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     Volume 4 Issue 28 | January 7, 2005 |

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Rendezvous With
Paban Das Baul


Paban 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.

SWM: Could you tell us more about your early life and the origins of your musical inspiration? How did you develop your passion for music?
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 old.

SWM: 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.

SWM: 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).

USM: It was a very beautiful film, about the Bauls. It followed a young boy called Kartik…

SWM: …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.

PDB: 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.

SWM: '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?

PDB: I moved to France in 1980, shortly after the release of my film…

USM: The film is what actually started Paban going off to the West…

PDB: 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.

SWM: 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 the agenda?

PDB: 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.

SWM: 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!

SWM: What kinds of cuisine are your specialties?
PDB: I can cook all kinds of food! French, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese… you name it!

SWM: 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!

In 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 people!

SWM: 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.

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