For the Sake of the Song

01 May 2011
The legendary Baul poet-singer Nabani Das Baul, whose songs were a principal source of inspiration for Rabindranath Tagore.

BY SEPTEMBER 1967, the mela that brought 100,000 flower children, blissed-out hippies and curiosity-seekers from all over America to San Francisco had come to a close. Someone, however, was reluctant to admit that the 'Summer of Love' was over; for two weeks storefronts in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood sprouted psychedelic posters announcing the arrival of yet another musical sensation. The LDM Spiritual Band, a five-member troupe of folk musicians from India, commonly known as Bauls, was coming to America on a seven-month concert tour.

On 14 September 1967 the band performed at Fillmore West. They had actually been expected a week earlier, having been billed as the opening act for The Byrds, but they arrived three days late, and unknowingly missed their own debut. When they didn't show, Albert Grossman, the man who had brought them to California, flew back to New York.

Grossman was a powerhouse on the exploding folk rock scene, spearheaded by his star clients Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary. But he was also a patient man where his artists were concerned (he had just signed the very high maintenance blues singer Janis Joplin). If he was disappointed at the band's failure to appear as scheduled, he was still sold on the prospects of Bengali folk music in America. Since everything Grossman touched seemed to turn gold, it hadn't taken too much convincing for Elektra Records to agree to pay the plane fares from Calcutta and underwrite a recording session.

Deborah Baker is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. She is the author of In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, A Blue Hand: The Beats in India and The Convert: A Fable of Islam and America.

Keywords: West Bengal Bauls Bob Dylan Sally Grossman Asoke Fakir Allen Ginsberg folk music