In the last few years of constantly travelling between India and Europe with a dream of making a family and playing music, I went through a roller coaster ride of changes. It is also important to say that the changes happened too often and by the time I was beginning to settle down into a certain cultural thinking; I was on the move again. However that is not the story to discuss in this album.
Smell, streets, rain, color, faces, beliefs, drama and several other elements which are unique to each and every place I have been to, irrespective of urban or non urban existence, made me realize, that it is incredibly foolish of me to have believed all the years before, that the world is the same place everywhere. The world is indeed very different and hence we find it beautiful. It is our hearts, longing to sense that common necessary element of beauty that makes us dream about a uniform world. The true understanding and appreciation of the local essence of a place, cultural, musical or artistic, makes us closer to the earth of the particular place and only then can we sense the similarities in artistic and cultural structures of societies with unique characters of their own.
My idea of FIVE was to build a bridge between root music forms of Bengal with many other traditional musical forms of the world, through an understanding of the emigrational history of mankind. I didn’t know as an early teenager why I felt so strongly for a Mississippi delta blues song from the 1920’s. I remember my father, singing me songs written in tribal Bengali dialects, about the stories of servitude of coal mine workers in the once known Manbhum district in Bengal when I was barely 3 or 4 years old. The Dhamsha (a tribal santhali two headed large drum) 6/8 rhythm, that my father replicated with his hands using a strange clapping technique, used to fascinate me as a child. Today I realize, I can hear an impression of those same long moaning phrases from that Manbhumi song from my childhood, in that song of Blind Willie Johnson. I love the uniqueness of both of these forms. They are both very different. And yet they bear an uncanny similarity in their expressions. I suppose that is what the idea of collective unconscious is about.
Two n Four (From Appalachia to the Ganges)
With Diptanshu Roy, India (Mandolin and Banjolele)
To be honest, Diptanshu has been one of the main reasons of being rooted to organic music as far as I am concerned. Diptanshu is a musician of unmatched musicality and at the same time, has an ability to appreciate any form of folk music from across the world. He introduced me to Bluegrass music and has been my co band member in Fiddler’s Green alongside Shamik and Ludo for the last 5 years. A true folk artist at heart, his organic ability to produce that exact right musical phrase when one is looking for it makes him a very special person. I was lucky to record the song Paal Uraiya De from the album with him last year, right after his return from the mandolin symposium sessions with David Grisman in America, and hence the song has a raw bluegrass mandolin playing approach which gives it a distinctive character.
I call this chapter two and four because it is a universal rhythm inherent to many traditional soundscapes of the world. Square dance, Ragtime, Celtic traditional music, Jewish folk music, music from the Southern and Eastern parts of Africa, Gypsy music etc, all these musical genres have the use of this very ancient rhythm. In Bengal Shari gan is a traditional form of folk music, usually sung by boatmen and other workers groups, which uses the same time signature. The chapter aims at connecting the Appalachian working class music and Shari gaan, thereby establishing the universal musical character found in the music of the working class across the world.
Gypsy (The Nomadic World)
With Yann Beaujouan, France (Guitar)
Nearly four years ago, on a rainy January evening in Calcutta, I met Yann and Anna in a café. I was mesmerized hearing him play the completely worn out guitar from the café and sing Jacques Brel’ Vesoul. I later found out that Yann was a trained gypsy jazz guitar player from France and that; he specializes in many other guitar playing styles. Yann has been my support system in all my travels to France for the last 4 years and has played with me in several music festivals and concerts. His virtuosity as a player never seems to overpower his musicality and he has this wonderful character of always playing for the sake of the song and the soundscape. We have spent wonderful times together in France and India and have walked, cooked, played music, debated and drunk wine, all of which adds to the flavor of the gypsy chapter in the album.
Bengali music is an amalgamation of various musical styles from within India and other places of the world due to it’s huge history of migration and colonization. Of all that, one of the most striking elements is gypsy music. This could be due to the influence of the Sindhi and Punjabi spiritual music on the Fakiri and Baul traditions of Bengal, considering the fact that Sindh, Rajasthan and Punjab together formed the main belt of movement of the Romani people of India. This is also due to the conscious efforts of 20th century music composers like Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sachin Dev Burman who were deeply attracted by the nomadic music of the world. Yann being an authentic gypsy jazz musician has done complete justice in bringing the European and Norh African Gypsy soundscape into the songs of the chapter.
Irish (Ballads from the West)
With Anna Tanvir, Ireland (Harp)
As a musician, Anna is instinctive and fearless and adds an element of theatre into a ballad like I have seen in few others. Being half Indian – half Irish, she also has an ability to see India with an eye that few Indians would understand. Having lived an amazingly dynamic life of being a mother of three boys, a singer and a harp player, a gardener, a designer, a builder, a traveler and many more, she is a true artist with a sense of organic living. My stories and memories with Anna are endless and it is better to quote from a Robert Zimmerman line to describe how I feel. “I’ll remember you, when I have forgotten all the rest”. I am grateful to her for her beautiful musicality that makes this chapter a very memorable one for me.
