Friday, January 15, 2016

The Rabha Plurality

Yes Rabha. But which one by the way?

The methodical archivist of Satriya dance posture and sound notations?
The crazy disobedient person to keep breaking the societal norms?
The man often iconified with holding a gun on one hand and a pen  on the other?
The rebellious guy brutally dragged with a rope on the street instead of a hand calf only to insult in the public sphere?
The man dancing Nataraja to lead him achieving an honor with Kalaguru?
The finest painter to introduce the warmth of wash and tempera?
The romantic one?
The researcher to drag our attention towards the connection of 'culture' to the word 'cultivation'?
The comrade leading an uprising of the farmers and laborers?
 Yes, which Rabha do we talk about?

Bishnu Rabha, oftten iconified with holding a gun on one hand and pen on the other

Making a tribute was never easy, 

at whatever form or discipline it may be.
Then here comes the matter of Bishnu Prasad Rabha (he himself used to write as 'Rava') - one who never determined to stuck in a single stream of practice. When Joi gave me a glimpse of his composition with George Brook's saxophone and shared what was in his mind regarding the story of the legend and Comrade Gajiram Rabha, the first question in mind was- do I dare? And then, the realization like this: yes I dare. Not because of the skill or ability but concerning some other things. 

Mostly what happens when we work with a historical figure it tends to be reductive in many ways. We try to summarize the history, we try to claim an authority, and thus actually distill and dictate things in certain manner. How to challenge it?

Bishnu Rabha: the methodical archivist of Satriya dance posture and sound notations

The present Assamese middle class culture-loving society is largely monochromatic.

Some other issues are there that insisted me to 'dare' to start working on this project. Those were part of our continuous dialogue between me and Joi and without mentioning them this note will be incomplete.

Joi is one of the finest singers from Assam (now based in Mumbai) who develops an attitude of an artist, instead of the 'service providers'. He takes several months to develop one single composition. After meeting him and developing a conversation in series I realized, the buildup of a musical piece as a project, the process is more important rather than seeing it a single product. That was a point where I started admiring him more.

Large population of Assamese music lovers do not receive Joi Barua's singing in comparison to many other popular singers. Here I won't comment on Joi's merit or demerits, but would love to point out another feature.  The present Assamese middle class culture-loving society is largely monochromatic. It is only happy with certain sense and sensibilities. A society that could not ever cop up with the modernist attitude never allowed any other genre that is unfamiliar to it. As a result, despite of being a society of colorful ethnographic societies, a home of hundreds of linguistic communities, largely the society is monochromatic. All colors dissolve into a modernist nationalism. As a result classical music or art could not flourish out there, on the other hand, there is no sub-culture or popular culture as such. The same cultural agent (artist or art work) occupy all the spaces. A singer who is occupying the mainstream, is also occupying the sub-culture domain. Bihu, the most lovable and vibrant festival turned up to a virus over the ages. Assamese eat Bihu, drink Bihu, think Bihu. And Joi does not sing Bihu. 
[That is how I am forced to love and appreciate Mr. Rajkumar, the ultimate film-maker, who bears the only capability to hit the monotony of the masculine middle-class cultural space.]

During the preparation for the Disposable Womaen, a Disposable Theatre for the Kala Ghoda festival, Mumbai, 2015, I tried to visualize one of Joi's most popular song Tejimola. From there onwards we started talking on developing a new project.

The cultural aura in Assam is still (in fact, increasingly) modernist in nature. 

To work in your own language and to deal with historical pasts, as some tacit norm and customs, you have to take a position where you say "old is gold". You are supposed to be utterly nationalist. There you are forced to claim your nationalism and patriotism. That demand is so muscular and layered that in the name of finding the origin or the 'self' (if we take nationalism as a way of understanding the own self) we are far deviated from the self. Instead of moving ahead, we get stuck into melancholia and nostalgia. We like to cry saying - 'Where has gone Lachit Borphukan- the hero', or we like to lament saying - 'why no Gadapani comes or why Joymoti is no more there within us...' and so on. No, we cannot put our work on 'Rabha' into lament, nostalgia or melancholia. (Thanks to Barnali Baruah for recently making a note in facebook on these aspects)

see Barnali Baruah's Facebook post here

What if we refuse to summarize Rabha into a phrase: Rabha was a great man?!

And then, how to grasp the larger than life figure of Bishnu Prasad Rabha? Because by the time, Rabha is not just an individual. He becomes a body of myths, narratives, fantasies, facts, fictions. All most all the inevitable issues around cultural identity: art, literature, language, literature and politics- that we are dealing today has something to do with Rabha in some ways. And then every year on his birth or death centenaries when Assamese people (this category time to time associates two other words: middle class and mainstream) bring the children to sing Rabha Sangeet (Songs of Bishnu Rabha) to celebrate the national pride and historical conceit - we can see how reductive that practice is.

Van Gogh was pushed away by the society saying him Mad. No, he was not mad at all. Thus happened to Rabha. He was deliberately pushed away from many places several times. Sometimes as an anti-establishment, sometimes as a victim of racism. And when people started embracing him - it was actually a push. An attempt to keep him within a glass box: as a museumized object.   

