Das Baul, world-renowned Bengali Baul musician, is revered
for being the pioneer of blazing a trail for Baul music on
the international music scene and for establishing a unique
and innovative genre of folk-fusion music. The legendary minstrel
entertained legions of enraptured fans at two consecutive
concerts held in Dhaka recently. During his stay in Dhaka,
Paban and his wife Urmimala Sen Mimlu (USM) took some time
out to share a few thoughts in an exclusive rendezvous with
the Star Weekend Magazine.
Could you tell us more about your early life and the origins
of your musical inspiration? How did you develop your passion
PDB: I was born in 1961 in the village Mohammedpur,
in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India. My parents were from a
very simple background. While my mother and sister liked to
sing, it was my father who especially loved and was involved
in music, though he wasn't a famous artist or anything of
that kind. He used to be a skilled wrestler, but after losing
his property, he would travel through Murshidabad, singing
Baul songs and wrestling to make both ends meet. I would keep
him company on his travels and sing with him, from the time
I was just five or six years old. We would render songs at
various places… villages and fairs, stages and festivals.
And that was my 'schooling'. This was the way I learned to
sing… I never had any training. I had a natural passion
for music and learnt everything I know about it by watching
and listening to other musicians. In the course of time, we
came across the Bauls and performed at their fairs. Eventually,
I was initiated by Suban Das Baul when I was fourteen years
And that was when you became Paban 'Das Baul'. Could you recount
any momentous anecdotes from your early life?
PDB: There is one incident I remember particularly
well. One day, I heard a 'Sufi fakir' playing an instrument
called a 'dubki' (a tambourine-like instrument) in
our village. I was so captivated that I asked my father to
buy me a dubki just like the one the Sufi was playing.
I was six years old then. My father bought me the dubki
with three annas; now it is worth about 120 to 150 takas,
so you see, this was many years ago. No-one taught me how
to play the dubki. I learnt to play it by myself
by watching others play it. Likewise, no-one taught me how
to play the khamak and dotara either, I
learnt through observation. The people from whom I learnt
so much by observing their playing are the very people I regard
as my gurus.
You have been featured in a French documentary, on Bauls,
called 'Le Chants Des Fou'…
PDB: Yes, the French Government made a feature
film on me in 1979. It which was telecast on French TV. In
Bangla, the title of that film 'Le Chant Des Fou' translates
into 'Pagolder Gaan' (Songs of the Mad People).
It was a very beautiful film, about the Bauls. It followed
a young boy called Kartik…
…who, incidentally, is now a well-known Baul singer…
USM: …Yes, and at that time he was
only about seven years old. In the film, he was following
Paban and other Bauls around, and the story basically centered
on how Kartik was getting apprenticed with these older Bauls
and how he was gradually assimilating the Baul lifestyle.
The film showed that the whole Baul tradition is actually
handed down amongst generations orally. For instance, when
Paban learnt about Baul music, his 'educators' was simply
the other older Baul singers. Similarly, Kartik, being very
young, learnt from Paban and other older Bauls, in the film.
The film was shot in 1977, and released in 1979. Several of
us Bauls were in this film, which was basically a documentary
on Bauls. 'Le Chant Des Fou' was aired in various European
countries. I personally think it was one of the most beautiful
documentaries ever made, because it portrayed the Baul way
of life so accurately.
'Le Chant Des Fou' indeed took a lovely approach to enlightening
the Western world on one of the most arcane and mystical,
and yet profoundly fascinating, facets of South-East Asian
culture. When and why did you actually decide to move to Paris?
I moved to France in 1980, shortly after the release of my
The film is what actually started Paban going off to the West…
After the film was released, some Bauls were taken to France.
In 1980, Radio France invited me to perform at a concert held
at their own Hall. 1000 people attended that concert. I have
been travelling back and forth between France and India since
1980, and started residing in Paris about fourteen years ago.
However, I do return to Calcutta once or twice a year.
Regarding your various musical ventures… Funk guitarist
Sam Mills lent his talents to 1997's 'Real Sugar', your most
celebrated album to date, which included the sensational 'Dil
Ki Doya'. Your 1998 follow-up release 'Inner Knowledge' incorporated
fewer fusion-infused elements, rather striving to achieve
a more traditional, purer 'Baul' sound. And then we have your
latest effort, April 2004's 'Tanatani', which combines State
of Bengal's Anglo-Asian breakbeats with your own folk-inspired
melodies… That's a lot of creativity! What's next on
Though my songs are mainly folk and traditional songs, I take
pleasure in all kinds of music and delight in combining my
work with those of other artists to create new sounds. My
wife Mimlu is writing the story for a feature film called
'Black Maria', which she will also be directing. On the film
soundtrack we will be collaborating with an African musician
called Sheik Tedian Sheik. Mimlu and I will be writing songs
for that film. My sister has never sung professionally before,
so we would like her to sing on this movie, as this is our
very own project.
We hear you are a very accomplished painter indeed! Please
do elaborate on your art… What are your specific preferences
with regard to subjects and media in your work?
PBD: I usually work with pastels and oil
paints, occasionally pencils, and have experimented with acrylic
paints as well. I paint on paper, not canvas. Some of my paintings
will be displayed in an exhibition soon in Kolkata.
SWM: We all know you as Paban Das Baul,
Baul-fusion music maestro. But now let us hear something about
Paban Das Baul the person… Let us in on some aspect
about yourself that people don't already know about…
PDB: When I get the time, I love to cook!
What kinds of cuisine are your specialties?
PDB: I can cook all kinds of food! French,
Italian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese… you name it!
We presume all your fans who are now reading this will be
longing to go over to your home to feast on your cooking!
USM: Welcome, welcome! Anytime!
PDB: You know, Mimlu and I occasionally have
to cook for a thousand people. We occasionally cook for all
the guests at one of the largest theatres in Paris. About
eighty people work there, and they help us out during those
times when we have to cook for so many visitors. On one of
those nights, perhaps twenty-five people will be cutting onions,
potatoes, garlic, meat and so on. We essentially give the
directions, add spices and are in charge of the whole cooking
session. Someone else will be stirring the food in enormous
vessels. We might have to cook eight to ten different dishes
this way in one night!
2000, there was this all-night concert of Indian classical
music. It was 24 hours long. There was one raag assigned
to each hour; 24 'raags' for 24 hours. The responsibility
of cooking for the whole event was given to Mimlu and me.
We cooked for 1200 people, but the meals were served to 1500
Would you like to say something to your fans in Bangladesh?
PDB: I would like to send all of them my
love. And I shall be elated if they will go on loving music
more and more.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004