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April 30, 2004

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The Turbulent Evolution of
Bangla Rock

Faizul A Tanim

It was in the mid 60's that Bangla rock music listeners discovered the art of creating music, reflecting the tasteful tunes and sensuous lyrics in their song compositions that came alive with extreme emotions of pathos and joy.

It is hard to know precisely why some bands succeed and others fall short. For Bangladesh, it was a handful of self-taught musicians that got together to create original sounds and jump-started the rock scene like never before. Their efforts resulted in the birth of the 'Bangla Rock Scene'. Among the pioneering groups in the late '60s were iconic bands like Windy Side of Care (Ex-Iolites), The Lightnings, Rambling Stones, Ugly Phases and Insex Dui, they eventually became the veterans of band music. "It was during the late 60's, we would jam for hours every so often at the Intercontinental Hotel, now Sheraton. We would probably be paid around Rs. 750/- for a night's show where the entrance fee would be Rs. 5/-", remarked the ex-members Rafique Mazhar Islam Sajju and Rafi Omar of Windy Side of Care. That was more or less a common scenario.

Musicians of the earlier days of Bangla rock did not have the privilege of expensive instruments or sound systems, which the present rockers now take for granted. But a common element followed through most of the talented musicians of all the eras. They were all self-taught which brought out a raw energy and initiated original scores. But musicians now are blessed with more expensive and hi-tech instruments. Exclusive models of Ibanez, Fender Guitars, Dw, Tama Drums, Warwick, Mtd Bass, Korg and Kurzweil Keyboard along with Pod processor are the most prized possessions a band can own. The sound quality too has greatly improved.

Soon after our War of Liberation in 1971, Azam Khan, soon to become a legend in the rock scene, with Uchharon and the Akhand Brothers (Lucky and Happy) created the hype in the music industry with their straight-down-the-line magnetic songs around early and late 70's. Happy Akhand's Abar elo je shondha is a milestone and probably is one of the dearest songs ever produced. His premature death was a big blow to all the musicians who were influenced by Happy's passion for music and had now lost a pioneering figure of Bangla pop music.

Azam Khan the imaginative composer, the inspired musician and lanky bearded lyricist ignited something that caught the attention of plenty of listeners. A freedom fighter himself, his songs had a pathos never before heard with such uninhibited emotion. Obhimani, Ashi Ashi, Highcourt er Majare, Ami Jare Chaire, Orey Saleka, Jibone Kichu Pabona Re and many more of his outstanding compositions became instant hits. Even today, these songs are the ones that still keep the audiences on their toes.

He was the hero of the 70's making his music speak the universal language of bringing one's inner feelings to life with tunes. His contemporaries included great icons such as late Firoze Shai, Ferdaus Wahid and Fakir Alamgir. Firoze Shai, like the traditional mystic Sufi singers, spoke of the relation between Allah and Allah's creations. Ek seconder nai bhorosha was one of those spiritual and emotional songs. Ironically he died just after performing this song onstage. Ferdaus Wahid was the most dazzling of the quartet. With his funky printed shirts, bell bottom trousers and large sunglasses, he brought in a disco element to his songs. The long and curly-haired Fakir Alamgir used to sway his head left-right while rocking to songs. One of the slower numbers still remains a memorable composiO sokhina gesos kination. They blended our traditional folk music with various Western forms and gave Bangla pop-rock a new face.

Even the song lyrics went through a revolution. For the first time in Bangla rock, lyrics started to have their own appeal. It started off with Azam Khan with socio-political songs like Orey saleka orey maleka. The lyricists spoke of love, discontent and frustration in their own way. Around the 1990's Feedback had upbeat lyrics like Bashonti rong shari porey lolona ra hetey jai… Melai jaire. Later it took great courage for Maqsoodul Huq to write about political fiasco in Bangabda 1400 and later in the Nishidhho album. One could feel the thirst for truth, even in rock songs. James of NagarBaul around the 90's brought about a transformation with his entrancing Taray taray rotiye debo and Je poth e pothik nei… ak glass jochona ar ak glass ondhokar. Then around early 2000 Aurthohin and Artcell's deep dark lyric would release a lot of energy. Odekha Shorgo and Mrittur shohore was yet another revolutionary change for the different style of lyric.

