Tagore as dance music, ‘round the world

By now, almost all of you will have seen the video below, the third in a series where Matt Harding does a peculiar little jig in 69 scenic locations around the world. It’s one of the web’s most popular videos and for good reason; it’s both incredibly catchy and deeply moving. One friend I sent this to burst out crying, another decided to plan a 3 week trip to Latin America as a result.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

What you probably didn’t know is that the music being played is a poem by Tagore, set to music by Garry Schyman, and sung in sung in Bengali by 17 year old Palbasha Siddique (originally from Bangladesh, now living in MN). The music is a key part of the appeal of the videos, tying together the vignettes as neatly as the visual editing does. This is funny because the music was applied after the fact; at the time Matt was just dancing to the snapping of his own fingers.

The music has catapulted Siddique, who is still a senior in high school, into the spotlight:

At the moment, she is one of the most heard singers in the world…”It’s crazy,” said Siddique, who lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her mother and brother. “Right now it’s number one on amazon.com in the soundtrack [category], and number six overall, so that’s a really big accomplishment, because even ‘American Idol’ is number nine right now. I just never knew this would turn out so incredible. People are making ring tones out of it. Everyone on Facebook is adding me, and I had no idea there are so many Bengalis in our community, and they have all heard the song…” [Link]

Despite her young age, this isn’t her first recording. In fact, “she recorded her first CD when she was 7 and sang “God Bless America” before a Twins game when she was 11.”[Link] Her talents are the reason why she’s in the USA in the first place – she came to the country on a scholarship to the MacPhail Center for the Arts.

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p>She has also released a video with a Bangladeshi-American fusion band appositely named Melange. Their first video, “Maa” (what a good desi girl – the song is about mothers, not drugs or sex ) is below:

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To close the circle, this is the Tagore poem that is used as the lyrics for “Praan”, the song that accompanies Harding as he dances around the world. You can see why he thought it captured the sentiment behind his efforts perfectly:

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.[Link]

76 thoughts on “Tagore as dance music, ‘round the world

  1. color me entertained, as well.

    If it’s touching at all, it’s because the video (and maybe the music by the young brown aforementioned, too) make you believe that, regardless of how shitty we may all think the world is becoming, in 69 countries there are hordes of people who are happy to drop whatever the hell it is they were doing and dance like loons for a complete stranger.

    That they don’t know each other (maybe not within the individual crowds, and almost definitely not country to country), or Matt, only makes it better for the optimists who view it. And that the kid who made the music doesn’t know any of them makes it profound: you can make art inadvertantly, in groups. One person does this, another does that, and suddenly it’s something way bigger than anything any single person put together.

    I don’t think the implication is that he’s trying to change the world, either. I think he did it the way many of us blog or vlog or whatever: for the hell of it, for the fun of it, for some documentation of our impressions, for our audience, for our own egos, whatever.

    To the pessimists bemoaning the whole thing as “exploitative” (perhaps…but on the Exploitation Scale (which is logarithmic), this hardly registers at all), or “hippie-like” or whatever…well, I guess it’s fun somehow. But then again, I’ve had enough pictures taken of me without any regard to my recompense, so I must be totally soulless by now.

    I guess the only antidote is to turn on some old Motown. Maybe Marvin Gaye gonna save my soul. :-)

  2. I am still a little too cynical to believe that strong prejudices can go away quickly.

    That is where we differ. I don’t see them as strong prejudices. Or maybe I am guilty of the same prejudices, but while being brown and Indian–I have had similar thoughts and have asked the same questions with respect to overcrowding, pollution, power-cuts, cows, sanitation, heat, malaria medications, guys coming to Massachussetts, and yes, I am ashamed to say this, but even about aggressive beggars (this was when i was still living there; when I am only visiting I am more angry at myself for complicated reasons).

    My relationship to Gandhi has also not been uniformaly loyal–I have gone through periods where I joined the (Indian) band wagon and blamed him for all of India’s evils and failures. Finally, I think we can forgive somebody for attempting humor (I think that is what Matt was aiming at with the whole Gandhi letter angle) and even failing miserably at it.

  3. New York city has much of the same stuff too. It’s cleaner these days, but garbage piled up, stinking on the streets? Yes, NYC had that too, and not all that long ago. People just forget too quickly.

