The sound of Madal

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By POULOMI BANERJEE
  • Published 7.10.07
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The rustic sounds of dhol, khanjira, dotara and flute accompany the music of perhaps the city’s only girl band — Madal. But it would not really be correct to call it a girl band, for two of the band’s five vocalists are better described as women.

Sikha and Rita are middle-aged women. Sikha runs a music school and Rita teaches folk music at Kalyani University. The other three, Sarmistha, Tupsi and Kamalkoli, are students. Kamalkoli is Sikha’s daughter. “It did happen late in life for us, but we had never thought of it before,” says Sikha of Rita and herself.

The band was formed in 2002. “Madal, the name of an instrument, defines our kind of music, because it is all about folk tunes. But broken into two, Madal can also be ma+dal, or a women’s group,” smiles Kamalkoli. “We are often asked why we don’t have men in the group, but we have been accepted as we are.”

They specialise in folk songs of Bengal — and undivided Bengal. One of their music albums declares them to be the first women’s folk band. “We have performed in Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jamshedpur and Bangladesh and have been well-received. We don’t try to blend it with other genres to make it more acceptable to the times,” says Tupsi. “We use no western instruments. We use a keyboard, but to get the sound of a shehnai, perhaps.”

But they are not just a women’s band — their music is about women. “When we started out, we saw that there were many folk songs about the life of rural women. They are not necessarily about social issues or aimed at creating an awareness on women’s issues, but about their life,” says Rita.

Some of them have been sung by women over the years as they went about their work. “Like the song that women sing as they grind spices or beat the husk from the grain. It is a release from monotony and a way of maintaining the work rhythm,” says Kamalkoli.

Others are songs of festivals. “We sing wedding songs. These are both happy and sad, because a girl is also leaving her family. We sing songs sung during fasts and special days that are observed by young girls and women in different parts of Bengal, like Tushu and Bhadu, one a harvest festival, the other in memory of a princess who died young. Then there are songs of rowers, and of the women who are left back at home as the men brave bad weather to go out to sea. And feelings of love, separation and heartbreak are common to all women,” says Rita. The band has recently also recorded a song on dowry. Though a recent song, the music by Tapan Roy has a folk feel.

Madal has released three albums: Chirantani, Bande Janani and Sundori Kamala. A fourth album, Maya Lagai Se, is expected to release soon.