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Tagore’s songs travel to Egypt; Experts decode similarity between his songs and world tunes

Three Indian artists are taking Rabindranath Tagore’s songs, which he drew from western music structures, to the Land of Pharaohs.

Updated: Apr 13, 2018 17:06 IST
Rabindrasangeet,Egypt,Tagore
Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee will be reading excerpts from interactions between Tagore and Einstein

Poila Boisakh, or the Bengali New Year, which falls on April 15 every year, is incomplete without the songs of Rabindranath Tagore. And this year, two weeks into the new year, Tagore’s songs and works will travel to Egypt, even as the trio of singer Prabuddha Raha, inter-disciplinary artist Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee and pianist Dr. Soumitra Sengupta, take their show, Music Mind, to the Land of Pharaohs, where a Tagore Festival will be hosted from May 5.The Indian artists will perform in Cairo and Alexandria between May 4 and May 8 to mark Tagore’s birth anniversary.

Rabindrasangeet singer Prabuddha Raha (above) along with pianist Dr Soumitra Sengupta will perform Tagore’s songs that are influenced by western and world music

To appeal to an international audience, one would expect the artists to showcase popular songs of Tagore that have been adapted by the bard from the western world, especially from English and Irish music. However, the repertoire of songs that will be presented are those that draw a subtle and sublime influence from western music, the connection often so subdued, that it would take an expert to draw the similarities.

And indeed, it took Raha, an expert in Rabindra Sangeet and Sengupta, who has intense knowledge of western classical music, several years to research and dig out these songs. Says Raha, “The songs of Tagore in which we will show influences of world music, aren’t straight adaptations of the original tunes. There are parts of some symphony from a western song that Tagore has used in the songs he has composed. For instance in the popular song Tumi Kon Kanon Er Phool, Tagore draws from the very well-known Spanish tune Besame Mucho. But unless you break the song down, you will never know that he has used the same chord structure. Yet, if you hear the Bengali song, you are unlikely to spot the similarities immediately. The list of such songs is endless...”

Raha says that Tagore, with his immense exposure to western and world music was so moved by the tunes, structures and rhythms of some of the songs, that he decided to curate them through his own works. “In fact, he has created a space for musicians to add western structures to his songs without having to lose out on the Indianness or eastern ragas and tunes,” adds Raha.

After a very successful entourage in Dhaka and two prestigious universities in USA, Music Minds has been invited by the Indian Embassy of Egypt, supported by ICCR, and Raha says, they are excited to perform there. “We are particularly thrilled that we will perform in Alexandria, which is a beautiful city.”

And it is not just music that will find place in this performance. Chatterjee, who has emerged as one of India’s leading inter-disciplinary artists, will be the narrator at the event and will present a discussion on music between Tagore and Einstine. “The discussion is long and very interesting. I would like to bring into context the whole standpoint of music and its universality as discussed in their exchange. I would also like to read poetry that integrates the essence of the programme,” signs off Chatterjee.

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 17:04 IST