When Pete Seeger sang ‘Raghupati Raghav ‘
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]oulful renditions of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, a jugalbandi with Bengali ballader Kabir Suman, and singing the unforgettable Tagore song “Purano See Diner Kotha”, are among the magic moments folk music legend Pete Seeger has given Indian music buffs during his concerts here.Seeger, 94, died at a US hospital Monday.
The singer who made “We shall overcome” a global anthem, first visited the city in 1963 and his performances especially his Raghupati Raghav rendition left the audience spellbound.
Seeger later told an interviewer that he felt overwhelmed then when he heard the Bengali translation of “We Shall Overcome” in a little village. He said he was was spotted by a man familiar with his music. “I visited a tiny little village and a man recognized me,” he recalled three years back. “He ran and got his 5-year-old daughter and the two of them sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ in the Bengali language.”Seeger returned to the metropolis in 1996 for two concerts at Nazrul Mancha and Kalamandir.
While people took to social networking sites reminiscing their rendezvous with Seeger, singer Suman, then known as Suman Chatterjee, expressed deep anguish and regret at the “obliteration” of history which he created in 1996, sharing the stage with the man whom he befriended in 1983 in the US.
“Our jugalbandi would have been a cause of celebration in any civilized society. But it was not to be. People at the helm then, ensured this piece of history was never created. No video or audio record of our show was made, neither there was media coverage. A history which an Indian singer had created was sent into oblivion,” Suman, now a parliamentarian, told IANS. “Barring one or two photos, there is nothing to prove that an Indian, a singer from our very own Kolkata, shared stage with a man revered all over the globe. It’s a tragedy,” said Suman who performed alongside the legend at both Nazrul Mancha and Kalamandir.
Among the three songs that they played together at Nazrul Mancha was the “Purano Sei Diner Kotha” which Suman had taught Seeger.
Suman said the jugalbandi show at Kalamandir show was “wonderful”. “Pete and I traded songs and sang duets,” he said.
“In one of my songs Pete picked up his banjo and played along while in one of his songs he wanted me to play my guitar as an interlude. I still remember his passionate voice yelling at me, ‘Suman, come play your guitar’,” the parliamentarian said in his blog.
Famed Bengali poet Arun Mitra, who watched Seeger perform in 1996, had profusely praised his show. “This was my first encounter with his singing and I travelled in a land of dreams realized as long as his words and his melodies reverberated in me. Pete Seeger’s music does not charm his listeners, it awakens them, it urges them to look at their world and the people in it,” Mitra had written in a Bengali magazine “Desh” about the Nazrul Mancha concert.
Among the song offerings were “John Henry the railroad worker”, “Guantanamera” and “We shall overcome”.
Later, Rabindra Bharati University invited Seeger for an unscheduled show.
By Anurag Dey