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 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.
Rabi 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 Bargarh.
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.