Today, I got a chance to meet an Odiya folk singer and legend, who I have longed to meet in person from my childhood. It was a function to felicitate Odiya Padmashree winners and celebrate Nuakhai. Nuakhai, or Nuankhai, is an agricultural festival mainly observed by people of Western Odisha in India. Nuakhai is observed to welcome the new rice of the season. Personally for me, it was also a tribute to Odisha’s folk culture.

Sadly, very few people know the original singers of Rangabati – Padmashree Dr Jitendra Haripal and Krishna Patel who hail from a tribal village of Odisha. I paid him my obiesance with a rather heavy heart . Folk singers struggle so much to keep our Odiya folk culture alive, that too, in very poor conditions.

The song Rangabati is an identity of the Odiya culture and a gem of India. We all might have heard many cover songs of Rangabati. The Coke Studio remix attempted it too, a few years back. They have definitely repackaged and created a new identity and further popularised the song on social media. With due respect to commercial remix makers, there is no match to the mula (root, in Odiya) creator team. All the more, when the original song defines the pulse of the state of Odisha.

Padmashree Dr. Jitendra Haripal is a beacon of a passionate art. He comes from a backward and very poor Dalit community. He taught himself the art while ploughing on the fields of Odisha as he helped his father, an agricultural labourer. An eminent personality once said of him, “His voice literally comes from the soil of Odisha.”

His story should inspire us to do the right things for the betterment of our respective folk culture, more so to protect their rights in a digital era. As we know, with digital reach and power comes responsibility… and humility should follow naturally. This becomes even more imperative when it comes to people coming from tribal belts with very little access to resources.

Photo courtesy: Manas Pattnaik

I was told that my point might raise a lot of dust, perhaps from the fans of cover singers. I believe the issue can be amicably addressed. Did the Coke Studio guys ever intend to give a chance to the original singers to come and sing on their podium? Especially, the contemporary Coke Studio singers, originally hailing from Odiya background and claiming to have grown up with this song!

Needless, to say a degree of discretion was expected from our national singers of repute who do the cover songs. It’s quite sad not many fans of those cover songs even think about it. These are the contemporary singers who are entrusted to setting high standards in arts. As educated Odiyas, they should have done their bit of research to give credits. It seems that, in the race to popularity and commercial windfall, our contemporary artists completely forget the right thing to do. It does happen to the best of people. Be that as it may, there are possible remedies that can help correct that.

As disciples eager to learn, it will be pleasant to see if Coke Studio team, led by the esteemed Odiya singers, invite Padmashree Dr. Jitendra Haripal  and fuse the song  with his permission. There is no shame in learning from the “Master” himself; rather, it’s a proud moment. That will be a graceful gesture of respect and might make amends to some degree. This will create precedence for other commercial re-mixers from flagrantly violating IPR (intellectual property rights). Notwithstanding, IPR is itself nascent in India as of now.

My earnest submission is to not use such legendary songs (jewels of India) so indiscreetly and loosely without express permission. As educated citizens we should respect copyright and not unabashedly dole out “after the fact” excuses. In legal parlance, this situation falls into the category of “prior art” and “copyright infringement” clause of intellectual property rights law. Quite a flagrant violation of law if used for commercial purposes even if unintentionally! There are many legal nuances but let’s work from a trust and moral conscientious level. Let’s keep it simple.

We should figure out something soon to create a “digital sanctuary” for Indian folk culture. While as an individual, I am happy to take the lead and do my bit alongside the government, but people reaching out to collaborate will be highly appreciated by all concerned.

Padmashree Dr. Jitendra Haripal is of the opinion that if there is no struggle, there is no experience. This is so relevant, especially, when we see that there is, indeed, no match to our true folk artists. And, in that capacity, they deserve a certain amount of respect; and, responsibility needs to be exercised by the entire food chain of re-mixers for commercial use. As educated Indians we owe it to our folk community. We will do well to remember that remixes come and go, true art is there to stay.

In conclusion, an earnest request to all the willing listeners – there is an urgent need to empower those who don’t know how to protect their art. They need  empathy, encouragement and education in order to avail the opportunity of digital medium rather than remain a bystander while others help themselves, commercially and otherwise, with their art, WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION.