Why it’s great to travel with music

Last winter, I travelled with a friend and my harp through various West Bengali villages. In one particularly remote tribal village, where the evenings were quiet and dark, we asked the man at a chai stall if he could introduce us to any musicians. I thought it might be interesting to hear the local sounds, and maybe have a jam. He promised to make some enquiries. Half an hour later, a young man arrived on a bicycle, introducing himself as a musical agent. “How many do you want?” he asked us.

I hadn’t realised we had to order by the half dozen.  “Five? six?”, I hazarded.

“I’ll get you ten for 700 rupees” he responded (this was all being translated through my friend who is fluent in Bengali)

“Done”, I said (700 rupees is about £10)

Two hours later, eating our dinner on the small verandah of our ‘eco hut’, we heard the approach of a crowd of people. There was chattering, laughter, and music emerging from the gloom. As we watched, some twenty or thirty people filed through the gate into our compound. A sinewy middle aged man shinned up a tree and connected a light bulb to an overhanging cable. The space was illuminated, and the party began. There was dancing, drum beating, singing and enthusiastic invitations for us to join in.

Hidden from the glare of the light bulb,  in a corner of the compound, a group of nine girls began to change from their different coloured saris into a red and white uniform. I caught this glimpse of their dressing room.

When they were ready they put on a performance for us all.

The party went on until past midnight, with little fires being lit all over the compound, and my friend (understanding the way these things work) handing out rupees liberally to keep the musicians playing and the dancers dancing. There must have been around fifty people at the party. I played my harp to the crowd until someone more entertaining took over.

After a while, someone decided it was time to go home. Everyone pressed their hands together and thanked us for commissioning the party, and filed off back to the neighbouring village.

Music, I decided, is the very best way of meeting people.