The first set of bands to follow after '71 were Souls, Miles, Feedback, Feelings (now known as Nagar Baul) and then Waves. Emerging around the late 70's, they would also perform gigs at hotels and clubs. Although Waves and Miles were more underground, Souls was perking up to be a mainstreamer and soon got themselves a record deal. Their first album in 1982 was an immediate success, soon making them much admired all over the country. Not only were they popular for over a decade, but also served to launch popular artists like Ayub Bachhu ( who later created LRB) and solo pop performers Tapan Choudhury and Kumar Biswajit. Many new bands formed as well when Souls split up. This was the time when band solo albums were taking over conventional single artiste compilation. By early '82, Miles would soon follow that track and release their first compilation. That set the example; bands were getting more promotional ventures through the audiovisual medium, they could be seen in TV programmes and rapidly encouraged music admirers all over the nation to visualise music as a performing art. Feedback absolutely ruled the ’80s era with their album Ullash.
Then, around the mid '80s, musicians from Chittagong and Dhaka started creating new waves in the field of band music giving birth to a new genre of music termed as 'mellow pop/rock' fused with a lot of jazz, blues and black western influences. They also followed a lot of Caribbean style of music calling themselves Renaissance, meaning 'rebirth'. Fresh vibes of compositions started blending into the scene.

As tastes in music became more diverse, it was at the rim of mid ’80s, late ’80s and the early ’90s, when heavy metal and hard rock became the up-to-the-minute element. Sumon of Aurthohin best describes the era of metal music: “It was around 1986 when there was no other mainstream band other than Miles presenting hard rock in Dhaka. One fine day my elder brother came home and announced that there was a band, which was performing songs of Iron Maiden. It was very difficult to believe. But then I witnessed it myself in the next concert.It was mind blowing to see them covering several numbers of Iron Maiden and they did very well indeed! The band was called Rock Strata followed by another big gun Warfaze. Those were the top metal bands along with In Dhaka, Aces and Sweet Venom. The venues for such events would be Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon Ballroom, Engineering Institute Auditorium, Shishu Academy and many more. All the tickets used to be sold-out and it was then that we realised that the good days had started for us. In one such concert, the guitarist for Sweet Venom--Ditio, was playing You Shook Me All Night Long of AC/DC and as the song streamed into the guitar solo part, he took his guitar on his shoulder, playing the lead in that position. It was amazing! For the first time in Bangladesh, we saw this kind of rock stunt. That was the golden era of heavy metal music. We used to enjoy the songs of Metallica, Megadeth, Malmstein and Helloween in the gigs.” Soon, the heavy metal bands were getting record deals and the idea of a 'mixed album' was a high tide for rock.

The early ’90s proved to be a blast for the heavy metal scene. “Mixed album Hooray was back then a huge inspiration and boost for many celebrated bands from today”, remarked Shakib of Cryptic Fate. Followed by mega-hit albums of Warfaze and Rock Strata, the scene could not get any better. Record label Sargam made the first move initiating the first array of metal albums. If it was not Sargam helping them, maybe it would have taken ages for the present scene to flourish with full potential. They led the way in fusing something new into existing traditional band music culture. Around that time there were whispers of another band doing heavy melody -influenced rock songs that had that larger than life sound, later resulting in to two consecutive hit albums. Winning was the name on everyone's lips as long as their music was alive. However, their road to fame was stalled as the members of these pioneering rock groups left for abroad for higher studies. Suddenly all the bands broke up. But by then the pioneers had already inspired those remaining in the country and soon new groups like Rock Phantom and Rock Brigade arrived. Eventually both Brigade and Phantom also broke up. The scene went into hibernation.


