Long condemned as sleazy, Bhojpuri music comes into its own with Caribbean success-Opinion News, Firstpost

Migration, lifestyle changes, and the inability of Bhojpuri folk music to enter the urban lifestyle are some of the primary reasons why this genre is limited to a selected few people

Socio-cultural milieus across the globe have almost always been identified by particular cultural hallmarks of their folk traditions. The Indian subcontinent, too, nurtures innumerable forms of artistic expression through folk theatre, songs, and art.

Bhojpuri film songs, often associated with vulgarity and sleaziness due to innuendo dialogues, dances and songs, have never been like this.

The very first Bhojpuri movie Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhabo (Mother Ganga I will offer you a yellow cloth) was a movie decreasing the taboo around widow marriage and had remarkable songs like ‘Sonwa ke Pinjre Mai’ (A bird caged in a cage made out of gold) which was sung by the legendary Mohammad Rafi. The song highlighted how women in our country are married off at a young age and how their aspirations and life choices hold no value.

“After freedom fighter Veer Kunwar Singh defeated an East India Company army in Shahabad, Bihar the poet and singer Tofa Raye sang’Goran ke rakt laal peke pet bharl lu, uapr aakash garze niche beer kunwar garje’ (You have beaten the white British who attacked our land, you roar on the land just like clouds roar in the sky). Bhojpuri folk songs have been songs of freedom struggle, social evils, and traditional customs for a very long time”, says Bhojpuri Folk singer Gajendra Pandey who is part of a family Bhojpuri music has been orally passed on for generations.

A still Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhabo

The Bhojpuri Folk

“It can be said that because of the raunchy content shown in Bhojpuri movies and the formed bad perception about Bihar and UP, Bhojpuri is also viewed as a low language by people who don’t know it. You know they say ‘ye to gavaron ki bhasha hai’ (a language that is spoken by illiterate people belonging to the lower strata of the society). There is a stigma attached to Bhojpuri which is seen as a language of the poor. There is a sense of shame in claiming it as mother tongue, so even people whose mother tongue is Bhojpuri identify more with Hindi” says 50-year-old Bina Pandey, a native Bhojpuri folk singer speaker from Varanasi.

Bina, who was born and brought up in Gazipur, Uttar Pradesh, describes her relationship with Bhojpuri folk songs as a sound that formed her childhood.

“When swow (religious time in the Hindu calendar and the beginning of monsoon) used to start every Monday during the entire month my mom and all my relatives back in the village used to sit beneath a banyan tree in the shiv temple nearby and sing Shiv bhakti songs and kajri geet”. says Bina who has now been singing sanskar geet in locales all across Varanasi as an attempt to preserve her childhood memories.

Bhojpuri folk songs form a huge part of the Bhojpuri traditions and culture. Kajri (Sung during harvesting and monsoon season), Chaiti (sung during fasts related to the festival Chath) birahah (songs about separation usually sung by women longing for their husband or in remembrance of freedom fighters), Khatsar (song sung by women while doing household chores) and sanskar geet (songs sung during Sanskar events like childbirth and marriage) are the major genres in Bhojpuri folk songs. Traditionally these songs were written as poems in the ancient script of Bhojpuri, Kaithi. The script was then replaced by Devnagari- which forms the script of the present Bhojpuri.

“Between 1870’s to 1880’s the Britishers shifted the administrative script of India from Persian to Devanagari (the script for Hindi). This acceptance towards Hindi got more strength with the Hindu, Hindi Hindustani movement which made many regional writers ditch their original script and pursue writing nationalist poems and ballads in Hindi,” says Professor Abhadesh Pradhan, Assistant Head of Department Bhojpuri Adhyan Kendra, Banaras Hindu University . Pradhan, despite earning his doctorate in the Bhojpuri language, is not well versed with writing in Kaithi.

‘The slow decline in writing in Kaithi slowly ousted it from public memory” he adds.

Long condemned as sleazy Bhojpuri music comes into its own with Caribbean success

bina pandey

Although Kaithi has been on a decline, the Bhojpuri folk songs still form an important part of every Bhojpuri household, says 30-year-old Vidya Niwas Pandey who is an Indian Classical music artist from Gazipur.

“We have songs on struggles of the Bhojpuri migrants, freedom fighters. We have Chaiti songs associated with the festival of Chhath. There are also Kajri songs that are about the monsoon and describe the longing that wives feel during the monsoon season for their husbands who are away working in the cities. These folk songs are not just songs, these are life stories of people, stories of traditions, these songs represent the Bhojpuri identity,” he adds

“Every event, every work that we do in the household has a song attached to it, there are fights between husband and wife, taunts between a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, there are songs which women sing while collecting firewoods, cooking and grinding grains. Bhojpuri folk songs are the lived experiences of our ancestors,” says Bina.

