Chicago Folklore Ensemble’s upcoming album Praner Alap: Meeting of Hearts presents the songs of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, combining elements of Western classical, jazz, and Hindustani ragas, while maintaining reverence for the devotional lyrics steeped in a deep tradition. Vocalists Subhajit Sengupta and Swarnali Banerjee, who immigrated to Chicago from Kolkata, India, sing Tagore’s original melodies and lyrics, accompanied by sweeping strings, accordion harmonies, and a variety of traditional instruments. The songs are all from Tagore’s influential poetry collection Gitanjali. The album will be accompanied by a booklet with new translations of the Bengali lyrics and original artwork inspired by the songs.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was Bengali polymath and cultural icon whose vast body of work includes poetry, novels, dramas, essays, paintings, and over two thousand songs. In 1912, Tagore published a book of devotional poems called Gitanjali: Song Offerings, and the work was so impactful in Europe that he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Many of the poems in Gitanjali were originally lyrics of songs that Tagore composed, songs which are still known and beloved in Bengal today.
The album Praner Alap grew out of Chicago Folklore Ensemble’s live show Our Gitanjali: Song Offerings of Rabindranath Tagore, which premiered in 2018. Our Gitanjali was a two-hour performance that took audiences on a spiritual journal via Rabindranath Tagore’s music and poetry, intertwining Tagore’s exquisite verses with the music that brings the poetry its full emotional resonance. English language recitations of several poems from Gitanjali were paired with innovative arrangements of the original songs, sung in Bengali, plus improvisations in the songs’ corresponding ragas. Over the course of the show, the performers shared stories and personal experiences to illustrate the enduring power and relevance of Tagore’s legacy across cultures and continents.