This chapter comprises of only one song called “Keno cheye acho go Maa”, written and composed by Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore). One of the most important composers to have given Bengali music, a true international identity is Tagore. From the underlying layer of Kirtan (a traditional musical call-and-response chanting performed in India’s bhakti devotional traditions) to the use of harmonic phrases inspired by Celtic traditional ballads, Tagore’s compositional brilliance gives us the identity that we have today as Bengalis. However, I personally like looking at his music or anyone else’s music as a contribution to the enormous world of folk songs from the globe, rather than binding it in institutional thinking. And this song isn’t performed in it’s classical way. We have both tried to revisit the song from the point of view of a traditional ballad with an understanding of space, silence, theatrics and dynamics. Anna, being associated with Tagore’s music and philosophy for many years, through her time as a student in Dartington school of Arts(Tagore was instrumental in the making of the institution) in Devonshire and also having performed in many Tagore festivals in India and England, added that perfect musical aroma into the song. I have no control over puritan criticism. However the song to me is one of my personal favorites from the album.
Afro – Tribal (Searching for the Roots)
With Ritoban Das, India (Dubki and other tribal percussions from Indian and Afro-Cuban origins)
Street!! No pretentious politeness. Drunk late night conversations. Disagreements. Fights. All that you wouldn’t want in your pseudo intellectual ultra polite upper middle class socialite party. Ritoban a.k.a Ludo might annoy you with all these characteristic features. However if you looking for a percussionist who listens to the song more intimately than showing off his chops, this is your man. We have been more like brothers for the last 5 years than just band mates. With an ability to adapt to an Indian spiritual groove from an Afro Cuban guaguanco, Ludo is a perfect match for my way of musical thinking. Ludo was trained as a teenager for many years to play an array of Afro Cuban Percussions. However unlike many, he has always perceived world percussions from the point of view of being an Urban erudite Bengali, with his love for the literary works of Nabarun Bhattacharya and Salman Rushdie at the same time and compositions of Sachin Dev Burman and The Grateful Dead simultaneously. Ludo spent a long time studying a beautiful rural folk instrument called the Dubki, from the Bauls and Fakirs of rural Bengal. As a result of his training of Afro Cuban and World percussions he can also interpret his Dubki playing from a world music perspective.
This chapter comprises of three songs from three different rural/tribal backgrounds. Each of these songs have their own traditional percussive identity. However all these grooves have incredible similarities with traditional root grooves from Africa or Latin America at a deep aesthetic level. Africa being the birthplace of mankind has it’s sonic reminiscence in most traditional music forms of the world. This chapter aims at looking at that universal character of all root/soul music forms through a free live experience of just playing together without inhibitions. It features the only non Bengali song from the album called Resham Firiri, a nepali folk tune, often performed by Gandharva (a group of wandering musicians from Nepal) musicians from the villages of Nepal.
Middle – Eastern and Central Asian (The Cry of Persia)
With Satyaki Banerjee, India (Dotara, Rabab)
When you feel spiritually bankrupt and have emotionally hit your rock bottom, you wait for the wind to come and lift you up and carry you to the shore. Satyaki, as a person and a musician is that faithful wind protecting my soul with his honesty, simplicity and purity. One of the finest musicians I have met, Satyaki enlightens me every time with his soulful singing and playing. He is the master of his instrument, the dotara, an Indian rural four or sometimes five stringed bowl back musical instrument resembling a mandolin and believed to have originated from the family of lutes. Trained in playing the sarod, an Indian classical instrument, Satyaki erases that line between folk and classical music through his sublime, soulful and earthy approach of playing. He also plays the Oud and the Rabab. It is always a heartfelt experience listening to him and I am proud to have been able to play with him in this album.
The music of the Middle East and Central Asia has been an integral part of the evolution of Indian music as a result of the numerous lines of immigration that has happened at various stages of history. In north Indian classical music we have ragas or modes like Irani Bhairavi which is a clear indiacation of how the Middle Eastern and Central Asian culture has had it’s profound effect on us. The Rabab is a Persian instrument that took an evolved shape in Kashmir. It is also the father of the Sarod, one of the most important instruments of Hindustani classical music. Looking at devotional songs of Bengal, we can find a huge influence of Persian and central Asian music. With Satyaki, I have tried find that link in the two songs of this chapter.
Finally, this album would not have been possible without the generous help from my friend Mr. Nitin Joshi, an incredible sound engineer from Pune, India and a great soul. Waking up at 2 in the morning and taking my irritable calls of raising the lows of the Dubki, suggesting me at every step of how to go about the mastering of the album and many more…. I will forever be grateful to Nitin for his patience and care that he has shown for this project. I would also specially like to thank Shamik Chatterjee, my friend and band mate from my band “Fiddler’s Green” for helping me out unconditionally with the design and publicity of this album.
I am thankful to my father and my mother for teaching me to be honest and truthful to my art and supporting me all my life to follow my dream of becoming a musician.
This album goes out to my beloved late Grandfather, a simple truthful man I knew.
Oi Mahasindhur opaar theke ki shongeet bheshe ashe……
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Arko's official name is Arka Mukherjee.
However as an artist he chooses to use the name Arko Mukhaerjee.