Baba Betar: Art radio and innovative sound archives
Baba Betar, a contemporary art and sound archive radio station, began its journey in March 2020, when the entire country was shut down due to the pandemic. It airs daily from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. during this year’s “Chobi Mela”, on the festival site. Tomorrow (February 16) will be celebrated as “Baba Betar Day” at the event.
Baba Betar has found its place at âChobi Melaâ, with its innovative and unique ideas. “People had to be socially united, but physically distant during the closure. We planned to think about the pandemic from a holistic point of view,” shares Arfun Ahmed, the initiator and facilitator of Baba Betar. “We have sought to portray the pandemic from different perspectives, so that we can understand its true role.”
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Various critical essays and poems regarding the reasons for the pandemic, its economic and political aspects, the goal of declaring a state of emergency on a global scale and its impact on Bangladesh have been discussed daily on Baba Betar. Often, specific translated pieces were presented, including “Scherzi del Caldo” by Alberto Moravia, “Hot Weather Jokes”, translated by Biplob Akand, and “Heavenly Christmas Tree” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated by Abir Shome among others.
At this year’s âChobi Melaâ Baba Betar includes works in different languages, such as Bengali, English, Nepali, Hindi, Chakma and Akani, among others. He partnered with several other sound archive projects, broadcasting their stories and organizing audio episodes that were archived. Other Baba Betar programs include contemporary music and sound projects, accompanied by collaborative audio episodes, audio documentaries, and readings by contemporary poets and authors.
Baba Betar’s programs also include a documentary on the musical excerpt, “A Mandolin in Exile” by Rafiqul Anwar Russell, audio essay, “Word Warriors”, audio episode, “Bhasa mwa sa jati mwai” (if the language is alive then the race will live longer) by Nepalese artist Sujan Dhangal, a storytelling reading, “Tara Bibir Morod Pola”, by Akhtaruzzaman Ellius and another storytelling reading, “Folk Tales of Bangladesh” by Jasim Uddin, among others .
On February 13, the audio essay “Songs Grow Out of the Land” by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik was released. A 66-minute audio essay on “The Traveling Archive”, an archive of Bengal field recordings, written and presented by Bhowmik, was also featured. In this essay, she remembers people and places by listening to the voices of the past and continuing her travels in and around Bengal. The voices were from the “Chobi Mela X” team, Hawaii Mithai (Cotton Candy) vendors and others in the Lake Dhanmondi tea stall area. They were recorded by Bhowmik herself. This was among the many other creative programs offered by Baba Betar.
“One of our main goals is contemporary sound archiving, which includes sound recordings, recitation, literature, sound art or any other tune or sound experiment,” shares Arfun, a photography graduate from Pathshala, whose the work leans towards literature and words that travel. “I have worked with different mediums as a freelance artist, and this is my first experience with radio.”
Most of Baba Betar’s audio productions are text dependent. In the future, he will expand his work on profiling authors and poets, to focus more on literature.
Arfun explains that Baba Betar’s website is currently under development, with plans to provide people with access to the sounds. âThere is no sound archive in Bangladesh, and we want to preserve these sounds and discover treasures, like sounds from the 90s, 80s and many others,â he concludes.