL - Songlines Magazine

"Sufi Sutra, Kolkata India"

Check URL - Songlines Magazine

"The world of Baul Fakiri singers"

Their music is redolent of red earth, damp breeze caressing paddy, sun-baked mud houses and farmers — nut-brown, sinewy.

The nine members of the Folk Orchestra come from the backwaters of Bengal but their music's good enough to feature in the World Music Day performances held recently at Alliance Française, Delhi. The musicians — habitually underselling what they do — call such events gaan-bajna.They also have a strange word for passion: nasha. Few made money from music before Kolkata-based NGO, Banglanatak dot com, streamlined the musicians into self-help groups in 2004, trained them, brought them business and placed the best of them in an orchestra. Before the NGO stepped in, Baul-Fakiri singers Baba Golam and Baba Fakir donated to the Nadia sadhu sanghs where they sang; Sanatan Das' father advised him to give up the dhol (percussion instrument) and build bamboo houses as it pays well — Rs 100-200 a day. But there's no fighting the nasha.

At sound-check, they take positions before the mikes as their coordinator shouts instructions from across the hall. "We'd never seen them before," says Golam of the mikes and monitors, "They scared me." A set of workshops fixed that. Rehearsal over, they are instructed to leave their instruments on the stage. Golam, 51, ignores that, packs his dotara (string instrument), hauls it out. "The dotara is his life," says his brother Fakir, 42, laughing. Golam doesn't leave his jantra (instrument); he holds it across his lap in cars.

Golam began singing at the age of seven at Gourbhanga but never made a buck from it till he joined Banglanatak in 2004. Till then the brothers worked in the fields. Now Golam makes about Rs 10,000 a month. "Today I can cool off under a fan," he grins. They've also performed in the UK and China. Life's changed for the others too. Flautist Mohan Patra's kids take tuitions in Bengali and English and he sports a pair of gold-rimmed, photo-chromatic glasses. Some have travelled abroad and they'll start working in a studio soon; and nearly all have mobile phones.

Golam's dotara is also new, part of a set of four provided by the NGO. Sanatan Das, 49, got a dhol. Das' home at Asan Nagar, Nadia, supplies dhakis (group that specialises in playing the dhak, a percussion instrument used during festivals) for Durga Pujas. "There are 12-14 people in my colony who go to Kolkata for the puja," he says. The only musician in his family, he started playing at markets and graduated to Puja venues in Kolkata.

Shiv Shankar Kalindi, 38, was given tablas. A new recruit, he joined the orchestra in April 2010. Earlier, he was a tabla instructor in Bibarda, Bankura and performed with Rangeela, a folk group. Mahadev Roy joined him. Originally a carpenter from Pukhuria, Roy first trained in theatre with Banglanatak in 2004. But he played the khol (a clay percussion instrument) and has now moved to the dhol for the orchestra.

Others in the orchestra also supplement their modest incomes with earnings from gaan-bajna. Bhagabat Mahato, 44, from Purulia, was part of a Chau group till it closed down in 1996. "My father, uncles were all in it, 25-30 of us danced together," he says. When it was resurrected by the NGO, Mahato asked to be left out. "I said I was too old to dance." He now plays the dhamsa (a large drum). - The Times of India


The Rough Guide to Sufi Fakirs of Bengal compiled by William Dalrymple and released by World Music Network.

The CDs that have been released by UD Cassette company of Kolkata, India:

Lalan Fakir - Compilation of selected songs of Lalan Fakir
Gorbhangar Gaan and Gorbhangar Gaan 1- Fakiri songs
Sahaj Manush - Songs of Lalan Fakir
Nadia - Baul / Fakiri songs
Fakiri and BanglaQawwali, Live concert in Europe (London, Paris, Nantes, Tunis, Geneva)



The story of Nadia Brothers, a group of talented marginalised rural folk artists is that of empowerment and social inclusion. Its a story of change, from daily unskilled labour to recognized artists. This extremely talented rural artists are now famous in the musical horizon. There are 700 musicians of same genre led by about 15 gurus. Their music literally crosses barrier and touches audience. Baul fakiri music is an oral tradition and now even the city youth is attracted big time with their music. They have their annual village festivals, which are very popular amongst all. This group is one of the best groups out of these rural artists groups. They have performed internationally at England, Scotland, China, Japan, Tunisia, Switzerland, France and Syria.

The group has mesmerised audience with their music all over the world. A single stroke of the 'Ektara' the age old musical instrument, is enough to tug at one's heart strings. The Bauls and the Fakirs profess the ultimate philosophy of life through the lilt and cadence of their simple lyrics. The philosophy propagates the thought that God resides amongst us and we humans should search our soul for finding God within, The group sing about love, devotion and humanity and believe that all men irrespective of their religion, caste and creed are equal. Their philosophy emerged in the seventeenth century as a protest against a society stifled with superstitions, caste divisions, religious intolerence and malpractice. The group presents a combination of Baul, Fakiri and Bangla Qawwali songs. The musical journey of the group has been an unique one and has placed the name of their village and the community in the world map.