‘Folk music is dying

So long, despite the diminishing popularity, the bastion of Gujarati folk music and bhajans has been zealously guarded by singers like Diwaliben Bhil and Bhikudhan Gadhvi of Junagadh, Praful Dave of Ahmedabad, Hemant Chauhan of Rajkot, Abhaysinh Rathod of Bharuch, Damyantiben Bardai of Mumbai and emerging artists Minaben Patel of Ahmedabad and Nilesh Pandya of Rajkot. ‘‘You will not find us singing Hindi songs or other songs at lok sangeet programmes,’’ says Pandya.
WHEN the dhol builds up to a crescendo during the ongoing nine nights of worship across Gujarat, it may well obscure the dying notes of its parent art. After being patronised for 700 years by kings and commoners, Gujarati lok sangeet (folk music), of which Garba music is but a tiny branch, today has less than half-a-dozen exponents in the state.

‘‘I know barely three-four people who are trying to learn lok sangeet and keep the art alive,’’ says folk singer Diwaliben Bhil, a Padmashree awardee. ‘‘People still love folk music, but the younger generation does not appreciate the importance of the art. Also, artists have to maintain their originality in their compositions and presentations. This is essential for the survival of lok sangeet.’’

The form of music experienced its highest peak in recent memory between 1980 and 1990, when renowned poet Zaverchand Meghani’s Kasambi no rang and Halaji tara haath, and works of anonymous 13th and 14th century poets found immediate takers when recorded to folk music. Sung in an easily comprehensible language, with emphasis on presentation and composition, the songs celebrate life, describe the valour of kings, the generosity of simple villagers, invoke nature’s elements, praise honesty, integrity and uphold communal harmony and national pride. A decade down the line, says Abhaysinh Rathod, a lok sangeet artist who was at the forefront of the music movement of the ’80s, ‘‘Folk music is dying.’’

Artists blame the collapse on the commercialisation of traditional music. ‘‘Not only folk songs, original ras garba songs, too, have been shamelessly remixed as pop music. There is no effort to preserve original strains,’’ says Bhil. Rathod is more scathing: ‘‘It is not easy to learn folk music in its original form. I have heard illiterate herdsmen sing centuries-old folk songs in forms that cannot be learnt from music teachers. With very few teachers and limited audiences, Gujarati singers are into remixing garbis (Garba songs) and old Hindi songs which are popular during Navratris and other festivals.’’

But that makes for a vicious cycle. The declining popularity of lok sangeet (as distinct from garbis) translates into less money, and fewer shows — and, obviously, a more limited reach — for the singers. ‘‘The shows are held mostly in the small towns, for 100-strong audiences,’’ says Rathore. ‘‘Even the audience is greying. For the benefit of the few young people who come to the shows, some of us explain in detail what we are singing, its context and history,’’ adds Pandya.

In this bleak scenario, the only bright spark probably comes from folk singers like Praful Dave and devotional singers like Hemant Chauhan, who are in great demand abroad among non-resident Gujaratis, especially in the festival season. Like many other indigenous arts, Gujarati folk music, too, may find a more congenial home in foreign lands.

Thanks to-/www.indianexpress.com JANYALA SREENIVAS


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