By Ujjwal RoyKolkata (West Bengal) [India], November 21 (ANI): Of folk music, it is rightly said that it transcends all borders -- be it cultural, linguistic and geographical. And, who knows this better than one of the biggest exponents of Bengali folk music, Padma Shri recipient Pandit Purna Das Baul.
At 89 and going on 90, the man widely acknowledged to have taken Bengal's 'Baul' (minstrel) melodies to the world stage, was bestowed the title 'Baul Samrat' (emperor of Baul music) by the country's first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, way back in 1967.
Over the course of an illustrious musical career, Purna Das Baul has performed in as many as 168 countries. These include South Korea, China, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Iran and the US, among others.
Much like his music, his followers transcend territories and his contribution to taking Bengal's earthy melodies to world has won him awards galore, both Indian and international, most notably the 'Padma Shri'.
Speaking to ANI, Purna Das Baul said his only aim in his life is to take the 'Baul' music to as many countries as possible.
"'Baul' is not a small thing, it is a very deep concept. My family has always held the belief that whatever we do, we have to do it in Bengali as language represents our native soil. I have performed in 168 countries. I have sung, danced and played instruments as well during my stage shows," Purna Das told ANI.
"The first time I took Baul music abroad, I received great response as the people had not heard anything like that before. They did not need to know or speak the language (Bengali) to understand and appreciate the depth and richness of Baul songs. Even people who don't speak or understand a word of Bengali danced to this form of folk music with me," he said.
'I want to take this 'Baul' music to as many countries as possible. I have even performed for less pay as my goal has always been to promote the 'Baul' culture. Promoting this culture on the world stage not only raises global awareness on India's cultural ethos and traditions but also boosts Indian economy through greater cultural exchange with other countries," the legendary folk musician added.
He called on the next generation of 'Baul' singers to carry forward his legacy of taking engali folk music to the farthest corners of the globe. "I would also request the future generations to carry forward our 600-year-old Baul culture and music," Purna Das added.
In easily one of his greatest accomplishments, this revered exponent of 'Baul' music was referred to as 'India's Bob Dylan' by The New York Times. The daily ran an article on the 'Baul' legend in which he was compared to the American folk icon.
By that time, Purna Das Baul had won global acclaim peforming Bengal's songs of the soil before packed audiences and even collaborating with world-renowned musicians from the West.
If 'Lalon Fakir' is the first 'Baul King' then Purna Das was well and truly the one who gave Bengal's minstrel music a global identity.
Purna Das also added a western fusion element to 'Baul' music, which was widely accepted and appreciated by fellow musicians and the global audience.
Speaking to ANI, Dibyendu Das Baul, the son of Purna Das, said folk music cuts across linguistic barriers as it comes from within.
"Language doesn't matter for folk artistes. All over the world, folk music speaks the same language -- the language of the soul. Just as the first sound of a newborn is the same across the world, so is folk music. My father has performed in 168 countries. He has travelled to the US nearly 50 times and even has his own university there. Even I have travelled to about 90 countries. Language doesn't matter for folk music. It doesn't even need translations. I saw two women members of audience crying in France when we were performing a sad Baul number," he said.
Purna Das turned into a cult figure during his eight-month tour of the US in 1965. On that tour, he got to share the stage with global music icons such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Robeson, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, and many more.
He collaborated with Bob Marley, Gordon Lightfoot and Mahalia Jackson while getting the Rolling Stones frontman jam with him and sing a 'Baul' song.
Purna Das brought a new twist to the orginal 'Baul Gaan' (Baul song) by fusing elements of Western Jazz to it.
He told ANI that he brought together an array of music icons for a collaborative project, with 'Baul' music being central to it. He said his sons Krishnendu, Subhendu and Dibyendu were also part of the projct.
The Indo-Western fusion elevated Baul music to an all new level.
His Baul band 'Khyapa' unveiled its fusion songs at the US Folk-Rock-Jazz-Reggae Fest in 2002. It was followed by a grand tour of the US and Japan and concerts in New Jersey, New York and Los Angeles.
The legacy of Purna Das Baul has been carried forward by the later generations of Baul artistes, while also giving rise to global 'Baul' bands. One of them -- 'Baul Bishwa' -- performed at the famous French Theatre de la Ville of Paris. The group, led by eighth-generation Baul artiste Bapi Das, has performed at several places around the world.
Purna Das Baul also collaborated with British musician Sam Mills to produce a 'Baul fusion' for a global audience.
What was started by Purna Das Baul decades back and took Bengal's Baul songs to a global audience, still continues to hold its own and transcend all divides. (ANI)