COLUMN 102, FEBRUARY 1, 2004
(Copyright © 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)
WHO WANTS TO RECORD FUSION MUSIC WITH A SIZZLING BENGALI BAUL?
BABUKISHAN DAS BAUL
Eighteen years after he
first comes to my apartment in New York,
Babukishan Das, son and rhythm drummer of the celebrated Purna
Das Baul, comes to visit me again in
the Fall of 2003. I know him
He started out phoning me
repeatedly a number of years ago. He wanted to come to the U.S. to connect with
American musicians. He told me he has become a success in India writing music
for a number of the films being ground out assembly "line-style in Bollywood,
which is what India calls the capital of its thriving film industry. India's
Bollywood, in fact, now rivals America's Hollywood in selling movie tickets.
With its name obviously meant as a take-off of America's original movie
capital, Bollywood, is located in India's teeming Bombay, now renamed Mumbai
for local political reasons of which I am currently ignorant.
Babu's Indian music is not like
Ravi Shankar's sitar music. Babu is a Baul, a product of the famous Bengali
Bauls, of which his grandfather, Nabani Das Baul, was the patriarch and of which
his father, Purna, is currently the celebrated leader. The Bengali Bauls
represent not a religion or a sect or a tribe but a way of life grown from
performing in the streets. In other words, Baul music is one of India's folk
musics. Fusing it with a combination of America's myriad musical genres is an
interesting concept. Not a bad idea at all! In fact, the idea is so good, it
started rekindling dreams of musical entrepreneurship in my battered brain.
Babu starts out by phoning me a
lot. I tell him to buy a computer and email me, because that'll be cheaper. He
does just that and starts filling my inbox regularly. But, before we do anything
else, he wants me to write a story about him for my website. He sends lots and
lots of photos of himself. Every day. I get another email from Babu full of
information about himself and about the Bauls. Soon, he sweet talks a web-tekki
named Mary into setting up a Babukishan website for him.
But when I finally go to his
website to look it over, I get this message: "BROKEN HEART--SITE CLOSED."
Turns out that Mary and Babu had a spat and she closed down Babu's website.
Next thing you know, Mary thinks it over and recognizes Babu is just following
the Baul way of life, which is Casual with a capital C. Next thing you know,
Mary fills my inbox with 24 messages containing all the material that had been
on the website she erased. Eventually, Babu tells me she now calls herself Mary
Now, I am confronted with a
massive overdose of Babu's information. This comes at a time when I am not
only overwhelmed by my never-ending duties as editor and one-man staff of THE
BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST, an e-zine that requires a new issue on the Internet
every month, but I also have begun the exciting and time-consuming task of
publishing THE BEST OF THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST in a series of paperback
books. I find myself paralyzed by indecision. Do I really have time to turn my
attention to Babu? Then I get this email:
hi al,i am in newyork...babu
Date: Fri, 26 Sep 2003 08:27:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: babukishan das firstname.lastname@example.org
In New York, Babu is in Queens.
My keyboardist son, Joel Roi, volunteers to go get him. Soon, Babu is here in my
crowded apartment. It turns out that although Babu, now 41, has a big hit in
India and claims to've made a name for himself in Bollywood's relentless
movie mill, he still has to tour with his father, the great Purna Das. That's
why he's in the U.S. He's touring with his father's troupe, performing for
the most part before Indian "migr? audiences across our nation.
In my pad, which is strewn with
papers, cassettes, books, pamphlets, computers, files, file cabinets and
everything else I can't find when I need it, Babu says he has a kurta
punjabi for me---a long Indian shirt like the silk and elegant bright
orange one he's wearing. Only, the kurta punjabi is back in Queens.
He's forgotten to bring it with him.
He brings me a cassette of his
hit, Soulmate, on MIL MUSIC INDIA, which Babu tells me is topping
India's music charts. We play it and I find it lilting, delightful and
endearing. Again, Babu tells me he wants me to write a story about him like the
one I wrote about his father 18 years ago. I tell him I will when I get
around to it.
That evening, my son drives Babu
to my old friend David Amram's farm in Westchester. David is a famous master
musician, who conducts symphony orchestras, leads a jazz group, is a French horn
virtuoso, plays almost every other musical instrument known to man and delights
audiences by accompanying himself while singing rap songs he improvises on the
spot---something akin to the spontaneous bop prosody of his one-time buddy, Beat
Generation saint Jack Kerouac. Before leaving my place, Babu says he will be
back to see me in a day or two. When I ask Joel Roi what happened when Babu and
Amram jammed together that night, he gives me an answer in one word:
Dammit! And I couldn't be
there! I had to stay chained to my computer. I had an issue of THE BLACKISTED
JOURNALIST to get on the web. Or was I being pressed to get VOLUME FOUR OF THE
BEST OF THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST ready for 1st Books Library, the
print-on-demand press in Indiana? There are too many things happening at once.
