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Whose song is it anyway?

From foreign and folk tunes that inspired Tagore to Rabindrasangeet remixed and influences on the Burman father-son duo’s music to snatches used to create a whole new track — Abhijit Dasgupta dwelt on all this and a lot more in a speech on music and copyright at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Dasgupta, a media expert, documentary filmmaker and former station director of Doordarshan, shared excerpts from his films like In Search of Roots and Ek Taan Bohugaan to speak about the affinity among different kinds of music.

In the course of the talk, Dasgupta sought answers to questions like whether musical compositions should be copyrighted. By imposing restrictions, do we actually impede the possibilities of further growth? After all, is there a copyright on the sound of rain or the rustling of trees or birds’ calls that may inspire a musician?

Dasgupta, who had once planned a documentary on Tagore and his music that didn’t take off, allegedly because it failed to get the green light from Visva-Bharati, spoke about the various influences on Tagore — known and unknown.

If the Scottish Auld lang syne was the inspiration for Purano sei diner kotha, Harinaam diye jagat matale amar ekla netai, a baul song of Nabani Das Khepa Baul (father of Purna Das Baul) had prompted Tagore’s Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe. In 2012, the same song was re-composed by Vishal-Shekar, who added an English refrain in the voice of Amitabh Bachhan, for Kahaani.

Music runs in Dasgupta’s veins. He is brother of Meera Dev Burman (nee Dhar Gupta), lyricist and wife of S.D. Burman.

Referring to S.D. Burman and K.L. Saigal, Dasgupta showed how talented singers/ composers could pour their music into different languages and tunes with ease. One excerpt had Sukla Devi recalling how even before Faiyaz Khan had left a concert after singing Jhan jhan jhan…, S.D. Burman sang the song Tumi ki aamarey… jhan jhan jhan impromptu in his own tune.

Another excerpt that Dasgupta shared with the audience had Khagesh Dev Burman narrating how after K.L. Saigal, S.D. Burman sang Aami chhinu eka, a takeoff from the song Saigal had just finished singing, Kaun buzawe...oh rama.

Manohari Singh, R.D. Burman’s key saxophonist, mentioned that S.D. Burman was influenced by folk, Bengal classical and Rabindrasangeet.

Illustrating the abundant use of folk tunes in Hindi film music, Dasgupta spoke of Abbasuddin’s song Allah megh de paani de that was used by Aparesh Lahiri in Mahut Bandhu and later by Bappi Lahiri (De de pyar de) for Sharabi. One clipping saw Bhupen Hazarika quoting a folk singer who wondered whether the original song was Allah megh de or Jhumma chumma de de from Hum.

Shifting to the international scene, Dasgupta screened an excerpt from the film Whose is this Song? by Bulgarian director Adela Peeva. The film has Peeva travelling all over the Balkans in search of the origins of a song she hears by chance. Everywhere she went, people claimed the song belonged to their country. The song in Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Serbian appeared in different forms as a love song, a revolutionary call, a hymn or a military march. If the humorous competition touched on the political differences of the Balkans, the tune reminded one of Nazrul Islam’s Shukno patar nupur paye nache ghurni baye.

The audience was also shown excerpts from RiP!: A Remix Manifesto, a 2008 documentary questioning the need for copyright directed by Brett Gaylor.

The film featured mashup specialist Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, who uses music excerpts as brief as .25 seconds from different works to create a new track. Gaylor is seen discussing the concept of free use and encouraging more people to create their own remixes from the movie, using media available from the Open Source Cinema website or other websites like YouTube, Flickr, Hulu or MySpace.

A reference to Cory Doctorow, who started the Creative Commons, Brazil’s free access to music and medicine brought the show to conclusion.

The speech left the audience musing on the universality of music and the ownership of tunes. “The speech once more underlines the fact that we are all one,” said Purnadas Baul, who was in the audience while dancer Alokananda Roy requested a similar lecture demonstration on the universality of rhythm and dance.