Bloomsburg to Bangladesh (Blue Buddha Records) is a self-titled album that showcases the collaboration of roots songwriter Jeremy dePrisco and Bangladeshi tabla player Ahm Mostafizur (Bulu) Rahman. Formed in 2003, Bloomsburg to Bangladesh has performed throughout Central PA and have been featured on WVIA’s Homegrown Music with George Graham (billed as Moonlight Masala with artist Tom Dennehy).
Bloomsburg to Bangladesh consists of 11 tracks of East/West fusion with anthemic lyrics and full arrangements, as well as some stripped-down acoustic instrumental music. Instrumentation includes guitars, flute, tabla, harmonium and tasteful use of sampling. Subject manner ranges from whaling to teen violence and fairy tales expressed through sometimes dark characters and situations. A tribute to songwriter Tom Waits is also given with Jeremy’s rendition of “Yesterday is Here.”
Jeremy’s third self-produced release, Bloomsburg to Bangladesh is truly a celebration of intercultural possibilities. Several students from the community and singer Nandini Sengupta contribute to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party song “Prothom Bangladesh.” Jeremy co-wrote one of the songs with lyricist Paul Rodericks from India.
After Cadillacs & Tarantulas I wanted the next CD from Blue Buddha Records to be more complex, and more produced (filled out instrumentally). I also knew that the next album would have an Asian feel, incorporating elements of the Indian music that I had been listening to for many years.
While I hesitate to use the term “world music” (see sidebar), I definitely saw myself moving in the world music direction. There is no specific date that served as the genesis of Bloomsburg to Bangladesh. Rather, a string of separate, loosely related events brought it together. Recording experiments in 2000-2002 proved I had the technology to pull off some of the things I wanted to do, even if I didn’t know players of various instruments originating from the subcontinent (tablas, sitar, mrudangam). In late 2002, I collected some fully-produced songs from earlier years and decided to tentatively title the collection “Sankhya” a sanskrit word that means “an attempt to explain the nature of all existence by dividing it into purusha (that which is unchanging), and prakrti (matter).”
Sankhya was going to feature several of the songs that eventually made it to Bloomsburg to Bangladesh (She’s A Zombie, Men At Sea, Mikey Might, Mangalam) as well as a few others that did not make the cut (Morning After, Children of Light, What’s Reality, Know All Things and I Saw the Face of Jesus in the Icecubes of My Drink). All of the songs involved some level of computer-aided production, whether it was drum samples or sound effects.
But as I thought about Sankyha, I wondered if the title (and at times, the whole album) would work. Fans and press had enough trouble with the word “Mandala” from my first album, often mistaking it for Mandela (as in Nelson from South Africa) or a host of other equally incorrect permutations (Mancala, Mandolla, etc). While I joke about this now, it is something that I hoped to avoid in the future, so I decided to stay away from obscure terms and references. Still, I still think of those songs in the context of Sankhya because they had a consistent production sound and darkness to them.
Computer problems in 2002 slowed down production on Sankhya. Then, my work with Bodó Band in 2003 put Sankhya on hold even further, and when I came back from our West Coast tour, I found that I no longer heard the Sankhya collection the same way. My interest in live acoustic instruments was at a peak, and I had become entrenched in a study of character writing (continued from C&T). I had become fascinated with the work of Tom Waits, so I wasn’t interested in sitting in front of the computer aligning drum tracks. Rather, I was doing more people watching and outlining for non-fiction writing. My post-Bodó Band intercultural exploration took me right into an exploration of Bangladesh through my friendship with Bulu and the local Bengali community. All of these experiences and interests tossed aside all pre-conceived images of how my work would come out on CD next time around.
Tablas have been my favorite percussion instrument since the first time I heard Zakir Hussain in the early 90’s. So finding a tabla player in Bloomsburg was a major stroke of luck. I felt so fortunate to be working with Bulu. As we’ve developed the act, we’ve tried many things. Recording live shows helped us develop an ear for what worked and what didn’t. The more shows that we did, the more requests we got for a CD, so we knew we’d have to put something together, even if we just made them ourselves. The live tapes weren’t usually production quality and had various problems (crowd noise, poor balance of instruments, etc.) so I turned toward a multitracking approach, starting with some of the songs from Sankhya. Throughout 2003 and Spring of 2004, Bulu was studying in the Master’s program at Bloomsburg University, so his time was quite limited.
By the end of the Spring, momentum for our project (and the offshoot Moonlight Masala with Tom Dennehy) had grown to the point where we knew we really needed to focus on putting something together. After doing C&T as a home-brew project, which saved some money, but took tremendous amounts of computer time, I knew my next CD would feature professionally designed artwork and that we’d have them pressed rather than do CDRs. As the summer approached, I began discussions with OasisCD manufacturing, and we secured the services of local photographer Marlin Wagner.
What we ended up with on Bloomsburg to Bangladesh is a collection of songs from various stages of my writing, as well as a cover and some Bengali songs. (See song notes for background on each song). For the central concept of the album, I wanted to keep some of the darkness of Sankhya, expanded by some instrumental and vocal pieces that would add contrast. This involved some rather difficult creative decisions, which included dropping an eight-minute opus based on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (The Morning After) which I hope to release at a later date, possibly as a single.
Collaboration was central to Bloomsburg to Bangladesh, not only in the writing of She’s a Zombie with Indian lyricist Paul Rodericks, but also in the recording process. Bulu’s insight into what makes a good album or song arrangement were at times brilliant, and helped me craft something that we could both be happy with. In one case we were down to the wire trying to finish the CD, and one suggestion from Bulu made all the difference and even helped me solve on of the technical limitations of my project studio. Working with Nandini Sengupta and the chorus of students on “Prothom Bangladesh” was also a tremendous experience that helped me build on my interests as amateur ethnomusicologist. The acceptance from and support of the Bengali community in Bloomsburg is tremendous, and we thank them for their support.
I see myself developing a cycle of sparse instrumentation on one album, then more complex production on the next. It’s possible this pattern will continue, since once again I am interested in minimalist works and character-based writing. As before however, there’s no way to tell exactly where things will go. Bulu has done such a good job assimilating his talents with mine, and exploring US culture. I look forward to getting to Bangladesh sometime so that I can share the experience to bring this project full circle, from Banlgadesh back to Bloomsburg.
*World Music – a sometimes loaded term that can be interpreted as referring to any non-Western music. The term is often used in relation to non-mainstream music or music that is not considered part of “popular culture” but rather traditional, ethnic, or indigenous. Use of the term is not looked upon with favor by some ethnomusicologists because it serves to continue the perception that Western music is the main (or only) reference point we have for looking at other music. In the United States, “world music” is largely used as a catch-all marketing category for sales and doesn’t always reflect the true nature of the music. Ironically, within the US we have a number of music types which are themselves part of the “world music” landscape: Blues, Zydeco, Cajun, Appalachian, Bluegrass, etc. In the end, all music can be viewed as “world music” because we’re all part of a single world. So instead of using “world” do describe something, it is better to use the actual region of the world and local music name, such as Hindustani (from Northern Indian) or Cuban son.