Seasoned Lalon singer Baul Shafi Mondol is one who needs no introduction. Carrying Lalon's message of peace across the country, Baul Shafi Mondol has been successfully spreading the love for folk and Lalon music since his journey as a Lalon singer began.
In a conversation with The Daily Star, Baul Shafi speaks about the current state of folk music in the country and abroad.
What year-long activities related to Lok Sangeet do you take part in?
Baul Shafi: I spend most of my time in the villages. There are many festivals that take place throughout the year, especially Baul festivals that I generally take part in. There is a special group I have formed with Sadhus called the 'Sadhu sanga'. We usually do events and programmes involving Sadhus. When a Sadhu passes away, we usually hold funeral programmes from the Sadhu sanga. The festivals that Sadhus take part in usually follow the lunar calendar, and we always hold events during the special lunar months or dates. But whatever I am doing, I am involved with music. I go wherever the music goes.
To what extent has folk music caught on in Dhaka?
Baul Shafi: Dhaka is a place of institutions. Of course, it is practiced here, like it is out of Dhaka. But the difference is that folk and Lok sangeet is something you have to experience, not just learn. And it is difficult to embrace the beauty of folk without the presence of nature. Dhaka is a concrete jungle, where everything-- the air, the water-- are all contaminated. It is easier for one to stay connected to Mother Nature and the Earth out of the capital, and that helps with the practice of Lalon's philosophy and music.
Is folk music just as popular outside of Dhaka as it used to be amongst the newer generation?
Baul Shafi: The popularity is always increasing, and especially among the newer generation. It is something I really enjoy watching, because the children of the newer generation are so intelligent and knowledgeable. They don't look at Lalon music as just another genre, but they research on it, they embrace it from the inside out, they understand the historical significance, they are mixing with nature to love understand music more. When two different generations work together, a lot of great things happen. If I say something, a child from this generation can say it better. So, I believe if we combine our efforts, we can uplift the art from better. The fusion of two generations together is what will take Lok Sangeet further.
What can we do to bring children of Dhaka to love this art form more?
Baul Shafi: It is the responsibility of the institutions and the families. At least once in a month, they need to take their children outside of the shell that is Dhaka city. They need to go out, see and feel nature; they need to listen to the wonders of the music and find the connection between it and Mother Earth. We need children to love nature, because nature is Lok Sangeet. The problem is that children nowadays crumble under the pressure of education. I feel the pressure is a tad too much. Their minds need to be free of such pressure, their minds need to wander and imagine. The only thing children think about nowadays is how to get that degree, but there is so much more to life that they need to see, love and embrace. They don't get time to love the country, to love our culture, or nature.
What about the love for folk outside the country?
Baul Shafi: No matter who is taking folk music where, folk is the most popular genre of Bangladesh being celebrated outside.
Are folk instruments still being used to their fullest potential even after the intervention of electronic instruments?
Baul Shafi: Of course they are being used! There are now many more new instruments being used as well, but that hasn't made the previous ones obsolete. With the inclusion of newer instruments, Lok Sangeet is only becoming richer and more diverse. But our Bangla dhol, flute, ektara, dotara are still widely used. With time, many things develop, and we must allow it to. New instruments, whether electronic or not, are only an addition, a good addition. There is nothing wrong with them.