Friday, June 14, 2024

Embracing Lalon’s message

In conversation with Shofi Mandal
Seasoned Lalon singer and teacher Shofi Mandal was born on December 13, 1953 at Daulatpur, Kushtia. His father, the late Maolana Ahad Ali Mandal, was a fourth generation (according to the ‘guru-shishya’ tradition) disciple of Fakir Lalon Shai. Shofi Mandal’s initiation in music happened at the age of eight. At 25, he went to Krishnanagar, West Bengal (India) where he learnt classical music under Sadhon Mukherjee for four years.
“Lalon Fakir popularised a preceptor- disciple oriented tradition; the core value of this is humanism. When I sing his verses, I feel as if Lalon himself is singing through me. I’m no more than a conduit. I mingle both folk and classical music styles in my rendition of ‘bhaab’ or ‘mahajani’ sangeet,” said Mandal.
“Folk brings classical music out of its cocoon. Music popular at the grassroots ultimately gave birth to ‘shastra’ — ‘sa’, ‘re’, ‘ga’, ‘ma’. Then came ‘bhaab’ (verbal interaction). Lalon lived what he had written in his lifetime,” added the artiste.
Under the banner of Call-er Gaan, the artiste’s lone album, titled “Lalon-er Desh-e”, was released in 1999. The album features popular Lalon songs including “Kanar Haat Bazar”, “Hawa Domey Dekho Taar” and more, and attained much popularity. Another album featuring ‘bhaab sangeet’ by the artiste is in the pipeline.
Mandal has performed Lalon’s songs in almost all corners of Bangladesh. He also interprets Lalon’s ‘tatwa’ (philosophy) during his performance. He has performed in England, Germany, Canada, Singapore and at Sufi Sammelan (convention) held in New Delhi and Kolkata in 2004 and 2011 respectively.
He has been an enlisted singer on Bangladesh Betar (Rajshahi centre) since 1983. He was enlisted on BTV in 2001, though he performs on almost all TV channels.
“I have a son and two daughters. My elder daughter Farzana Boby Lina is a lecturer of Bengali Literature at Daulatpur Degree College, Kushtia and enlisted as a Lalon singer on both Rajshahi Betar and BTV, while my son Mehedi Mandal is doing his masters in English Literature at Islamic University, Kushtia. He is also a Lalon researcher. My youngest daughter Shantona Mandal is an honours student at the department of music, Rajshahi University. We are a family of musicians,” said Shofi Mandal.
“Bangladeshi folk music boasts one of the most opulent heritages in Asia. Those who practise classical music spare little time on folk music. Much research work needs to be carried out with proper preserving system for further development of the genre,” asserted Mandal.
The artiste runs a music school called Bhabnagar Sangeet Ashram that was founded at Daulatpur, Kushtia in 1990. The school has a branch at Munsurabaad residential area, Adabor, Dhaka. His wife Zarina Mandal oversees the school in Dhaka.
“Many ustads are harsh with their disciples. It actually does more harm than good. No melody comes out without the prevalence of a friendly relationship between the preceptor and a disciple. Learning remains incomplete because of this,” Mandal said.
Many popular Lalon singers including Anusheh Anadil, Sumi [of Lalon band], Rinku, Beauty, Salma and Palash [who attained fame through the “Closeup 1” talent hunt] and “ATN Taroka” Selina Akhtar Chumki are his disciples.
“I am a Baul. My wife and I try to make sacrifices because of our values [Baulism],” Mandal pointed out.
“Almost 1000 published Lalon songs have been found. Of these, 100/150 songs are popularly rendered. I’m working on the less-familiar numbers so that I can popularise them among Lalon enthusiasts. My father often lived in seclusion — away from the society. He would teach me the essence of Lalon’s philosophy. I was then too young to grasp the ‘tatwa’. My mother Gaurovi Mandal loved music passionately and would inspire me to sing,” recalled the artiste.
Lalon’s philosophy, based on oral and textual traditions, was expressed in songs and musical compositions. The lyrics of his songs were explicitly meant to engage in philosophical discourses. He critically re-appropriated the various philosophical positions emanating from the conventional Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Islamic traditions — developing them into a coherent school of thought. His songs have attracted widespread attention for their mystical approach to humanism as well as their melodious tunes.

-With The Daily Star input

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