Fete de la Musique, or World Music Day, is celebrated in many countries across the world, but the initiators of the festival, France, still celebrates it in higher spirit than most others. As part of the programmes, the Alliance Francaise de Dhaka (AFD) invited Farjo Abaji, the French-Lebanese multi-instrumentalist, for a concert that also featured noted baul artistes of Bangladesh, Rob Fakir (vocals, dotara), Baby Dewan (vocals), Nazrul Islam (harmonium), Jalal Ahmed (flute), Shafiqul Islam (Dhol), Poran Fakir (khamak) and Shamim Islam (mandira). The event was held at the AFD's La Galerie on June 21. Olivier Litvine, Director, AFD inaugurated the event, with the audience already filling up the seats even before the performances began.
This is Abaji's third visit to Dhaka, and he was comfortable with the audience right away, in his usual charming, humorous demeanour. And his music was ever-so-refreshing firstly because of the various musical flavours he incorporated in them –from Middle-East to Central Asia to European classical and folk, and secondly because of the range of his voice. From the very coarse, grungy low-pitch growling to the squeaky high-pitch falsettos, he moved between octaves and tones playfully, while engaging the audience to join in with hand-clapped percussions. Another of Abaji's most interesting aspects during his previous visits as well was his instruments, and the audience was not disappointed. What appeared to be an eight-stringed classical acoustic guitar in his hands, he later revealed was a 'fretless' fret on a guitar body, like a lute. Throughout the evening, he would go on to perform on an array of instruments, from the common clarinet and harmonica to the most obscure Kemençe (a Turkish bottle-shaped bow lute), the bouzouki (a mandolin-like instrument most commonly used in Greek music) and a goblet drum (possibly a variant of the darbuka, a Eastern and North-African membranophone), exploring the range of tonalities and signature musical resonances.
But the most fascinating aspect of the evening was how music can intermingle and communicate without hindrance. Abaji invited two Bangladeshi musicians as guests to jam with, the first a flautist and the other a beat-box and khamak player, and without any prior arrangement or plan, the musicians blended in and traded notes in improvised performances.
Rob Fakir is one of the most highly-regarded bauls of the country, and his sombre, meditative rendition of two Lalon Shai songs brought in an entirely different ambiance to the auditorium. He was followed by Baby Dewan, who performed a Shah Abdul Karim song and later a Radharaman Dutta number, in a more upbeat, energetic display. Abaji, meanwhile, joined in with the clarinet on the second piece, and played some fantastic interludes, in a friendly musical duel with the impeccable Jalal Ahmed. The last performance, the collaboration of the bauls and the musician from across the seas, was the standout, with Abaji beginning a vocal groove that the folk musicians picked up and just swayed with, and the audience joining in with the choral 'chants' and in rhythmic clapping.
As the performance came to an end, the music lingered in the air. None of the bauls speak English, let alone French, and Abaji has next to no understanding of Bangla, but when their instruments spoke, it was like they were the oldest of friends, playing together for ages. There could not have been a better testament of the universality of music.
The event was held in association with Getco, with Radio Shadhin as its radio partner.