From The Land of the Nobel Prize, Now comes Rabindrasangeet!

                                                                                                                                Tove, Bubu and Lars

Bengalis take Rabindranath Tagore as ‘Biswa kabi'! Inspired by music from around India and the rest of the world, Tagore was known for blending Hindustani and Carnatic ragas with the simple melodies of folk songs, be they from the Bauls in Bengal or the bards of Scotland or Ireland. He was also the first Indian and the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Lund India Choir is led by Bubu Munshi Eklund, a Bengali lady married to Lars Eklund and living in Sweden for the last 30 years. All the other members are Swedish, and most of them cannot speak Bengali. But they all sing Rabindrasangeet - and in chaste Bengali with all the appropriate nuances. They came to Kolkata in end-October and had a successful concert along with the Mamata Shankar Ballet Troupe at Star Theatre. Then the troupe performed recently at the inauguration of the new Swedish-funded Shakuntala Rheumatology Hospital and Research Institute in Balasore, Odisha, and for the students and faculty at North Orissa University in Baripada, a university involved in an Erasmus Mundus collaboration with Lund University. They also performed at a concert at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur and at Sangeet Bhawan in Shantiniketan .

 Bubu  said, “Tagore is an integrated part of my life since childhood. I grew up with my father Annada Munshi playing rabindrasangeet on piano, harmonium and violin, and singing the songs. Now I am extremely happy to spread Tagore’s music in Sweden.” She explain the journey so far, “It has been my dream since I moved to Sweden 30 years ago that I should get Swedish people learn to sing Tagore’s songs. I was member of another Swedish choir where the leader asked me to teach one song in 2011, the 150th anniversary year of Tagore’s birth, that was celebrated in Sweden. I chose Ontoro Momo, and the response was so profuse that one year later I decided to start a special choir fully dedicated to singing Rabindrasangeet.” Lars Eklund, deputy director for the Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET), and a member of the Swedish choir, told Abhijith Ganguly of the future plans , “We will continue to learn more songs, and after our successful tour to India, including the programme at students and professors at Sangeet Bhawan in Shantiniketan we will certainly come back again.” When asked about the recent experiments taking place worldwide on Rabindrasangeet, Lars said, “I find it is very good to experiment with various kinds of new renderings of Tagore’s music in order to increase the interest for it. I like, for example, young generation of singers who focus on the content of the songs and break out of the strict rules that has been established around on how to sing Rabindrasangeet. I also admire efforts in recent years to transmit Rabindrasangeet through western forms of music such as operas and string quartets, experiments both in Europe and in Kolkata. This will definitely strengthen interest for Tagore outside India.”

Needless to day, all the choir members have developed a deep love for Tagore songs. Tove Kjellberg, one of the members of choir, said her favourite number was Ami chini go chini and Edin aji kon ghore go. How difficult was it ? Tove smiles, “The first time I hear a song, I always wonder how am I going to be able to sing this? It will be impossible!, but then after Bubu breaks the song down in parts and after practising, it always seems to fall in places. However, the pronunciation has never been a problem to me - the sounds are quite similar in Swedish and Bengali.”

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