About Kali Dasgupta

Kali Dasgupta (1926 - 2005) is among the greatest singers and collectors of Eastern Indian folksongs. While a participant in left movements in the 1940s, he started collecting songs that captured the lives and labours of ordinary people.

In an interview late in 2000 he described his life to Mark Gregory:
I was born in a village, which is now in Bangladesh. In the village festival there is singing, so from my very childhood my ear was tuned to this kind of song....I joined this political movement very young age so I gave up my studies, and became a full time volunteer for the communist movement. In a way that gave me the chance to travel thoughout Bengal and other parts of India also.
I used to work for the trade unions, the sweepers union the tonga union. So during that time I came in contact with so many kinds of singer, folk singer, Tagore singer, all kinds of singers, theatre group singers. And there I realised that they dont sing folk song the way it should be sung. They just made it another variety of song.
My understanding at that time developed, that folk song is not just another variety of song. It's a commentary on the life of rural people, the people who live in rural areas. And in India, if you want to build any sort of cultural movement, these are at least eighty percent of people. That is folk. And all the tribal songs. And in India we have fourteen languages, officially recognised, and hundreds of dialects, knocking the door to be recognised as languages.
I concentrated on this music, and then I found that with the harmonium all the tones become very flat, but folk song has a different quality, this travelling note, in Indian they call it sruti. That note, sruti, you cannot write down, it's less than half a note. But between the half and another half if you take your nail on the string you get so many sounds. So that's what we call travelling note. Slide, glide. All the notes touching. Folk song it uses very much. The harmonium has a fixed note .... I found that this folk instrument is necessary, not the harmonium that the city people use. So I picked up this instrument (a gut stringed Dotara) also Ectara Lauwyia. The gourd, the bamboo slat with one string.
We had at that time The Folklore Institute, and the secretary of the Folklore Institute he wrote me a letter that they were going to publish an anthology asking me to contact Ewan MacColl and get a contribution from him. That's why I tried to find Ewan, so I phoned him at his home in Beckenham, Kent.

He said "come along, you'll eat with us" Ewan's practice is that everybody goes to his house. Ewan was very aware and we had a long discussion about Indian politics and he knew quite a lot of people from India, people I also knew. There he said "You can come to our club"

I didn't have any idea about revival movement or so many folk clubs in England. No idea. So one day I went to the Singers Club. I liked the place, informal, everbody singing there. Actually one day I was enthusiastic and I offerered myself "I want to give you a song" I sang a boatman's song and it was so appreciated that I sang two songs. And after two or three days Peggy telephoned me "Kali you never told us that you are a performer" "I'm not a performer so I didn't feel to tell you anything". Ewan said "So OK come on Saturday we shall be there that day" So that day I had to sing three songs and that day I took the lauwyir (Ektara Lauwyia) gourd, that day I sang three songs. And then they gave me a booking, so that's when I first started - five pounds.

Peggy said "Kali you send me your biodata". I didn't send anything so she telephoned me "Look what biodata I can send you? I did some organising for this festival, as a volunteer of the communist movement. I was never a singer". "Oh don't be silly, I'll ask you on the telephone, Where were you born? What did you father used to do?" This way she made out a wonderful write up for "New Faces". I lost that copy, I had one but I lost it. Then, you know in England there are about eighty clubs, then the ball starts rolling. I started getting bookings. And I made so many friends there.
For more about Kali visit his website at http://kalidasgupta.com/

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