It is said of the 10,000 or so songs and poems Fakir Lalon Shai composed, only a small fraction is available today. Yet, the depths that those thoughts have taken the most serious of researchers and practitioners to, is incredible to say the least. Nearly 124 years after his passing, countless bauls still hold his philosophy in their hearts and spread messages of religious tolerance, unanimity, openness and the quest for purity of the soul. Baul Shafi Mondol is one of the leading practitioners and teachers of the Lalon school of thought, and travels the world spreading his music. In his latest release “Bhaab”, along with currently-Dhaka based American guitarist-composer Seth Panduranga Blumberg, encompasses the essence of Lalon's music. The range of instruments used is overwhelming, but the musical arrangement is done so properly that not one instrument feels out of place.
The album opens with “Kon Pothe Jabi”, with a dotara intro, and unusual guitar tones catch the listeners' attention without any delay. The song speaks of the wandering mind, and that its true mettle will be proven when faced with tests. The percussive arrangement is beautiful in it, with use of buffalo drum, kanjira and shakers, along with drums and dhol.
Next on queue is “Je Pothe Shai” continues on the theme of the journey of the soul, speaking of the ways that Lalon Shai himself followed, the perils on it, and the destination. Once again, the coupling of the dotara with the guitar and keys is perfectly balanced, with Shafi Mondol's voice oozing out with the folksy dictions and projection.
“Pakhi”, the next song, delves into a metaphor often used by Lalon -- that of a bird in a cage, to portray the soul trapped in the body. Anusheh Anadil's backing vocals compliment Shafi Mondol's voice marvelously on this one, while a saxophone piece, along with mild distortion guitars and keys instruments like the clavinet and B3 organ creates a lovely groove.
“Onurag” opens with piano and saxophone, sounding almost like any Western blues-jazz song, but the folk percussion makes way for a relatively softer vocal delivery, that speaks of the deepest of love that is the prerequisite for spiritual devotion. Metaphors of the 'Chatok' bird that waits for the clouds to rain to quench its thirst, is referred to.
“Brojolile” is on a different subject, of the Hindu Lord Krishna's “leela” in the Braj region (in Uttar Pradesh, India) and Lalon's thoughts on Radha-Krishna's relations. Suitably for the song, new instruments come into the track, including sarod and flute, and the arrangement is more traditionally Eastern too.
“Radha Prem” carries on the theme, narrating Radha's dance in Brindaban, mesmerized by Kala's flute-playing (Krishna). The romanticism is depicted beautifully, lyrically and musically, with the flute expectedly a predominant component of the arrangement, and a sarod solo adding to the flavor.
“Khyapa Re” -- the next song, reverts to Lalon's philosophies of the search for a path and direction of the “Porom Atta”, and speaks of looking deeper within, instead of searching outside. The rhythmic number's instrumental backbone is the saxophone, with the percussion, guitars and bass wrapped tightly around.
“Sokal Bela” opens with the sad, yearning sound of the sarangi, and expresses the mood of melancholy and desolation, through the sarangi, sarod and the pedal steel guitar. Reflective and sombre, the song adds to the diversity of the album, and in turn, portrayal of Lalon's music.
“Omabosya” returns to the more familiar of Lalon's melodies, with Shafi Mondol playing a banjo to sound like a dotara. The song deals directly with the thematic concept “bhaab” or a higher consciousness, using Omabosya (no moon) and Purnima (full moon) as the premise. The arrangement sounds a little bit like the Sufi music of the Middle-East, but the vocal accents bring back the quintessential Bangla folk flavours.
“Cholo Jai Anonder Bajare”, one of the more commonly-known songs of Lalon. Done almost like a chorus with multiple backing vocals, and use of dhol, dotara, harmonium and mondira, it sounds like straight out of Lalon's akhara in Kushtia, bringing the album to a fitting close.
Apart from Pandu, Saad Chowdhury has done the keys and strings arrangements in a number of tracks, and a lot of foreigner musicians have lent their hands to the album, that has been recorded and mastered in Dhaka, Kolkata (India), California and New York (USA).
The album was released on July 18, and is available at outlets of fashion house Jatra, music shops and on a number of digital platforms.