Bhatiali – Music of the River Communities

What makes folk music different to other forms of music is the fact that its sound has not been influenced by modern or classical music. Folk songs have been performed by rural communities and have been produced by the spontaneous outpouring of expressions and emotions. They are songs that tell the tales of daily difficulties and joys experienced by the tribe or community. Bhatiali folk music in Bangladesh is the music of the fishermen and communities that live along the rivers of Bangladesh.

Folk music is sung in a simple tune and is often in the local dialect of the particular region. Some forms of folk music concentrate on the festivals, others on life. Still others, such as Bhatiali, convey descriptions of the beauty of nature, the rivers and their wonders. The boatmen of the East of Bengal composed much of the traditional Bhatiali folk music, as they spent much of their time in their boats on the rivers longing for their families and finding inspiration on the waterways of Bangladesh. Many communities live in boathouses on the rivers and also use the rivers as transportation, thus the waterways are an integral feature of their lives.

Based upon their lives on the water and the daily struggles of their families, the boatmen composed songs that told of the supernatural, the poverty suffered, beauty found along the river beds, and in some songs, situations of love and loss have been hidden in the descriptions of boats, flowing water and the lonely boatmen of the rivers. But as new boatmen take to the waters, new songs are added and compositions change, but the form of Bhatiali remains the same.

Some of the most celebrated composers of Bhatiali music include Jang Bahadur, Umed Ali, Miraz Ali, Jalal Khan, Ukil Munshi and Rashid Uddin. Most of these composers contributed to this music genre between the years 1930 to 1950. More recently, singers Bari Siddiki and Malay Ganguly brought Bhatiali to the modern population, as did Abbas Uddin, by popularizing some of his songs.

Bhatiali is a form of folk music in Bangladesh that brings the rivers and their communities to life. Through their beats and lyrics they share their hardships, victories, longings, love, the splendor of nature and their hope for the future. It is a part of the Bengali tradition, culture and life that opens windows to the past and present, and inspires people through song and music.