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Monday, June 1, 2015
The Keeper of Folk Sound Garden
By Diana Sahu Odia folk dancer Rabi Ratan Sahu, 34, is drumming up the much-awaited
awareness on Odia musical instruments through a thrilling and
innovative installation. The installation ‘Music Tree’ was at the Dying
Folk Art Festival of Odisha held at Bhubaneswar recently. Rabi is
rekindling people’s interest in the fading folk musical instruments and
bringing them to the mainstream. Many of these have either become
extinct or are on the verge of extinction. Rabi feels that if the
musical instruments are treated like ancient artefacts in a museum, they
will gradually fade away.
Rabi Ratan Sahu with his Music Tree on the premises of Rabindra Mandap in Bhubaneswar
Rabi has always been fascinated by the
sights and sounds of folk musical instruments and now wants to preserve
them. Having started his journey into the genre eight years ago with a
research on folk art traditions of Odisha from the Guru Kelucharan
Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre, Rabi has collected some of the rare
traditional and folk musical instruments from the four corners of Odisha
in the last three years. Many of the instruments in his collection are
not seen widely today.
He exhibited a part of his treasure trove
at the 5th Lok Badya and Lok Nrutya Mahotsav hosted recently by the
Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi at Utkal Mandap in Bhubaneswar. It was an
innovative display. Rabi used a tree to hang the musical instruments.
The ‘Music Tree’ attracted culture connoisseurs in hordes. The
14-foot-high tree made of Plaster of Paris, coir, bamboo and ropes, had
no leaves. Musical instruments like Bhalu Bansi, Brahma Beena, Birtia,
Dhanakoila, Banam and Singha—intrinsic part of Odisha’s tribal folk
tradition—were hung from the branches.
Rabi commissioned the
installation as a part of his collaboration with the Sangeet Natak
Akademi to create awareness about the waning folk music tradition. “The
Music Tree was showcased in Bhubaneswar for the second time. Had I
exhibited my collection at a stall, no one would have taken notice.
Hence, I thought of an innovative way to popularise these folk
instruments,” says Rabi. He will be showcasing the ‘Music Tree’ at
different festivals organised by the Culture Department of Odisha.
set up the Sambalpuri Folk Academy at Bargarh to preserve folk dance
and music after completing his research. He has collected over 50 rare
musical instruments so far. His search for these instruments has taken
him to remote pockets of Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Koraput, Ganjam,
Kandhamal, Nuapada, Sambalpur, Talcher, Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj and
According to Rabi, tribal communities of Odisha have folk
songs for every occasion—from child birth to new season, rains, crops
and even death. The songs are accompanied by musical instruments that
are preserved by senior members of the tribal communities. During his
journey in the state, Rabi came across many forms of music that are not
passed on from one community to another.
Some of the tribal
musicians are old and their music is at the risk of dying out. “These
forms of music need support of connoisseurs and government to survive,”
he says. His next project is an audio-visual presentation of folk
music instruments in ‘Music Tree’. Rabi is also creating a 20-foot-high
‘Music Ganesh’ which will be decorated with different musical
instruments. Bringing these folk musical instruments to the mainstream,
Rabi has also proposed to set up a Music Tree in Indira Gandhi National
Centre for the Arts in Delhi to highlight Odisha’s folk music.