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Songs my lady sings

She might appear petite but her deep, full-throated, powerful voice can transport the listener to another world, another time. Her music is a fiery blend of feminism, religion and revolution and speaks of finding God within oneself. Meet Anusheh Anadil, a baul and fakiri folk singer from Bangladesh, who will be performing at the Sounds of Freedom concert in New Delhi on Sunday.

She has performed in the Capital earlier, at events by the South Asian feminist network group Sangat, and at the 2007 and 2011 Saarc Bands Festival with her former band Bangla, which released its first album in 2002. She no longer performs with Bangla, some of its members have gone on to play as Arnob and Friends, and Anadil will be bringing her new band Bahok to the concert.

She has collaborated with Indian percussionist, tabla player and music composer Tanmoy Bose for the album Baul And Beyond; and sung for Tollywood films like Abhik Mukhopadhyay’s Bhoomi (alongside Delhi band Indian Ocean) and Q’s Tasher Desh. She has also sung for Zee Bangla serials—the award-winning title track for Subarnalata, and her song Rai Jago Bhai and her rendition of Hrid Majhaare have been used in Raaikishori. When she is not fusing rural folk and rock music, she is running her crafts shop Jatra in Dhaka, where she employs disabled people, former sex workers and roadside painters.

The ride, however, hasn’t been smooth. She says: “I think I can’t really separate my musical journey from my personal spiritual journey. This journey has brought me to a place where I am slowly embracing my own femininity in a grotesquely patriarchal world. Part of that journey has made me realize why being a mother is more about ‘we’ rather than ‘me’." As a fakiri, she has faced flak from Islamic fundamentalists, she has also campaigned against religious intolerance when a fatwa was issued against young artistes in her country. She has battled heroin addiction, and has campaigned against drugs. She says: “Our society tries to fit them (addicts) into the same box that they see ‘fit’…as criminals or outcasts. Compulsive addiction to anything…makes us irrational. The idea is to find that imbalance within ourselves and work towards a more harmonious existence." Edited excerpts from an email interview:

Was becoming a musician a long-nurtured desire?

I had no desire to be a musician at the time when I was getting formal training. I felt restricted and trapped. I found music within me after I broke free of all my training. Meeting the fakirs of Bengal was refreshing after my strict schooling in Indian classical and Rabindrasangeet.

Would it be justified to call your style modern ‘baul’?

I would rather not define it. It’s just music. I sing my own lyrics and the songs of Fakir Lalon Shah and any other songwriter whose lyrics I connect to.

‘Baul’ and ‘fakiri’ songs are sung in West Bengal’s Nadia district; how is your style different?

The capital of baul music is in Kushtia, which is in the Khulna district of Bangladesh. In the past it was all Nadia. Unfortunately now there is a barbed-wire border between us. Maybe it’s all a reflection of our insecurities.

Are Bengali musicians intrinsically the same, whichever side of the border they might belong to? Does your music talk of a unified ‘Bangla’?

I think no one is the same. What makes us all special is that we are all unique in our own ways. I think I talk about a more harmonious and unified world through all my songs. Mostly I try to talk about questioning and looking within for answers.

What makes you want to keep coming back and performing in India?

I wish there were no borders between us. I am not a fan of any government that perpetuates separation, whether it be through politics or religions. I think the reason many people in India connect to my music is because they too feel the same way.

Do you feel that in the midst of film/commercial songs, young people will be interested in listening to folk music?

Yes. I do believe that, because I choose to have faith in people’s intellect.

What significance does freedom, this concert’s theme, hold for you?

Just as I am Muslim, Bangladeshi, a woman, a mother, I am also a Hindu, a Buddhist, Indian, American, and pretty manly at times. The more I become dogmatic about my identity, and get stuck in some definition of myself, I trap “me" and resist the flow of the universe. To be free is to be open and to accept change as the only constant.

I asked my eight-year-old son whether he thought we were free or not. To my surprise, he said “no", so I asked why. He said, “Ma, it’s because we don’t live with nature." It’s true. The more we disconnect ourselves from nature, we start thinking of ourselves as beings who are in no way connected to one another.

And what will your repertoire comprise?

We will be performing six songs in total, including Rohoshshyo. There is one brand new song called Ma, about embracing the feminine. About how we have kept her behind the purdah and by doing that we have denied half of ourselves.

Tell us about Bahok.

Bahok is my new band. The only reason it is listed as Anusheh Anadil and Bahok is because the organizers wanted to use my name. Bahok means a vessel (in Bengali). In this case, we are all vessels that carry the message of a greater truth. The band comprises Baul Shafi Mondol (vocals/dotara), Palki Ahmad (vocals/guitar), Nozrul Islam (Bangla dhol) and Seth Panduranga Blumberg (vocals/guitar).

Anusheh Anadil will perform at the Sounds of Freedom concert with Bahok, and jam with Sonam Kalra and The Sufi Gospel Project on 23 March, 1pm onwards, at the NSIC Grounds, Okhla, New Delhi. For details, visit Soundsoffreedom.in. Listen to her album, Rai, on Anushehanadil.com.

Also Read | Sounds of Freedom: Liberating symphonies

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