Having a Baul

Bapi Das Baul/Baul Bishwa – Sufi Baul-Madness & Happiness
Bapi Das Baul/Baul Bishwa

Sufi Baul-Madness & Happiness (ARC Music EUCD 2208, 2009)

The word Baul is taken from the Sanskrit word for “mad,” yet there is no overt madness to be found in the Baul people of India or the ideology that characterizes them. They seek to be one with everything they encounter with all five of their senses, even applying that quest for oneness to overcoming religious differences between Hindus and Muslims.

Bauls are usually itinerant and illiterate, yet often possess considerable knowledge of historical and contemporary culture in both sacred and secular forms. Their primary means of expression is music inspired by what they experience in their travels from village to village and the common ground between Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism that inspires them to seek the divine and live peacefully.

There’s more to the way they approach their existence, but I’m keeping my explanations minimal in order to get on with talking about the music, the exuberant and joyous nature of which is proof enough that the Baul way of life seems to be working just fine. An array of expressive percussion (including that marvelous “plucked drum” the khamak and the more familiar tabla) provides complex rhythms beneath colorful flutes, dotara (lute), modern keyboards and the lead vocals of Bapi Das Baul, who often sounds as happy as he looks on the front cover.

The songs deal with love (earthly and otherwise), fulfillment and human foibles, sometimes expressed in poetic terms and having an almost comical frankness when not, as is the case with “Kali Kal Bhai” (How Strange Society is), which could be describing the absurdities of injustice anywhere in the world. Some of the tracks suffer a bit from the addition of mechanized beats and make you wonder how this sort of stuff would come across with less of a contemporary sheen, but when the music is left largely untouched (check the qawwali-like “Manab Janam”), the disc comes to life with a spirit that reaches down deep and satisfies a longing or two of one’s own.

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Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.


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