In Bangladesh a group musicians sing songs based on a tradition in Islam that emphasizes tolerance, love and mysticism. The Dust of His Feet brings us into their world with an intimate portrait of two of these musicians.
Matal Rajjak Dewan was an eccentric poet and singer who intrigued me the first and only time I saw him perform. When I returned to Bangladesh a year and a half later he was dead and his grave was a kind of shrine. Surprised, I set out to find out more and talked to his family, fans and, most of all, to his ardent student, the charismatic singer, Abdul Hai Dewan. For Abdul Hai, Matal Rajjak is more than just a teacher. “Nobody likes my songs,” he says unless Matal mixes in my soul and sings.” But Matal Rajjak is a puzzling figure who is described in many ways, a man who gave away all his money to beggars but who also beat people.
Both singers perform a kind of folk music based mainly on spiritual themes. Although they are Muslim, they are respectful to other religions and even use Hindu references in their songs. Called Bauls or a mix of Bauls and Sufis, they perform at fairs and shrines and in song debates that go on all night, performances that bring people together to learn and share their sorrow and joy.