In today’s day and age when folk music is gasping for breath, trying to stay afloat, a band of like-minded musicians are trying their best to revive the genre and bring it back to the forefront, give it its due place in the world of music. And they are succeeding in their endeavour.
Project Folkswagon, a team of folk music aficionados have been visiting villages across India for over eight years, spending time with local artists, learning from them, picking up the tunes and dialects of the folk songs fo every region and incorporating them into their own creations — all as a part of their honest attempt to re-introduce folk music and get us appreciating once more some of the best tunes which is a reflection of our tradition, culture and heritage.
Team VibesMojo met the team of Project Folkswagon. Here are the edited excerpts from the exclusive interview:
What is Project Folkswagon?
Madhur Padwal: Project Folkswagon is about Indian folk music and a lot more. The lot more part is because we not only play music from almost each and every Indian state, we also sing the songs in their dialects. We also perform music from different continents of the world — their folk music, traditional music. We go places, search for folk artists, traditional artists, learn from them their music. Once we get back, we practice the music together.
How did Majuli Music Festival happen? How did Project Folkswagon land up in Assam’s Majuli?
Padwal: So, long back I had made an arrangement of the National Anthem using 29 instruments. I play more than 50 instruments. We all play multiple instruments. The arrangement went viral on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram. I have a lot of musician friends from Assam since I keep visiting this place to learn different folk forms of the state. So one of my friend, Nilotpan Bora introduced me to Mukul Doley, the main organiser of the Majuli Music festival. He liked our music and he has been following our music on different social platforms. Then we thought, well why not perform at the Majuli Music Festival.
“What we really wish to do from the bottom of our heart is study as much folk music as possible together and make it reachable to the masses.”
Padwal: Absolutely, we love Assamese folk music. That is the reason I have been coming here and I can’t even count how many times I’ve been here before this. I am from Maharashtra and my mother tongue is Marathi but will you be surprised if I sing an Assamese song right now?
Yeah, so we sing song in different languages,and the best part about Indian folk music is that it is so vast, it has got so many emotions, its powerful and each and every state has its own beautiful rhythm. It’s so much fun to learn from each of them. Moreover, this is how people connect with us more because if I sing a Bangla song, and there’s someone from that region, from West Bengal or Bangladesh who knows Bengali and Bangla songs, they would connect with us.
You incorporate traditional music to your songs, so how much time does it take to come up with just one song?
Padwal: So let me tell you, the best part about this is to be patient. Because it’s not just that you started yesterday or few months back. It’s a long process. Personally I have been working on this project for about eight years now. Then, others came on board and became part of Folkswagon. We then started jamming on whatever research I was doing. But if you ask me how much time does it take to probably arrange a song or compose a song? It’s completely with the flow. Like we could just sit here and do something right now.
When we get into the jam room or our music room we don’t really think or bother to think what we need to perform at the end. It’s just that we let ourselves flow musically. We will meet and we just pick up any instrument that comes to our hand from the music room and we’ll just start jamming. After that we’ll make songs and new arrangements and we just push it and people like it and then we make that into a song and then we perform more of it. So that is how the process goes. It’s like it’s really a blessing to be a musician. We have two types of office, one is the stage, and the other is off stage when we are practicing. We have so much fun while practicing, it is not only music, it’s about jokes, it’s pulling each others’ legs and a lot more fun. The positive vibes that come with us from the jam room helps us perform with the same energy and liveliness on stage as well.
Why do you think folk music which has so much history to it, seem to be fading away compared to mainstream music?
Padwal: Yeah, so this is exactly one reason that has kept us rooted to folk music, the realization that folk music is fading away with time. When we travel, meet folk artists they often complain that the next generation don’t really wish to get into this space. You see folk music happens when folks from a village, from a native place used to gather during a festive season, they will do some folk art, they will sing some songs to keep themselves entertained. Since they didn’t have any entertainment shows back then. So it has been happening from generation to generation, that is how the traditional musical forms continue. But now what I have realized, since technology has reached each and every corner of the country, we have cell phones in each and every house be it in the remote village, with internet connectivity, the kids have found a new source of entertainment. So the next generation really don’t bother to continue these art forms of musical forms or any other folk forms. Since they have entertainment shows to kill time.
Moreover, I would not completely blame it all on technology. We love each and every form of music. We sing jazz songs, we sing western songs, Latin songs, African songs, European songs, Arabian songs etc. We have gone there to learn all these forms. But the thing is, we don’t really say that EDM or hip hop is taking over. Its a form of music, it’s beautiful. But people are getting more attracted towards Western elements, which could be a positive or a negative, whatever, is probably making people to move away from the folk scene. Also we do not see much of the authentic folk sound anymore. There are programmed elements, electronic songs on that. So somewhere that is also resulting in the fading away of folk songs.
So what we really wish to do from the bottom of our heart is study as much folk music as is possible and make it accessible to the masses.