Kumar Nodi, Faridpur, Bangladesh. 21 January 2006. Idris Majhi and Sadek Ali

Listen to a song from this session
Artist:
Idris Majhi
Composer:
Jasimuddin
Form:
Bhatiyali
Song region:
Faridpur


Artist:
Sadek Ali
Composer:
Jasimuddin
Form:
Bhatiyali
Song region:
Faridpur







For this session we had gone to the Kumar River, to record ‘bhatiyali’ in its ‘natural setting’—the famed ‘song of the boatman’ on the boat.  That was the idea, but the session in turn has provoked questions about field recording and about the genre/form/musical structure(s) known as  ‘bhatiyali‘.  Is this really the boatman’s song or songs of a land of rivers?

 

 

tta

 

Sadek Ali with Idris Majhi

The ambience of the river was added  to give a certain ‘naturalness’ to some of Abbasuddin’s songs recorded for the Gramophone Company of India in the 1940s. Here in this session we have the actual beating of the water with the oars, but even this naturalness was, in a sense, created by us. The ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya once wrote about his recordings, ‘Right from the start of my work as a collector, I had decided to record music in its proper milieu—a harvest song must be recorded in the open field, a wedding song in the house of celebrations, religious music in a place of worship.’ I have wondered sometimes whether when we enter the ‘proper milieu’ as outsiders, the space remains the same? Here we were rowing in a half-dead river, going round and round in circles. The sound of this recording is very special indeed, but at the same time it begs the question of whether the boatman would actually go to the river at that time of year to spontaneously break into songs? Maybe we can get the ‘proper milieu’ only after knowing a place very well, after going over and over to the same place, after building a rapport with the people by which our presence does not matter so much. At least we become familiar enough for them to ignore us. That rarely happens, but if it does then those are blessed moments for the recordist-researcher.

So far bhatiyali goes, there is another bhati region of Bengal, more to the east—the low-lying lands of Sylhet and adjoining Cachar in Assam, which remain submerged for half the year. There too there are songs called the bhatiyali, which sound different from the bhatiyali of the western parts. Is it then the geographical location that gives the form its name? Extending that logic, the musicologist Dinen Chowdhury says, anything that comes out of the bhati regions is bhatiyali. Further confusion of labels.

Written in 2010.

Related Links

SD Burman sings ‘Allah megh de’ in Guide
S.D. Burman sings ‘O re Manjhi’ in Bandini (adaptation of bhatiyali)