It is laudable indeed that Int'l Folk (Songs?) Festival is being held for the third time at the Army Stadium in the capital in which 140 folk musicians are scheduled to perform. The musicians are not only from Bangladesh but also from neighbouring India, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet etc as well as from far off countries.
It is providing an international cultural exchange platform and is intended to highlight our rich storehouse of folk culture at international level. Much more than anything else folk songs take us to the core of the culture of a country provided an appropriate introduction is provided before every production to enable us to overcome linguistic and regional barriers. In this context the present piece is not about the festival but on the theme of it-- folk songs as a separate genre of music which intensely appealed to and influenced Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul, Rajanikanto etc and also generated innumerable patriotic folk songs which inspired India's freedom struggle and Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Anywhere and everywhere in the world initially folk songs, folk music, folk dance, folk literature, folk drama etc rose out of natural rustic, human impulse for creative compositions like spontaneous downpour from the depth of heartfelt emotions. Theory of aesthetics and grammar were contemplated much later to give sophisticated brushing and touch, more often than not with concealment of thoughts and feelings and selective expression of the same to suit the more educated taste and sense of refinements. In course of time the natural songs of soil and soul got shrouded with necessity for compliance with rules and cosmetics of artifice. It is indeed a part of evolutionary process of human culture subject to pressure from time and necessity for transformation. After all, performance has to periodically reform and transform itself for requisite enrichment. But the intense call of soil and soul is irresistible. So, folk productions continue to capture the domain of human interest for their historical value and contemporary appeal.
Folk songs are widely varied with God's plenty covering huge range of subjects from day to day account of mundane life, local issues and problems, love and pain etc to the highest philosophical matters of universal spiritual interest. They are mostly romantic, having wide range of imagination and emotion enjoying adequate structural liberation flowing from within. They are normally rooted in particular region and time while stretching far beyond. Despite being predominantly pastoral product they have a lot of urban smell as well. Nowadays, present day contributions are also added to it with suitable content and tunes. In any case, universality of folk songs lies in their constant engagement with mystery of life and spiritual suggestiveness with which one can easily emotionally relate. The temporal and local issues in them may generate interest but not love and personal identification. Great folk songs are great philosophy in communicating mode which awakens, inspires and transmits intended emotion to the prepared receivers.
Emotional Bengal is undoubtedly a fertile field for romantic folk production and innumerable compositions are very fast fading away demanding immediate attention. Present day compositions in close imitation of the historical folk genre with nearest approximation of the original folk songs are getting mixed in the process of reviving, remaking and making. Many researchers are working hard in this area for their collection, preservation and presentation in purest form.
Rabindranath Tagore himself took the initiative during his stay in present Bangladesh and we know that first publication of Lalon songs in Probasi took place due to his initiative. He borrowed lot of his themes and tunes from traditional folk songs. Even the national anthem of Bangladesh "Amar sonar Bangla ami tomay bhalobasi" was composed by Tagore under direct influence from a folk song, "Ami kothai pabo tare amar maner manush je re".
Folk songs present expression of life mostly by inexperts or self-educated composers having instinctive sense of poetry, rhythm, music and deeper philosophy of life. In that sense it is democratic in nature being music of the mass, for the mass and by the mass. Music is undoubtedly a unique way of self-expression through words and sounds to express the inexpressible feelings. And man of soil can do it best being creature of instinct and impulse uncovered by demands of civilization. So the folk songs make heart to heart appeal with cry of flesh and soul felt by all of us.
Deeper philosophy of life and its elaboration with innate simplicity with poetic suggestiveness constitute the life force of folk songs sung by Bauls, Dervishes, Sufi saints and mystics. No wonder that Lalon songs have been given the status of Intangible Heritage of the World in 2005. They present information on deeper aspect of life, knowledge and wisdom with powerful feelings having contact point at human heart. So they are more poetic than didactic with much deeper appeal than mere information and knowledge could produce. At the same time popular themes of love and pain, romance and nature, imagination and aspiration, in short the entire gamut of human experience get entry in folk songs as content and find fit utterance in befitting tunes.
Considerable portion of folk songs covers religious theme and intense humanism beyond divisive religions. In Baul songs of Lalon or innumerable Sufi songs of medieval mystics we find human element dominating over religious rigour and boundaries. Soaring in the sky of human heart they present unique synthesis of religious tenets very much needed in this multi-religious sub-continent for peaceful coexistence. It is indeed difficult and even foolish to decipher how much Hinduism or Islam exists in Kabir, or in Sufi music. The human appeal to all irrespective of personal creeds is a significant aspect here.
Interest in folk songs as root creations will continue to enthral connoisseurs not only for their nostalgic pastness but also for the thread of its continuity in essence in content, form and tunes. Above all, one requires enough orientation for proper appreciation of other sophisticated music like classical music but folk songs with direct appeal are appreciable by all irrespective of any preparedness. When ear-drum breaking bizarre decibel of some recent popular productions make us suspicious of the aesthetics and uses of music folk songs restore our faith on the same with its innate simplicity and emotional appeal of their lyrics and tunes. Huge popularity of the Folk Festival and overflowing interest in Sufi songs by Nooran sisters unquestionably give evidence to the direction of cultural inclination of the people.
The writer is a columnist.