In the meantime, I am in contact
with Sally Grossman, the person who, after being alerted to them by Allen
Ginsberg, discovered the Bengali Bauls during her trips to India years ago. She
is also the one who brought the Bauls to the attention of Bob Dylan and, in
addition, she is is the inheritor of the Bearsville estate of her late husband,
music magnate Albert Grossman, the entrepreneur who managed Dylan's rise to
prominence. Sally graciously offers her Bearsville Studio as a place to record
Babu's fusion music---on condition that David Amram is in charge of the
But Babu never returns to my
place. Instead, he goes off touring the country with his father's troupe to
new adventures and new friends. Eventually, I send Babu an email saying:
Amram, my son Joel (keyboards) and Hayes Greenfield (sax) and Julian Fenton
(drummer), stepson of Apple's Neil Aspinall want to make a fusion album with you
and Sally Grossman will make her Bearsville studio available. You want me to
write story bout you and I want to write it but right now, I'm tied up working
on a Bobby Darin book. And my next column. --Al
And eventually I get an email
i am glad to know ....babu
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 11:08:56 -0800 (PST)From: babukishan das email@example.com
To: al aronowitz firstname.lastname@example.org
am glad to know that they like to do fusion music with my music. great!!! i'll
be in in new york 10th dec and 'll be there up to 30th dec. tell joe i am happy
to hear.how r u?
i am ok.
Well, for a long time I don't
hear from Babu but that's the Baul way. Casual. In fact, that's my way,
too, so I understand. In something apparently written by Sir John Wodroffe, an
English scholar, I read:
The bauls are called bauls because they are mad
people. The word 'baul' comes from the ancient language sanskrit root 'vatul'.
It means: mad, affected by wind. The baul belongs to no religion. He is neither
Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian nor Buddhist. He is a simple human being. His
rebellion is total. He doesn't belong to anybody, he only belongs to himself. He
lives in a no-man's land. No country is his, no religion is his, no scripture is
I tell myself, doesn't that just about describe me, too? But there's more:
Bauls have nothing..no scripture, not even to
burn, no church, no temple, no mosque..Nothing whatsoever. A Baul is a man
always on the road. He has no house, no abode. God is his only abode and the
whole sky is his shelter. He possesses nothing except a poor man's quilt, a
small hand-made one-stringed instrument called "ektara? and a small drum, a
kettle drum called "baaya." That's all that he possesses---a musical
instrument and a drum. He plays with one hand on the ektara and he goes on
beating the drum with the other. The drum hangs by the side of his body and he
dances. That is all of his religion. Dance is his religion, singing is his
worship. He does not even use the word "God."
That's because the Bauls don't believe in an external God?a God in Heaven or in the trees or in nature or in anyplace outsides of themselves, The Bauls believe in a God within themselves. To
Bauls don't have to go
to any kind of church
Bauls, God is inside you, me and everyone. To the Bauls, God is the essence of
man. And so each human is his or her own temple or church or mosque or
synagogue. And so, a Baul's search for God is "withinwards." This is what
. . . on the waves of song and on the dancing,
he moves withinwards. He goes on moving like a beggar, singing songs. He has
nothing to preach. His whole preaching is his poetry. And his poetry is also not
ordinary poetry. He's not consciously a poet. He sings because his heart is
singing. Poetry follows him like a shadow. . .He lives his poetry. That's his
passion and his very life. His dance is almost insane. He has never been trained
to dance. He even doesn't know anything about the art of dancing. He dances like
a madman, like whirlwind. And he lives very spontaneously.
I think, if that explains Babu, that also explains me. Except, I don't
play an instrument. I used to be a pretty good dancer, though. And, like Babu, I
do things when I can get around to doing them. And I'll go so far as to join
the Bauls in saying, as one writer has quoted them:
We are the bird people---we do not know how to walk, we like to fly."
And, so Babu's own
musical group back in India is called 'the Birds."
Did you ever try to
catch a bird? That's like trying to catch Babu. In my rekindled dream of
musical entrepreneurship, I want to rope him into recording the magic he made
with David Amram the night I wasn't there.
Silently, my thoughts
Babu, where are you?
He turns up in New York
again in December of 2003 and I try to get my musician friends together. I even
contact Garth Hudson, The Band's former keyboardist, with whom I helped
produce The Bengali Bauls at Big Pink many years ago. But Garth is
touring. David Amram is also preparing to tour. He's going on the road with
Jack Kerouac's 'sacred scroll," Jack's manuscript of On The Road.
As for Hayes Greenfield, he's otherwise busy. And Julian Fenton is still in
London. Sally Grossman isn't even around. She's avoiding the winter cold in
So, Babu spends a night
jamming with Joel Roi and one of Joel's musician friends. Joel has invented a
device that enables him to stroll and play his keyboard while it's strapped
around his neck like a guitar and the next night, he brings Babu to my cramped
apartment. Here, Babu delivers the promised kurta punjabi to me. Equipped
with a dupki, which is something like a tambourine, and also with a
bracelet that he calls a ghoonghoor, Babu begins to jam with Joel in my
cramped apartment. They get a riff going, with Babu hitting the dupki and
shaking the ghoonghoor with hypnotizing percussion.
Before long, Babu starts
singing in Hindi and then starts dancing in my cramped place. There's room
only for Joel to sit while I'm perched on the edge of my cot. I can't understand a word of what Babu's singing, but he's sizzling. I find
myself spellbound by the gracefulness of his dancing and the passion in his
voice. Once again, my dreams of musical entrepreneurship start burning and I?m
compelled to imagine girls singing a background refrain in English.
Enraptured by the show Babu is putting on, I find myself compelled to
rise up on my frail legs and start to dance with Babu. But there's room enough
only for me to take a few awkward steps.
Afterwards, we go to
dinner, Babu goes back to India and I go back to my computer to write this. I
guess I've grown too old to have my rekindled dreams of musical
entrepreneurship come true. ##
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