whether high or low, old or new, traditional or original, survived
or revived, reflect the deepest and most persistent of human
dreams, and mark the human face and human habitat with their
Cantwell, When We Were Good:
The Folk Revival (Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996)
visiting Calcutta in November of 1994, my friend Sanjoy
Chakraborty, a brilliant young
composer/singer/sitarist, read me an essay he’d written on
Indian music and its relationship to natural environments. The
essay poetically and persuasively argued that regional musical
traits are directly and profoundly influenced by climate and
terrain. A few days later, Debashish and Subhashish Bhattacharya
entertained me with a variety of folk songs and tunes from
different parts of India. I
reciprocated with a couple of American songs, and a year later,
during two lulls in Debashish’s first North American solo tour,
these recordings were made in California.
The most direct musical expression of
human engagement with natural
environments and rhythms is folk music. Though
not everything we have recorded meets a textbook `folk’
definition, it all inhabits the same mythic territory as the folk
song, which reinvents itself with each performer through whom it
passes. People everywhere sing about their rivers, valleys,
mountains, and seas.
chose material which shares evident thematic, emotional or musical
bonds, presented in a form which might be likened to the suite.
America and India are not so mutually `exotic’ when you
pair songs sharing similar melodic structures: a bright major
pentatonic scale (“Valley of Delight/Down in the Valley to
Pray”), for instance, or a bluesy minor one (Appalachia’s
“Pretty Polly” and Assam’s “Song of Life”).
Participating in this process with two such extraordinary
musicians as Debashish and Subhankar was an exhilarating
experience. Sounds they conjure include the slap of the
boatman’s oars in the “Bhatiali,”the staccato pluck of the
Bengali folk instrument the dotara,
a cousin of our banjo,
and the lament of a woman who fears her fishing husband is `lost
on the river’ in the “Bhawaiaa.”
No natural force addressed in this project exerts a more
overwhelming allure than the sea.
If “Sleep Walk” seems misplaced
among `sea songs,’ perhaps you’ve never taken a summer
stroll on a moonlit beach. “Voyage
Espana” is our metaphoric voyage to the Motherland of the
instrument which brought us together, the guitar. Debashish’s
approach to it calls to mind Stendhal’s remark: “No instrument
is satisfactory except insofar as it approximates the sound of the
human voice.” Debashish makes a sublimely satisfactory
instrument of his guitar.
-Mark A. Humphrey
The folk parts which I
have tried to mix
with your folk music is coming from
a very wide range of the folk music of India.
India is very dynamic in
character, religion, language, and cultural traditions.
The heroes &
kings & lords came
from all over the world, because India was one of the richest
countries in the world. Out
of affection, Indians always took foreigners as their own people,
and this rarely allowed anybody to return to their native land.
This is the character of Indian soil
& of Indian people.
The whole nation is a mixed culture.
North America has a similar character.
My “Return to the Valley” is inspired by the valleys of
Kashmir & Rajasthan. It’s
a mixed composition based on folk versions of two ragas, Pahadi
the Assam Valley, between two hills, they grow tea--Assam tea.
They work in the tea garden.
Generally, ladies work much more in gardens
than men, because they’re more skillful in plucking tea
leaves & tea buds.
the weekend, or in a
festive mood, they sit together & drink some liquor &
sing this type of folk song, “Song of Life.”
The lyric is fantastic. This is `the
call of life.’ Life
is like a man. He is telling people, `Come! Come dancing!
Come running! I came here to see your glorious face, your
smile.’ This is the real call of life.
Somehow, this hill folk tune is a complete match with the
blues of North America.
Bhawaiaas are very old
traditions in our country. Bhati/Bhata
means `low tide’
in Bengali (`river flows down to the sea’).
These songs are typically sung by the boatmen on the
Bengali rivers, the Ganga and the Padma. It is sung when the boat
flows down to the sea in Bhati--that is, when the boatmen
don’t have to pull the oars,
their time off when they can sing at ease. These songs are
sung in high-pitched
voices to convey the feelings of the boatmen to the people on the
river banks. Their
songs narrate their feelings of joy and sorrow in their life.
The fishermen go down to the river with their boats,
leaving their families. They
stay a long time in their boats on the river, so they’re deeply
involved with nature itself. Under
the open blue sky, upon the blue rivers, they spend much time.
Their music and lyrics reflect that.
They feel God Almighty through nature.
You will find an urge for surrender in Bhatiali.
means `mood’ in Bengali. Bhaawaiaa
expresses moods of sorrow/joy connected with daily human affairs.
The lyrics of both Bhatiali and Bhawaiaa songs tend to be
non-religious and romantic, expressing joy and sorrow. The
Bhatiali and Bhawaiaa tunes are almost alike, though in Bhawaiaa
the singer doesn’t necessarily use a high-pitched voice.
While I was playing
“Sleep Walk,” I was thinking how I used to practice hour after
hour pieces like “Spanish Fandango,” “Maori’s Dance,”
and “Mother of Mine.” I
used to sit with my roundhole Hawaiian guitar which my father
bought me when I was two years old.
I played Western music when I was a kid, but gradually my
mind was really occupied by Indian classical music.
But I love playing
Western music & I also love our music.
I was really happy with what I did with “Sleep Walk.”
This brought back memories.
Espana” is based on the raga Basant Mu Khari, a
morning melody mixing elements of the rags Bhairav
and Bhairavi. The
appraoch and expression, however, are inspired by the European