Edvard Munch, Van Gogh, Bishnu Rabha

In Assam we do not have a strong and continuous history of visual arts. 

This statement is regarding to the common notion of art history - with whom most of the world is comfortable with. Definitely it was a most difficult task for one to decide, what kind of visual vocabulary would be workable while responding to a musical piece, that is also associated to a legend like this. Unlike the very neighboring state Bengal, we could not ever trace a chronology of artistic engagement in visual domain. Randomness is the only word to fit in our history- just appropriating the multilingual multicultural tapestry of the land.   

The craziness and the flamboyance of the personality thus gave me a scope to start thinking. We have seen a few painterly expressions by Rabha, but those treatments are not helping me to explore the crazy-ness, neither the randomness. Well then, I need to look back at the post-impressionistic idiom to explore the blurs, the obscures, the energies, the overlapings, the tactile textures. Then suddenly I discovered: if Jyotiprasad Agarwala, the another important figure contemporary to Rabha was a master of fineness (keeping in mind Jyoti Sangeet), then Rabha was a textured figure with a wild repertoire.

Thus I borrowed some yellow from Van Gogh.

Yes, from my side, it is also a tribute to Vincent as well.

The crazy-ness (I am not saying methodized 'mad'ness), the inherent color, and noticeably enough the relation with the field of paddy and the farmers, the hunger- siesta- and struggle of people - all comes with a justification in talking of Rabha and Van Gogh.

Till now I am not mentioning anything about the story behind it, what happened that night with Bishnu Rabha and Gaji Rabha. Nevertheless, the story is so horrifying but insightful that there was another one to knock at Kankhowa's studio: Edvard Munch. The narrative in the lyrics (kudos to Ibson Lal Baruah) and the voice gesture of Joi Barua - both are definitely expressionistic. Thus impressionism and expressionism started mingling eventually. 

Scream, Munch
Since a teaspoon full of surrealism was inevitable, a Bodo woman came flying just like a lullaby, along with the saxophone by George Brooks. The flying woman and gave birth to the Sun, and then the Sun made a journey across the fields, across the jungle. All were looking at the journey- the old, the child, the women, the harvesters... In the mode of celebration  Dokhona wearing girls started dancing...

a tale of a Bodo woman giving birth to the Sun

I was sure that this flamboyance and juxtaposition of too many things together - won't harm the art because it was insisted by the musical composition itself. When Joi played the draft music to me and asked what did I feel, I could not say anything instantly. What did I feel? It was containing drama of high contrast within it. The voice and the Saxophone, Joi and Brooks were mutually complementing, but at the same time both were fighting with each other.
Enclosure and expansion - these two contrasting words came to my mind. 
Imprisonment and freedom. 
High contrast, a play of agreement and disagreement, dramatic conflicts - all were already there in the song.   

George Brooks and Joi Barua
 And finally comes the Kankhowa Method, the method of the Disposable Theatre: Improvisation. During the course of time I visited a Bodo family in Dichang, a man was working, he was casted in the video. Two women from Biswanath Chariali harvesting in the field made a cameo. Also come "that two girls from Da Parbatiya"- Ganga and Yamuna...  Anything and everything just adds on, when you are working with improvisation.

Doorway from Daparbatiya and my rendering after a poem by Nilmoni Phukan in 1998

Now do not ask me what software I used, as you should not ask a photographer what camera he does use to click.

I am happy to add on a pinch of turmeric yellow to Joi's PRIDE.
Statutory warning: do not try to cleans the turmeric with a soap, it will turn Red (hope you know Chemistry well).

Comrade Gajiram Rabha

In an interview with Kasmin Fernandes, TOI Joi Barua states:

Samudra Kajal Saikia has created the animated music video accompanying the song. Says Joi about the making of the video, "Samudra teaches drama and theatre and is a fantastic animation artist. I was working on the song and hadn't found a way forward on the visual tract. He had gifted me a small animation video he had made himself of my song 'Tejimola'. I was astounded by its wizardry. I knew if there was anyone, it was he who could take this song forward, with its nuances of art, music and heritage intact. It takes around 25 visual animation guys to do something like this, but he did this all by himself. He worked alone, sometimes 16 hour days, for nearly two months to come up with the first draft. I am lucky to have someone like him, who goes so deep into creating a piece of art that will stand the test of time."

The story behind the content of the song:

Bishnu Prasad Rabha- a complete personality with a rare multidimensional contribution towards art, culture and society. He started his struggle with a belief that only equality through social reform could bring prosperity to the society. Refusing to expose the secrets of Rabha and his adherent protestants comrade Gajiram Rabha underwent severe physical torture in imprisonment and he severed  his tongue to save his fellow comrades.

Joi Ft. George Brooks, "Rabha", Pride, Lyrics: Ibson Lal Baruah
Video: Samudra Kajal Saikia, a Kankhowa Creation

a very special round of thanks goes out to : INK talks & Lakshmi Pratury for bringing together
Joi Barua & George Brooks. Moina Goswami, Ratul Goswami & Kushal Mirza. Mixed & Mastered by Abani Tanti at Geet Audiocraft Mumbai. Art, Animation, VFX and Editing: Samudra Kajal Saikia

Media and Other Associated Links:  

Watch in MTV's site:


No comments: