Various Artists

Bangladesh: The Garo of the Madhupur Forest

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The Garo are one of India's oldest indigenous tribes, who resided for centuries in the Madhupur Forest in central Bangladesh. The Garo are a combination of Tibetan and Burmese people who migrated to the forest seeking farming opportunities nearly 1,000 years ago. The music on this disc represents what is left of the Garo in the forest and their ceremonial music. They have relocated by increasing population and territory wars to a southern part of the region that has both lowlands and highlands. The lowlands are used for cultivating rice and cotton and the highlands for fruits and vegetables. There are about 11,000 Garo still living in the Madhupur Forest, and another 50,000 in Bangladesh proper. The music found here, on Bangladesh: The Garo of the Madhupur Forest is highly ritualistic of both healing and harvesting festivals, as well as funeral laments. What is heard here are the expressions of the last remaining practitioners of the old Garo religion, the songsarek. Most of the Garo have been Christianized as a result of the efforts of Protestant and Catholic missionaries, beginning in the 19th century. Musical instruments are primarily primitive horns and brass gongs, and the gambari and dama drums. Gongs are thought to be of primary importance because they are expensive and the Garo have to trade for them. Quality varies, and therefore, so does prestige. The disc opens with a songsarek priest making offerings to the gods Saljong and Sushumi: spirits of the forest who provide healing to the sick. The four pieces have the priest singing praises to the spirits, blessing his offerings to them, entering the sick man's house, and driving the evil spirits away. Also included here is "the Ajia," a ceremonial song that is related to how a particular family evolves and grows over time. There are dances here, as well as wedding songs, love songs, and poems. All of them are driven with the same country feel and in a deeply reverential manner. The music is hypnotic and has much in common with both Native American and Tibetan Buddhist chant, particularly in its sonorities. While the narratives are understandably impossible to follow, their percussive structure and call-and-response architecture make it easy on the ears and even entrancing in places, despite the fact that it's a field recording. Powerful medicine.

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