Folk Song

About Folk Song

The intrinsic appeal of a folk song resides in the simplicity of its rhythms and lyrics that express man’s basic desire to address the musical dimension of being while simultaneously attending to the chores of routine existence. All parts of India have a unique folk tradition rooting into respective history, immediate context and aspirations. Lok Geet- folk songs, are the mirror of the everyday life of the community. These songs reflect the culture, emotions, lifestyle, and history of each of these communities. Songs, poetry, and music are created and used in their various rituals of weddings, birth, death, and other social occasions. Folk song renditions strengthen the feeling of community bonding for those who participate and for an audience engender a rare sense of belonging and rooting.

The common feature of the folk songs of Indian regions is that they earnestly reflect the culture and history they stem from in very simple words and melodies and thereby this is also what distinguishes one folk tradition from another. For example, Punjabi folk songs are unique in the way they manifest the simple lifestyle of men tilling their fields and the spinning of yarn by the women on the ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel). Regions of Punjab have been historically involved in the making of thread and weaving of cloth and wool and songs revolving around these activities have been a part of the culture. Dharti (earth), hal (plow), savan (rainy season), Basant (spring), charkha, katna(spinning) are therefore the common mentions within these songs. Also the strong built of Punjabi men, their bravery and valor give them a special position in the law and order wings of the administration and the Indian armed forces. Consequentially many themes revolve around Thanedar (policeman), lambardar (officer), fauji (military-man). Youth and beauty of the women have been perennial subjects of poetry and music and from the lali (rose pink) of her cheeks, her sensuously draped dupatta (stole) and the shimmer of her long (nose ring) to the payjeb or jhanjhar (ankle chain with bells) find their way into the zestful renditions. Relationships with in-laws the fiery, headstrong character of the women and love, passion, separation are the other themes of these wonderful songs.  Tragic love stories that formulate popular Punjabi folk lore are sung of very commonly such as Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Punno, Soni-Mahiwal etc. What sets apart Punjabi folk music is also its quintessential instruments- the boom of the dhol (a drum) and the strains of the tumbi (a single stringed instrument usually played detuned) bring alive the feel of the region in a highly emotive fashion.  The Algoza, Matka, and Dholak give impart an upbeat Punjabi flavor which is enhanced by the incessant clapping by those present.

Boliyan, Mahiya and Tappe stand out within the genre of Punjabi Lok Geet (Folk music) owing to an exuberant, up surge of tempo and a loud, rhapsodic informality. There is a conversation, tease, avowals and even sexual overtones to the songs and the lyrics are never stringently structured, all that matters is the punch line and its rhyme with the others- though the whole may almost sound like a Limerick! Names of friends and relatives are put in into the verses and there is constant improvisation to include contemporary themes in this style that can range from the nonsensical to the poetic and even to the Sufi in the space of one composition.

The Jatt people deserve a special mention in the Punjabi folk setting. The Jatts are a historically significant community native to Punjab and the surrounding states of India. Their impact on the music of Punjab has been considerable and today it is difficult to distinguish Jatt folk music from Punjabi folk. The famous ‘Yamla Jatt Gharana’ is synonymous with the region and the affiliated artists are now celebrated and liked not only across India but at several locations around the world.

Another glaring example of Indian folk music is the music of Rajasthan that comprises of a variety of folk songs. From everyday events like a horse cart ride, a trip to the bazaar or the fun at the village fair, to the relationship of the groom to the bride’s sister, the enamoring beauty of the girl next door, the lover who has gone to a land far away in search of better job opportunities, the handsome and brave groom, historical tales of valor and conquest, the changing times where the mother-in-law is now fearful of the daughter-in-law and even devotional themes are sung of to the tunes of the Harmonium, Khanjari and Dholak. At times the Manjeera and Matka are used by certain groups and on some occasions the Bhapang- a rare single stringed percussion instrument is played as well. Both male and female singers participate in the singing and not infrequently there is impromptu dancing by little children or the women performers. Marwari folk songs are wonderful to listen to and are bold, humorous and immensely popular in the region. There is an upbeat and festive flavor to these songs that are rarely sung to a down tempo rhythm and always manifest the mood of tease, fun, and frolic. With one whiff of this oft heard rhythm, the feet start to beat and one is reminded of the sharp ways of the hip such music is danced to, not forgetting the punctuating whirls.


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