Dr Rashid Askari
The controversial Indian-born British novelist Salman Rushdie was the first to use the term 'chutnification' to mean transformation in the use of language in his second novel Midnight's Children. Chutney is a kind of sauce-- a tangy Indian side dish, eaten with the main dish to add appetizing flavour in order to make it more palatable. Rushdie changed this Indian word into English by adding the suffix 'fication' in order to give the connotation of transformation. Rushdie's novel is a postmodern and postcolonial novel written in the techniques of magic realism, metafiction and historiography, and hence better applies to this sort of unique linguistic/stylistic experiment. But an indiscriminate use of 'chutnification' in the glitz and glamour of our music scene only for the sake of making it tangy, more flavoured and exciting may create an instant musical stunt, but it must not have any abiding value in the long run. Nevertheless, many a youth of our time seems to be taking great interest in it, and our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young folks are taking huge fancy.
The flow of this musical transformation has been so strong that the most traditional, simple, and ordinary mode of our rural song called the 'baul' song could not escape its impact. The beautiful melodies of Lalon songs have been badly affected by the process of 'chutnification' which gives birth to a weird hybrid of Western pop/rock and traditional folk songs. With scant regard for our glorious folk musical legacy, some hipper musicians are remixing Lalon songs parrot-fashion, and spreading them throughout the young generation via satellite. Most surprisingly, they are rocketing to stardom overnight. We do not mind if these 'extraordinary musical talents' keep themselves confined to their newfangled musical trend. But it becomes insupportable when they encroach on the sweet Bengali 'baul' melodies by fusing hard rap with it. In addition, this mongrel music cannot have a complete delivery without varied accompaniment and large orchestra. The singers sing with a frenetic pitch of awkward body movements, which they call, dance. It is difficult for the audience unaccustomed to this sort, to make out if it is a song with a dance or a dance with a song. Singers of this kind wage bloodless homicide against our time-honoured Lalon songs when they twist their tunes to hybridize in the name of updates. They have every right to commit cultural suicide by way of generating this type of musical mule out of a male horse and a female donkey and giving their own names to it, but they have no right to homicide by way of corrupting the lyrics and tunes of our popular songsmiths like Lalon Fakir.
Though there are subtle differences between Lalon songs sung by the genuine 'bauls' of the 'Akhda' and those sung on stage by the professional singers with orchestra in regard to pronunciation, intonation, articulation and projection of the words and sounds of the song, this does not amount to 'chutnification' anyway. Playing the 'ektara', the 'bauls' render songs with spontaneous fluctuations of pitch. The sweet melodies of the songs in tune with the 'ektara' or 'dotara' make us dance with joy. The 'bauls' are musical by nature, and hence their songs make us musical. The beautiful melody and the arcane message of the songs leave us with rapture. This should not be vitiated by any foreign cultural interference. It is good that an attempt of musical notation of Lalon songs has been undertaken. It should continue until the notation of the last song is complete. The authenticity of Lalon's songs and their catchy tunes should not be held hostage by the upstart music merchants prone to 'overchutnify' our music! 'Chutnification' is a good appetizer, but overdoing it in the food may spoil the broth. We should not allow our sweetest songs (Lalon songs) to turn into broth.
Lalon's songs have a direct relevance to our times. Lalon's importance as a minstrel can be viewed in the local and global context in present social and cultural ambience, when the whole human situation is fast deteriorating, hatred rules the roost, and culture suffers at the hands of intolerance, sectarianism, fundamentalism, orthodoxy, and fanaticism. A new generation of scholars, writers, and readers have started appraising Lalon's songs with much interest and greater understanding. The diffusion of the true spirit of the songs can help us stand against the long shadow of ignorance, superstition, and dogmatism and lead people of various creeds, ideas, and dogmas to peace and happiness in this age of social unrest, political hostility, cultural aggression and religious intolerance. The UNESCO has rightly considered our 'baul' songs as one of the 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.' This musical heritage of humanity has to be nurtured with care and protected against any kind of distortion. The future of Lalon songs lies in saving its genuineness from the promiscuous trend of the music industry.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh.
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