Lalon Shah lives on among the youth through modern folk fusion

Lalon Shah

I hadn't heard of Lalon Shah when I first heard the song Keno Jiggashile Khodar Kotha. In fact, I had become familiar with the names Anusheh Anadil and Shayan Chowdhury Arnob and their band Bangla long before I realised who Lalon Shah even was, at the ripe old age of 6. At my grandparent's house in Mohammadpur in the mid 2000s, the sounds of Bangla and Anadil's soul-wrenching vocals were heard by aunts and uncles (young at the time), and my grandparents (old as ever) alike. I was just there, unknowingly having my music taste moulded for years to come.

Years passed and things changed, identities formed around music and then faced crises and I grew up. By this time, thanks to a barely adequate national curriculum and the advent of the Internet, I knew who Lalon Shah was. My comprehension of words became far better in my 20s than it was when I was a child, and now when I listen to these songs, I hear Lalon Shah's philosophy, I understand some of it and misunderstand most, but I try, and my soul feels rich.

But would I have had this access to the original spiritual leader of Bengal had it not been for these very modern artists? Would my generation have the words to Pagol Chhara Duniya Chole Na on their lips if the band Lalon did not do the service of relaying the messages of the sage Lalon? These questions used to bug me and make me feel like a stranger to my own culture. But then I listened to those words again, and reminded myself of whatever I understood of what Lalon Shah was all about.

Lalon didn't care about where someone came from, or how someone got to where they were. The ascetic with an uncertain early life famously believed in the futility of the origin, or even any question that started with how. I'd wager Fakir Lalon Shah would be happy if he knew kids centuries later found a way to communicate his messages in a way that was natural to their own times. I think he'd be ecstatic if he ever heard the sounds of Lalon, Bangla, or Paban Das Baul, because the truth is, their sound is exceedingly cool.

Folk fusion is popular across the globe, in its many iterations across many cultures. The sounds of the west that rode the wave of mass media and eventually took over the world in the second half of the 20th century was a cause of alarm for many musical conservatives. But the welding of local culture and globalism that is folk fusion makes total and complete sense to ears that yearn both.

It's very difficult to write about Lalon Shah, folk music and folk fusion because the feelings they evoke are of a very delicate nature. Spirituality does not exist in words, sounds, or even the beats of our hearts. It exists in the spaces left between anything we can perceive, and I am glad my vessel of spirituality is Lalon, and I'm glad I'm driven around by the amazing modern folk musicians of our time.

Azmin Azran is Editor-in-charge of SHOUT.