    There’s a quiet joy just in being photographed and knowing that someone elsewhere in the world will see that photo. You don’t have to see it yourself.

    I completely agree with this. Though when I encounter such kids, I wish I had a Polaroid with me. To think that these kids most likely don’t have a single photograph of themselves.. while they may be content with someone just taking their picture, I wish I could actually give them a copy :(

  4. Palbasha Siddique is my younger sister. We always thought our language, Bengali, sounded beautiful and now we have the whole world attesting it. Tagore’s writing is so full of heart, a century later, we still lilt his songs when friends get together in Bangladesh. I am honored my sister helped highlight his work before the world. For those who are looking for the translation or Bengali transliteration:

    Bhulbona ar shohojete (I won’t forget easily) Shei praan e mon uthbe mete (My heart is tuned to a life) Mrittu majhe dhaka ache (That is hidden under death) Je ontohin praan (Forever)

    Bojre tomar baje bashi (Your thunders are really flutes) She ki shohoj gaan (This song is not easy) Shei shurete jagbo ami (I will wake to this music) (Repeat 2X)

    Bojre tomar baje bashi She ki shohoj gaan Shei shurete jagbo ami Dao More shei kaan (Give me the ears for it)

    Shei jhor jeno shoi anonde (I weather this storm with glee) Chittobinar taare (Armed with the strings of my mind’s viola) Shopto-shindu dosh digonto (Seven seas and ten directions) Nachao je jhonkare! (Dance to the same music)

    Bojre tomar baje bashi She ki shohoj gaan Shei shurete jagbo ami (Repeat 3X)

    We enjoy your support in this. Palbasha’s lungs will be filled with the air you give. Greetings from Minneapolis. sushan01@gmail.com

  5. New York city has much of the same stuff too. It’s cleaner these days, but garbage piled up, stinking on the streets? Yes, NYC had that too, and not all that long ago. People just forget too quickly.

    I love these claims of equivalence. I grew up in India and love it, but screams of racism when somebody talks about the pervasive squalor reek of oversensitivity.

  6. Not really, #55. There’s no getting away from the fact that the streets of India are dirty. There is also no getting away from the fact that we are a poor country, there are millions of people in India who cannot afford toilets, and who live in the deepest squalor – not because they want to, but because they cannot afford anything better.

    I have also seen homeless people in NYC who live in their own filth. I feel sorry for them too.

    But I would not pick on any of them. Neither would I feel superior to them just because I am in a better place in life than they are..

  7. But I would not pick on any of them. Neither would I feel superior to them just because I am in a better place in life than they are..

    I think your oversensitivity is reading things that are not there in Matt’s posts. He seems to be a straight-up guy who says it as he sees it, and sometimes his attempts at humor go awry, but I definitely don’t read prejudice or malice into his comments.

  8. It’s a problem endemic to western culture, not just Matt. They look down upon us when they visit us

    Its not just westerners who are repulsed by the filth, chaos, misery of India. Poverty is not an acceptable excuse. There are other equally poor nations in the world including India’s neighbours like Sikkim, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan, which manage to avoid looking like open sewers or festering sores. Of course India deserves to be looked down upon.

  9. I didn’t read any prejudice/malice either, until I came to the end of his post where he concocts that Gandhi letter. Now, Gandhi is a symbol to many people of past greatness and some of the better things that India stands for – nonviolence, democracy and whatnot. Gandhi is not even relevant to the post. So what was that all about?

    Some of his readers thought the letter was real. He still never bothered to clarify that it wasn’t. Maybe it was a really bad attempt at humor. Or maybe not.

    Anyway, I am taking off now. Let the discussion continue, away from my opinions :)

  10. I have also seen homeless people in NYC who live in their own filth

    Its this kind of attitude that is responsible for India’s lack of will to clean house. Its obscene to equate the conditions in America to the hellish conditions in India.

  11. Its not just westerners who are repulsed by the filth, chaos, misery of India. Poverty is not an acceptable excuse. There are other equally poor nations in the world including India’s neighbours like Sikkim, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan, which manage to avoid looking like open sewers or festering sores. Of course India deserves to be looked down upon.
    Its this kind of attitude that is responsible for India’s lack of will to clean house. Its obscene to equate the conditions in America to the hellish conditions in India.

    Alright, the premathon begins.

