|Saturday, May 5, 2001||
IN his 60-year-long creative life, Tagore had produced a phenomenal number of works, including over 2,000 poems, 60 plays and playlets, 12 novels, eight volumes of short stories, a mass of prose on literary, social, religious and political themes and nearly 3,000 songs. Significantly, only 730 songs are sung for which the bard had written the notations. Not only have all attempts to put other songs to music been opposed under the copyright law, even diversions from the original notations have attracted legal action in the past 60 years, says Rahul Dass
AFTER ‘bhangra rap’ and ‘ghazal pop’ it is time now for "Tagore blues" — if plans to lift the embargo on the compositions of Bengal’s bard comes through. TheRabindranath Tagore Trust at Santiniketan, near Kolkata, is relinquishing its rights on the Nobel laureate’s works on December 31, 2001.
Says Dalip Kumar Sinha,
Vice-Chancellor of Viswa Bharati University at Santiniketan: ‘Tagore
had become the property of a few people and there were too many vested
interests around his creations. We are trying to change all that by
offering his compositions to singers willing to set them to music."
Significantly, only 730 songs are sung for which the bard had written the notations. Not only have all attempts to put other songs to music been opposed under the copyright law, even diversions from the original notations have attracted legal action in the past 60 years.
Consequently, any artiste wanting to record a Tagore song (or Rabindra Sangeet, as it is called) has to record a pilot tape for a go-ahead from Santiniketan’s all-powerful music board. Songs are vetted for their articulation, tune, arrangement and even subjective and intangible factors like ‘mood and flavour’.
There has been a concerted effort to iconise Tagore," remarks Rituparno Ghose, who had to apply for the music board’s permission to use one song for his film, Utsav, just as filmmaker Satyajit Ray had done for Charulata and music composer Jagjit Singh had done for Yaarana.
Ironically enough, Tagore had himself drawn from a wide range of music sources — from Hindustani and Carnatic classical to Indian folk and Irish, Scottish and German tunes.In fact, he had foreigners (like the French composer Arnold Blake) to write music and transcribed songs in western notations.
After his death though, the music board has been accused of being "fascistly proprietorial" about the compositions and had even forced celebrated exponent Debabrata Biswas to stop recording in the early 1970s after repeatedly spiking his inventive renderings.
Of late, there has been strong opposition to the board’s role as Tagore tastemaker. Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta, for instance, defiantly cut two albums, which explore the Carnatic and Irish-Scottish folk influence of the bard to near lift-off levels — she sang the song in Bengali as well as the original.
Likewise, Sumon Chattopadhyay cut another album of Tagore songs using acoustic guitar. Holland-based civil engineer, Sudip Ghosh recorded 21 Tagore songs with a distinct jazz effect. There’s also 60-something Pijush Kanti Sarkar producing a Rabindra Sangeet music video.
Other ‘experiments’ include shows of the 25-strong Calcutta Foundation Orchestra, which uses violin, viola, cello and double bass for its Rabindra Sangeet compositions instead of the traditional tabla and harmonium. Soon, playback singer Asha Bhonsle will be recording some Tagore songs with the orchestra.
With the lifting of the copyright restrictions, the floodgates could open further and Tagore could be rocking too. "We would be very interested in having a look at the unsung songs and see if our composers can write notations for them", says Shamlu Dudeja, a member of the Calcutta Foundation Orchestra.
Anindya Chatterjee of the rock band Chandrabindu is just as excited: "This is a thrilling proposition to us. We would love to tackle some of his songs. For people like us, this would throw up new challenges. And in the end, it would mean a lot for the evolution of Bengali music".
Agrees Indranil Sen, a young singer: "Who knows, this could make Rabindra Sangeet truly national, rather than just Bengali. I will be the first bidder for the unsung songs. A lot of them can be set to popular tunes. But I am not sure whether his lyrics can be set to rock and roll".
There are some discordant voices as well, like that of Subinoy Roy, a veteran singer. "Musicians must tread with caution", he warns. "Whatever melodies they employ, will the songs be recognised as Rabindra Sangeet?There is always a risk of trivialising Tagore".
Only time will tell. — (MF)