Tracing the imprint of folk culture

Folk Music


In Harmony: Maadol members with lead singer Shikha (extreme left).

Similarly, bhatiali songs sung by boatmen and women traversing the rivers are an intrinsic part of daily life that hinges around the waterways. In the markedly tribal regions of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and Midnapore, in northwest Bengal, the jhumur is prevalent. Similarly, the bhabaiyas are sung all through the year, and express a range of emotions through catchy lyrics and tune. Additionally, there are baul songs sung by the wandering minstrels who owe their origins to the bhakti movement of the medieval era.

And of course, there are the numerous songs sung by women in every district during weddings that dwell on the worries associated with marrying off daughters into unknown families living miles away.

It was around 2002, that three close friends and ex-alumni of Rabindra Bharati University, Dr Tapan Roy, a doctorate and researcher in folk music; Rita, a lecturer in music at Rabindra Bharati University; and Shikha, a master’s in folk music; decided to do something concrete about the inadequate and wrong rendering of traditional folk songs by performers one kept hearing all over Kolkata. “We used to feel bad about these presentations; since we have studied about the art form, it really jarred,” explains Shikha. 

But it was no use cribbing; and the friends came together to form a folk band. There was another significant aspect which struck them. “In rural India, women are primarily at the centre of rituals involving harvests, the changing seasons, and worship. Thus, most folk songs are sung by women in the villages which dot the Indian landscape. Yet, lack of female singers adept in presenting these folk renditions has always deprived urban audiences of the flavours of the rural hinterland.” 

Keen to retain the purity in their presentation, the friends thought of having an all-woman folk band. And thus was born Maadol, named after the percussion instrument that accompanies folk songs in rural Bengal. Of course, the choice had another reason too — it could be broken into Maa-dol, or the dol (band) of Maa (mothers) or simply the mothers’ band, a group keen on presenting the female point of view.

Not that Maadol is opposed to men. Not only does it function under the direction and help of Tapan Roy, who is actively involved in the choice of music and all major decisions relating to the group, the accomplished musicians accompanying the band are all male. Yet, the songs selected and the overall flavour of every piece is typically female.

All through, Indian men and women have poured their hearts out and channelised their concerns into songs and dance. Although films, theatre, and of late popular Bangla bands have helped keep alive these memories of rural India, notwithstanding modernisation and urbanisation obliterating a large part of the rituals accompanying such songs, the female voice has largely gone unheard.   

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