We are Ochin Pakhi, "the Unknown Bird," and we play folk music from West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Our group is made up of Bengalis and American-born musicians and our lead singers are accompanied by traditional instruments like dotara, khamok and tabla as well as familiar acoustic instruments like violin and accordion.. Our sound is dynamic, upbeat, soulful, authentic, and engaging. Some different shows we can present: "Caste is Lost" social justice from the lens of Bengali village philosophers or Bauls; "Kwaja's Courtyard" songs of the Bengali Qawwali tradition; or "Amader Gitanjali, Our Song Offerings" a spiritual journey via Rabindranath Tagore's music and poetry.
In addition to a performance, we can give workshops or lectures. Percussionist Nathan Torrence can lead a percussion workshop, teaching audiences to play or clap south asian rhythms. For children, he can lead a workshop building Bengali folk instruments such as khamok and ektara out of common household materials, which kids can then take home with them. Dr. Molly Greening can give a lecture on "The Spirituality of Sound: frequency and folk music in West Bengal." Violinist Lucia Thomas can lead a workshop on Hindustani ragas and improvisation for any local musicians.
This show reel demonstrates the breadth of our repertoire and our adaptability to performance settings. The reel begins with our very recent performance in Annandale Virginia, a festival celebrating the philosopher, poet, composer and Bengali cultural icon Lalon Fakir (aka Lalon Shah) who is featured in the giant cardboard statues. The organizers requested a set list solely composed of repertoire by Lalon which we gladly delivered. Similarly, Chicago's South Asia Institute asked us to do a performance of songs from the mystical Qawwali tradition/genre. We learned an entirely new setlist of repertoire including a Qawwali arrangement in Persian Farsi by the poet Rumi. This famous arrangement we borrowed from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Pakistani musician who made the Qawwali genre world famous. The clip in a park was from a fundraiser we put on to provide relief for two cyclones that ravaged West Bengal during COVID. Our band works with Bengali locals to provide direct support to folks in need in West Bengal, particularly after climate disasters. Other clips show performances at the esteemed Old Town School of Folk Music, at a large Holi festival in Chicago's suburbs and in a professional quality music video.
This video is from an Ochin Pakhi performance on November 17, 2021 at the esteemed Old Town School of Folk Music for their "World Music Wednesday'' series. It shows 3 songs, firstly "Tor Kalachad Cholo Modhuray," a Baul/Vaishnava song about Radha and Krishna; then a song by modern Muslim/Fakir composer Shah Abdul Karim "Gan Gai Amar" which shows how our non-Bengali bandmates learned to sing in Bengali. Karim's song says I need nothing in my life but music! The last song, "Khachar Bhitor Ochin Pakhi" - "Inside the Cage is an Unknown Bird" - by Lalon Shah, features dancer Radia Ali and is where our band got its name.
Chicago Folklore Ensemble is a sister organization of Ochin Pakhi, with many of the same musicians. The listed website provides recordings of Chicago Folklore Ensemble's latest album "Praner Alap" which presents the of works by the Bengali poet/composer, Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore. By clicking on the music note symbol, you can see our original translations of the songs as well as original artwork made for this album. This album was born out of a multi-media show called Our Gitanjali.
Our Gitanjali is a two-hour performance that takes audiences on a spiritual journey 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 are paired with innovative arrangements of the Bengali songs, plus improvisations in the songs' corresponding ragas. Over the course of the show, the performers share stories and personal experiences to illustrate the enduring power and relevance of Tagore's legacy across cultures and continents.
The work samples provided display the range of our repertoire as well as the quality of performance we bring to our audience. Our group has learned many genres of Bengali music: Baul and Fakiri music, Bangla Qawwali, Bengali modern songs, Rabindrasangeet (songs by Rabindranath Tagore), Nazrulgeeti (songs by Kazi Nazrul Islam), and many more. Our shows are educational and meditative, uplifting and inspiring. The music we are drawn to illuminates reality and challenges audiences to think critically about our world, but also to return to love for oneself and for one's fellow humans. As there are so many paths to this goal, we have no intention of converting or convincing anyone of the philosophies or traditions we present. Rather, we see our performances as providing exposure to other ways of seeing the world and spirituality through very fun and beautiful music.
Ochin Pakhi is a Bengali phrase that means "Unknown Bird," which is often a metaphor for the heart. Our band sings folk songs of the Baul and Fakir, mystic minstrels from Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. Our lead vocalist, Subhajit Sengupta, started this group in 2017 with a few American-born friends. Over the years he taught the non-Bengali speakers to sing in Bengali as well as explained about the meaning of the songs. Many other musicians joined the band, some from Bangladesh and India. Every week we get together to play music and eat delicious food. Several of us have traveled to India to learn this music. Cellist Dr. Molly Greening did an independent study on Sufi/Fakir music in 2009. Dotara player and violinist Lucia Thomas completed two Fulbright fellowships in West Bengal in 2019 and 2022 on Baul music. The Baul/Fakir tradition has been designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Their philosophy opposes the caste system and religious segregation, it emphasizes the importance of women and respecting all humans. The goal of this practice is to know oneself. We sing and love these songs, but we are a non-religious group.
Our arrangements of these folk songs feature traditional Bengali instruments such as dotara, tabla, bansuri, and khamak as well as familiar instruments like violin, accordion and cello which creates a unique soundscape while preserving the soul and authenticity of this style. All the members have learned to sing choruses in Bengali, and we try to encourage our audiences to sing as well. The lyrics of our repertoire, which are recited in English before singing begins, encourage listeners to open their hearts and embrace all people, regardless of class, gender, race, or religion.
We aim to spread Bengali music and culture around the United States. Many people don't know about the incredible music, literature, art and cinema that has come out of Bengal, largely because it hasn't been translated into English. We try to make these rich and meaningful lyrics accessible with translations and discussions, as well as with irresistible grooves, soulful singing, and euphoric energy. Our goal is to bring people from diverse backgrounds together through music and to create a shared environment of mutual respect and love.
Traditional Folk/Ethnic Artform Statement
Ochin Pakhi plays folk music from West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Many performers in our ensemble were born in those countries and grew up hearing this music. Our non-Bengali US-born band members have learned about Bengali culture later in life. Playing this music as Ochin Pakhi has brought us very unlikely friends together to make music, but has also brought together our diverse communities. We sometimes play at Bengali festivals and venues where our American-born fans also attend in order to hear us play. They then get to experience being surrounded by South Asian immigrants, their languages, food, and dress, as well as their warm hospitality. We also play in folk or world-music festivals, churches etc, where our Bengali audience will come to hear us play. They too experience something new, which they probably wouldn't have been exposed to if we hadn't been playing there. We bring people together with diverse backgrounds and, following the lyrics of the Baul, encourage respect and love for all humans.
Within Chicagoland for 1 hour show: 400 - 2 person ensemble, 550 - 3 person ensemble, 1200 - full 7 person ensemble. Touring: Above rates, plus 25$ per person per hour of travel above an hour, there and back. Equipment: We can bring our own sound and run it for an additional $100. These rates are negotiable up to 15% discount if necessary.