  12. And the post on India is all one needs to read to know this man’s character.

    Who is the lower character: the one who sees inexcusable misery and challenges people to do something about it, or the one who sees it but for selfish reasons heartlessly ignores it?

    blame the citizens of a country for the ineptitude of their government – the hell if I’m taking a damned ounce of blame for ours.

    India is a democracy not a dictatorship. If the citizens of India have kept on electing corrupt and inept leaders for 60 years why shouldn’t they be blamed along with their political leaders, bureaucracy, media etc?

  13. First of all, a hearty welcome to Sushan. Even if she doesn’t get into the pop business(which takes some luck too) in a big way, there could be endless possibilities for soundtrack work in the movies.

    Back to the bickering over Matt. I read more of his diary. And I see that he insults even Christians. So this is a guy who is consistent. I share the same sense of humor(though not the same gift of writing) and I will make occasionally offensive statements not out of hatred, but to find some weird outlet for a combination of bemusement and frustration with the state of things.

    I don’t think it makes the power of the video any less valid.

  14. “Its not just westerners who are repulsed by the filth, chaos, misery of India. Poverty is not an acceptable excuse. There are other equally poor nations in the world including India’s neighbours like Sikkim, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan, which manage to avoid looking like open sewers or festering sores. Of course India deserves to be looked down upon.”

    Hey observer I’m just curious have you been to Pakistan or Nepal? They are just as filthy if not more than India. I don’t understand what this has to do with the topic though.

  15. I actually agree India needs to get better with the whole public defecation thing regardless of the poverty and it will take a joint effort where the richer people will be vested in what the poor people go through.

    And Observer, SIKKIM IS PART OF INDIA.

  16. Just another travelling idiot.

    Silly video, nice song.

    She has talent, he doesn’t.(Blogging and merging camcorder footage doesn’t count as talent. Hint hint!;)

    She has a future, he doesn’t.

    As for his, and others’, opinions about India, who cares?

    India is the way it is, and will change the way it wants to.

    If you don’t like it, go someplace else.

  17. I don’t know, I think the guy has some talent. There’s a very erudite review of the video at Obtusity, illuminating a broader message that might be behind this work.

  18. India is the way it is…….If you don’t like it, go someplace else.

    Its easy for indians like you to be cavalier and dismissive about the dehumanizing conditions in India when you yourself aren’t one of the hundreds of millions of indians who dont have the option to “go someplace else”. Typically selfish and callous desi mentality.

  19. I repeat:

    “India is the way it is, and will change the way it wants to.

    If you, the observer, don’t like it, you go someplace else.

    India knows about its problems, and is trying to improve, it doesn’t care much about holier-than-thou commentary.

    If you have something to contribute, show it on the ground.

  20. thank you for this wonderful piece. i certainly cried, and the song is beyond praise. how i wish we Indians would learn to love Tagore more. and get out of our petty parochialism. i am a Tamilian who lived for several years in Hyderabad and Pune. and i feel that it is very hard to find anything that can resonate across time/language/distance the way Tagore’s works do.

    thank you again

  21. Sushan Thanks for the transliteration. I searched high and low for this and was lucky to find your post. god bless

  22. This video made me cry – though I reckon it’s more because the song is beautifully imposed onto it. In itself it’s pretty goofy and cheesy and fun. It’s the music that really makes it touching. Check out the waves crashing over Matt just as the singer’s voice swells up into “Nachao je jhonkareeee”. Nicely done. Beautiful song, I hope this isn’t the last we see of Garry Schyman or Palbasha Siddique. And as a Bangladeshi, nice to see a Bengali song being enjoyed by millions. (Not contributing to Matt-bickering as haven’t read his comments.)

  23. i love the music but i think mat is very boring exhibitionist and his blog is nonsense. he is no one of any consequence.

  24. Hi PSR,

    I heard it for first time.. i like it… willd ecode the lyrics actaulyl proud to see .. hmmm :)

  25. I’m sorry to say but Sushan’s translation of the words, though meant to be literal are not. Most of it is alright but there are some glaring mistakes.

    “She ki shohoj gaan” means “It is an easy tune” and not the opposite.

    The chorus of “Bojre..” actually means “I hear the music of Your flute in the thunder; its tune is so beautifully simple. It is what I want to awake to.”

    The song is absolutely beautiful. And I love the concept of bringing people together through something as simple as a bad dance move and a moving song, whose words may or may not make sense to you :)