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Songs of the soil

This winter, gear up for a meeting of two worlds as Shri, an Arizona-based music group on a special tour of India, brings in their brand of jazz and blues to match the traditional songs of the soil by the wandering troubadours of Bengal. The 40-member team comprising 15 musicians, their families and the press will touch base in the city on December 26 to meet their old music mate Purna Das Baul, mingle with bauls in Santiniketan and together whip up a unique blend of rich and ethnic sounds on stage.

The project was conceived by Purna Das Baul’s son Dibyendu as an attempt to reinstate the essence of real jazz-baul fusion. “The baul fusion we hear today is not authentic,” he says. “Three months ago Lee Lozowick, the frontman of Shri, contacted us and expressed their desire to come to Calcutta, stay with Baba and experience his lifestyle. We thought it would be a good opportunity for us to get together and give the city a taste of true jazz and baul improvisation unlike the distorted versions we get to hear these days,” Dibyendu adds.

One of the founder members of Shri, Lee’s association with Purna Das goes back to 1964 when they shared the stage at Woodstock. “After that, whenever we travelled to the US we would meet and perform with them. Lee has always been very intrigued by the life and philosophies of bauls. We last performed together at Sedona in 2005,” says Dibyendu also known as Chhoton.

Spread over two weeks, the 15-piece band with harpists, guitarists, organ players, drummer, bassist and vocalists will jam with Purna Das Baul and son Dibyendu alongside other local bauls like Kartick Das Baul, Tarak Das Baul and Madan Das Baul in five shows around the city titled Bauls & Blues.

Music director Debajyoti Mishra, also an accomplished violinist, will take centre-stage strumming his strings, conducting the concert and weaving together diverse elements of both the schools during their impromptu two-hour gigs. “We will start the show with dotara and flute. Shri will come in with their jazz pieces after which we will jam, improvise and step up the tempo to some old and new songs including Golemaale, Hridh majhare, Hori ki diye pujibo and other classics,” says Dibyendu.

Bauls & Blues will kick-start with their first show at the Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital on December 28 followed by a show at Swabhumi on January 1 and another at Someplace Else on January 5. There is another show at EZCC on the 10th and the last one at Monovikas Kendra on the 11th. “Shri is here on a tourist visa so they cannot hold a professional concert. They’ll all be non-profit shows,” informs Dibyendu who hopes to collaborate with Shri for their upcoming institute for bauls in Santiniketan to open up opportunities for them to travel and perform overseas.

The band comprising American and European musicians from across the world will retreat to Santiniketan for four days to interact with the wandering minstrels followed by a daylong cruise to the Sunderbans for an unconventional session of Bauls & Blues on the river. “Nimpith Ashram has already promised us a ferry that can accommodate nearly 50 people where we can set up our music and jam the whole day. We’ll invite some guests but it’s mainly for our musical exchange,” smiles Dibyendu.

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