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CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment