New Delhi: At long last, Delhi will join the long list of major world cities that celebrate American songwriter Bob Dylan’s birthday—an occasion that has come to be associated with fans coming together in love, fun and protest.
Thursday, 24 May, is the bard’s 77th birthday. In India, the day is most famously associated with the annual tribute held in Shillong by folk singer Lou Majaw, although there have been celebrations in the past in Mumbai and Bengaluru. This year, the Indian capital is adding itself to the global spots of celebration, with a tribute night planned by multiple artists from Delhi and Calcutta at Depot48, one of the capital’s best known venues promoting independent music.
“This will be an evening to remember as multiple artists sing Dylan’s anti-war songs, to the ones that remind us how politicians and governments use religion, to his views on chemical weapons to the realities of love and relationships—and much more," said Sharif Rangnekar, curator of Embrace: Music Justice Arts, which is partnering with Depot48 to celebrate the event. The lineup includes Kolkata folk music star Arko Mukhaerjee, jazz singer Sentirenla Lucia and the African band 4AF..
The Delhi tribute is long overdue to the songwriter, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2016. He began his artistic career listening to the great blues musicians Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey and John Lee Hooker and the protest music of Woody Guthrie, the great dust bowl singer. But there have been many more along the way. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that Dylan in his last three studio albums has been covering other artists from the great American songbook, chiefly Frank Sinatra.
“These songs didn’t come out of thin air. I didn’t just make them up out of whole cloth," Dylan said in his 2015 Grammy person-of-the-year award acceptance speech.
“It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock ’n roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music. I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them, back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone. For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs."
Dylan will always be loved for his love songs, hate songs (there are some incredibly twisted, bitter ones), anthems of protest and songs that chronicle our times and foretell the times to come. They stand out—for their timelessness just when others begin to sound jaded, for their uncompromising rebellion when others sound just a little bit uncertain, for their surprising choice of material (a recent song is on the sinking of the Titanic) and most of all, for their honesty. Just how he sings them—not pretty, just honest.
When Dylan was starting out in the early 60s, a music publisher told him he was either way before his time or behind it. On Thursday, his legions of fans will say, “How about timeless?"