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Notes from the CD

Kali Dasgupta is among the greatest singers and collectors of the folksongs of Eastern and North-eastern India. He was actively involved in politics during the independence movement and up to 1965.

His interest in folk music grew alongside his political involvement for such songs reveal the socioeconomic condition of the people; the oppression, both feudal and political, against which they struggle. In 1965 Kali moved to England where he came to know many singers who shared his perspective, particularly Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. He began to perform regularly in folk dubs and elsewhere both in England and U.S. On his return to India he continued to collect songs, perform and teach. Kali accompanies himself on a four-stringed, plucked instrument - the dotara. He also plays the ektara - a one stringed instrument made from a gourd.

This CD comprises a selection of songs originally recorded on tape at folk clubs and private performances in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lokosaraswati thanks Jack Warshaw, Charles Parker and Partha Sarathi Chatterjee for making this project possible.

The Songs

1. Dolo-dong-dong (Jalpaiguri: coll. Satyen Roy) An onomatopoeic song describing the making of a dotara and the relationship between the singer and his instrument with descriptions of the jackfruit wood body, shimul wood keys, the bridge, the skin and the mooga strings.

2. Katolbaria (muslim women's song, Lower Assam: coll. Nihar Barua and Saratsundari Barua) A woman is spinning but the wheel does not run smoothly and the thread is thin. The woman married for a second time in the hope of getting a full meat but all she gets is a beating while the rent collector comes to ask her how she is enjoying her second marriage.

3. Moina tul kolkor upor (muslim women's dancing song, Lower Assam: coll. N. and S.Barua) The singer praises Moina's beauty. In her sari and ornaments a king or even Lord Krishna would carry her off, but just now she should light the hookah for the men to smoke.

4. Moricher gachgila (Jalpaiguri: coll.Satyen Roy) The chilli flower is a symbol of youth. In this area a reverse dowry system prevailed and young girls were married off for the maximum wealth regardless of the girls' happiness. Here, a child bride sings of her love for her husband's nephew.

5. O tor taka khaya mukhot (Jalpaiguri: coil. Satyen Roy) A young married woman tells her grandmother that she would like to strike her across the mouth with a broom for with that mouth she negotiated her grand-daughter's marriage with an old man. The girl slaves away for her husband and everyone addresses her as 'old woman' or 'aunty'. No one lavishes her with the affection and attention usual for a new bride.

Songs 6-9,13-15 were collected in the tea plantations of Assam by Kalida. Coolies were brought into these gardens from the Chhotonagpur area of Bengal and Bihar. Their songs, set to their native melodies, describe their experiences.

6. Chol Mini Assam jabo (/humur) The singer says, "Mini let's go to Assam, the land of green plantations. Back home there is too much misery." In a further quatrain he describes how their dream is shattered and curses Jadhuram, the agent, for bringing them to Assam under false pretences.

7. Ekta kolir duiti paat (jhumur) The tea garden workers have to carefully pick two leaves and a bud. Only by filling their baskets can they earn their rice. The manager's children go to school but their children have to pick insects from the bushes. For 100 insects they get Re.1.

8. Ranchi se bhejai coolie (jhumur) The coolies have to cultivate the plantation and cannot rest for an overseer is in each tree. If they cannot pick two leaves and a bud correctly they'll be beaten. They curse the contractor who brought them to Assam.

9. Rail gari keisan sundar (domkoch) The singer expresses his amazement at the first sight of a railway engine. Inside is fire and water, while outside is metal. It flies like the wind and looks like the beautiful Krishna.

10. Hostirkoinya (song of the mahouts, LowerAssam) Elephants are hunted in the evergreen forests of the Terai. The mahout captures and tames the elephant. As he does so he sings in rhythm to his work. Mahouts remain away from home for six months at a time. They long for their wives and remember their parting words: "What can stars do without the moon; so what is the beauty of a woman without her husband." They also allude to the folktale in which Joymala, deserted by her husband Joynath, weeps by the river and is rescued by the elephant king, bathed under a waterfall and transformed into an elephant.

11. Arey O more bhabir deora (North Bengal) A young wife complains to her young brother-inlaw that her father and brother are a devilish pair for they married her off to an old man who drinks all night and beats her. She has to stay awake all night to tend the fire for his hubblebubble. She remembers the beautiful forest near her home and asks who will fetch her home.

12. Lau kutono ghuchi more pran sadhu (North Bengal) A young wife tells her husband that although she is a young girl she can slice and prepare the bottle gourd, a speciality of the region.

13. Basanta bohio sakhi (jhumur) The singer describes each season with its flowers, birds and festivals. At the end of each quatrain she asks with whom she should dance.

14. Girgiti (dhomkoch) The girgiti, a chameleon, symbolises the changing moods of love. The singer is making a garland. She will not give it to her lover but neither will she let him go.

15. Chhata dhoro hey deora (domkoch) A girl married to an older man sings a love song to the man's younger brother. She says that she has dressed herself and her hair beautifully. As it is raining she requests the young man to hold her umbrella. The leaves of the banyan tree do not stir without a breeze, nor does the horse work without a whip.

16. Bihu (Assam) Bihu is the Spring festival of Assam and the verses, which are quatrains, reveal the pre-feudal attitude to love. "God created the Universe. Then he created life. If God can fall in love why not me."

17. O prankrishna ay kina moi abhagini nan (Kamrup, Assam) The Vaishnavite religious movement initiated by Shankardeb in the 16th century is dominant even in the music of this region. Here Satyabhama complains to Krishna that he brought Rukmini a parijat flower from heaven. Krishna promises to return and bring her some.

18. Mono dukh'e (Bhatiai East Bengali Bangladesh: coll. Ranen Roy Choudhury) "I row my boat all night. I look around and find my boat is still in the same spot." Bhatiali songs are usually considered to have a spiritual meaning but the imagery derives from the very real perils faced by the fishermen who can never feed their family despite working all day.

19. Shob ioke'e koy La/on kijat sangsar'e (Baul song by La/on Fakir) The Bauls are a spiritual sect that grew up as a protest against the domination of Hinduism and Islam. Its followers were from the lower rungs of society. Their philosophy is very human. The singer is asked "Lalon to what caste do you belong?" He replies, "What does caste look like? I've never seen it."

20. Maatha'e haat dia shoi (Bichchhyedi song, East Bengal, coil. Ranen Roy Choudhury) This type of bhatiali describes through melody and words, the feeling of separation between two lovers. Although in feudal society such emotions cannot be openly expressed the reference to the river Jamuna alludes to the love between Radha and Krishna.

21. Monshua chharia paialo rey (North Bengal) "Life and body we came together to this earth. Now Life you have left me alone. You went away like a minute insect so quietly that I was unaware of your departure. Together we did so much but alone I am worthless."


| Introduction || Collecting || Baul songs || Elephants || Kali in England || NE India |

| Bengal & Assam || Mass Songs || Songs I Sing || More Songs || Buy CDs || Links |