The Army Stadium bore witness to another memorable night of folk music – from homegrown 'pala' to the exuberance of the Persian music, and the soul-soothing melodies from the Sahara deserts, on Saturday, as the third edition of the Dhaka International Folk Festival came to a close.
Aleya Begum and Shah Alam Sarkar, two veteran musicians of the grassroots took the stage together to begin the final day's proceedings, bringing an intense spiritual debate in the form of the 'pala'. Shah Alam Sarkar began his presentation with one of his most-recognisable song – “Gaan Gaisilo Khajay Jei Din”. He and Aleya Begum then took turns at diving into the Shariati and Marfati principles of Islamic Sufism, trying to flummox each other with riddles and counter-points. Interjecting songs between their debate, the two performed “Manush Roton Koro He Bhojon”, “Ami Korte Pari Nai Pita Mata'r Khedmot”, “Dubey Dekh Rup Sagore” before singing together in unison to symbolize that Shariat and Marfat are two branches of the same tree.
Shahnaz Beli, the other Bangladeshi artiste on the day's bill, took a much safer approach, deciding to perform crowd-pleasing popular numbers like Lalon's “Chatok Swobhab Na Hole” and “Korimona”, Shah Abdul Karim songs “Ailai Na Re Bondhu” and “Kon Mestori”, Hason Raja song 'Agun Lagaiya Dilo Kone” and an Abul Sarkar copmpsition “Tumi Jaiyo Na Bondhu Re”. Although the audience danced along with her performance, her musical arrangement heavily featuring the electric guitar, electric bass and drums was a little sore to the ears.
After a brief closing ceremony addressed by Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor, Sun Communications CEO Anjan Chowdhury and eminent singer-researcher Nashid Kamal, the surprise entry of the festival, Danish Ambassador and seasoned singer-guitarist Mikael Hemniti Winther took the stage for a brief but soulful set. Along with another diplomatic high-up - Australian Deputy High Commissioner Sally-Anne Vincent – and French pianist-composer Frank Hergott, he paid tribute to the recently-deceased Tom Petty with classics like “Learning to Fly” and “Mary Jane's Last Dance”, Eel's “Where I'm From”, Bob Marley's “No Woman, No Cry” and closed with “Seeing Dhaka”, a loving tribute Hemniti wrote for this city.
Iranian folk ensemble Rastak almost caught the laid-back audience off-guard with an outburst of energy and excitement, as the 10-member band dressed in bright outfits and an even brighter personality weaved melodies and beats that gave wind to the sails of the festival. With traditional Persian melodic instruments like the kamancheh, tar, oud, ghaychak, tar, dotar, the exquisite ney-anban and qanun, along with percussive instruments like the daf, tombak and darbuk, their infectious energy spread among the audience. Taking songs from the various regions of Iran and interpreting it in their own way, the band got the the audience involved in coordinated clapping and singing along -- in a completely alien language.