Although Bhojpuri folk songs are such an integral part of a Bhojpuri household these songs are witnessing a slow death outside the Bhojpuri speaking belt. The advent of technology, the influence of western culture and the commercialization of Bhojpuri music through the Bhojpuri film industry has caused the decline in these original folk songs.

Migration of people outside the Bhojpuri belt, the change of lifestyle, and the inability of Bhojpuri folk music to enter that lifestyle are some of the primary reasons why this genre is limited to a selected few people.

“When I was a kid almost every house in my neighborhood in Sattanpur (a small village near Varanasi) had a dholak, manjira and to Tarkal. But today I live in Varanasi and all these folk music instruments are hard to find. So the existence of this folk music and instruments is much rarer in the bigger cities,” adds Pandey.

Long condemned as sleazy Bhojpuri music comes into its own with Caribbean success

Gajendra Pandey performing with his crew

From Bihar to Trinidad

Although the Bhojpuri folk music has been on a decline in India, its reinvented form has been trending in Caribbean countries. Chutney music which is traditionally a fusion of Bhojpuri folk music with local Caribbean music is a very popular music genre.

“When the Britishers transported Bhojpuri speaking people from North India to Fiji, Mauritius and Caribbean countries as indentured labourers, these people formed their community over there called the Girmitya community. They used to sing Bhojpuri folk songs while working which was then picked up by locals living there and together the Girmitya community and the locals came up with fusion songs that used both Bhojpuri words and local words and that’s how chutney music came into existence,” says Pramod Kumar Dubey, a veteran journalist who has now moved on to writing and producing chutney music in India.

His song’Victoria ke nach nachvlas mati birsa munda ke,‘ sung in Bhojpuri and English, tells the story of tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda.

The concept of Chutney music is so famous amongst the people living outside India that the genre has its music festival – The Caribbean Chutney Music Festival which happens every year.

“I have been born and brought up listening to Chutney music. I still remember every morning my dad used to play songs by Sundar Popo (the father of Chutney music) and explain to us the songs, these songs have been my way of understanding Bhojpuri language and culture where my ancestral roots lie,” says Prema Teeluckdharry , a 2nd generation immigrant in Trinidad and Tobago. Her family de ella is originally from Chappra, Bihar. Teeluckdharry currently is a resident doctor at the National Health Service in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

“For me, a happy moment is incomplete without playing ‘Philauri bina chutney kaise bani’we play it in parties and functions even the locals here in Birmingham enjoy it with us,” adds Teeluckdharry.

Chutney music because of its upbeat tunes and mix of western lyrics is also slowly gaining its momentum in India. Released in 2012, Gangs of Waseeypur a movie based out of Bihar had two songs in the Chutney music genre. “I see Chutney music as the future of Bhojpuri music in India. People are forgetting folk music because the younger generation wants songs which they can dance on, songs that can be played in clubs. So chutney music fits very well as a blend of folk and upbeat music,” adds Dubey.

The future of Bhojpuri folk

While Chutney music is acting as a fair attempt to revive the grace that Bhojpuri folk music had traditionally, many new age artists are also reinventing Bhojpuri folk songs in their own way. One such singer Kalpana Patowary, popularly known as Bhoj Queen, is a Bhojpuri folk singer who is famous for doing national and international concerts revving the traditional Khadi Birha songs of Bhikari Thakur. One of her most famous songs by her includes a rendition of Bhikari Thakur’s song’Beti Bechwa‘ which talks about the evil practice of the downry system.

Another artist KS Abhishek, a music producer from Assam, mixes traditional Bhojpuri songs with EDM beats. His first song of him’The Naani Song‘is a pop rendition of old bhajan’Maiyaa Paaon Payjaniya’.

“The survival of Bhojpuri folk music is very much dependent on the attitude of people towards the language. If the Bhojpuri people will not respect their mother tongue, speak it in front of everyone proudly and accept their traditions then soon Bhojpuri will be replaced by either Hindi or by the Bhojpuri that is shown to us by the film industry,” says Dubey.

“The only solution to preserve our folk music is to make people aware of it, make our kids understand the value of folk music associated with the festival of Chath, with monsoons and migration. Sing and hum Bhojpuri folk music as proudly and often as we tend to sing Hindi and English songs. The Bhojpuri people need to make others know that Bhojpuri music is more than ‘Rinkiya ke papa’,adds Gajendra.

Nishtha Pandey is a freelance journalist and is currently pursuing her PG diploma at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

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