It was from mid ’80s to early ’90s that hard rock started getting immensely popular. With the likes of LRB, Feelings and Ark, the definition of rock became more versatile to the listeners. The primary cause of this, aside from the likes of Ayub Bacchu and James releasing their first solo albums, was the popularity of Feedback's album Mela. Everywhere one went in the troubled years of 1991-2, one would hear Maqsoodul Huq's immortal refrain: "Bashonti rong shari pore lolonara hete jaye". While Feelings were fusing rock with a psychedelic blues progression, Feedback, LRB and Ark were more into mainstream pop/rock. At that juncture as well, their music became instant hits giving superb audible pleasure. The release of Miles, Feedback, LRB gave tremendous hit albums wowing the audiences. One could easily experience the impact of Chad tara, Dorodia by Miles; Moushumi1&2, Majhi by Feedback and heavy metal songs like Ekti cheley. They were a bit later followed by Madhobi by LRB and around mid ’90s by the sudden title changes, Jail thekey bolchi--the songs became instant hits. Playing them during national holidays and after Eid Namaz congregations just portrayed the immense popularity of these mind-blowing songs.

Stylishly longhaired James--overwhelmingly known as the Nagar Baul (the City Bard), was the pioneer of psychedelic rock in our scene. Originally a lead singer and guitarist, he has always been respected for his solo projects. His prence in rock music has been prolonged; his influence on those of successive generations has been profound. Something fresh was there--the audience could feel it. He became affectionately called Guru by his innumerable fans. His tunes were bright and his singing a divergence from the archetypal tunes preferred by the commercial-type directors. His songs expressed love, rage, discontent, frustration and happiness. Although debuted around 1981, it was in ’94, with Jail thekey bolchi album and later two songs from the mixed album Shakti that depicted one of the most versatile vocalists of our generation--he started growing to be the second Guru, after Azam Khan, of today.

Formed in 1990, it has been almost 14 years since LRB captured music headlines in our country's media. Ayub Bachhu mastered the art of assembling catchy tunes and released a huge array of hit albums within short durations. Bringing out a double album as a debut band around mid '92 was not only brave but gave rise to numerous hit songs.

He is now prized with the status of "one of the best guitarists of Bangladesh". Although his music was pure magnetism around the early and mid ’90s, the icon now, seemed to be drifting from less original rock and more commercial music. Due to music being his sole resource of earning, he tried to emphasise on what common people wanted although his roots belonged to rock. LRB is the first ever band group to play one of the most exclusive UNPLUGGED concerts live in a city restaurant. As the gig was a hit, the album recorded afterwards became a bigger success on release.

Later, around 1993, we heard of the rise of metal bands such as Cryptic Fate, Maestria, Dethrow, PsychoDeth and Jolly Roger. These bands used to perform great underground shows with frequent performances during 97 and it was in 1998 that Koprophilia, Clovermind and Spanking Monkeys from the alternative side came into existence.

Suddenly most of the bands broke up again. Only Cryptic Fate survived! In addition, it was in 1995 that Cryptic Fate dared to dream and turn it into reality. The release of the first ever metal compilation in English "Ends Are Forever" was launched. It not only became a milestone but portrayed great courage a band could demonstrate.

Around 1999, some bands came in the music scenario. Artcell (ex-Tantrik), Metal Maze and Migraine, Black, Wire, Nemesis, The Attempted Band and the very popular rock influenced folk fusion group of today Bangla, with some more bands surfacing. It was the beginning of a new definition of Rock and the Alternative music revolution in Bangladesh. Cryptic Fate was there too (fighting all the way through when others failed to continue), along with a new face. The Watson Brothers members of Cryptic Fate and The Attempted Band joined in one of the few pioneering 'side projects' and hence the theme got introduced. Sumon also formed Aurthohin--the first ever funk influenced progressive rock group in the country. Although the band was new, the members were not. Sumon was just free enough, leaving Warfaze along with Piklu from Rockstrata (after the band broke up) and Jolly Roger tagged along to start the same journey under a new name--Aurthohin. The band finally met its heart and soul. "Most of these bands started staging the underground gigs again. An open-air concert was held at Raowa Club ground and suddenly G-Series (one of the largest record labels of our country) took a very brave step. They released an almost-metal compilation comprised of these new bands, known as Charpotro arranged by Duray," stated Sumon. The musicians found an amazing similarity with the early 90's release of Hooray with the new mixed compilation. The release of the CD sparked an uprising among the other bands. It was a re-incarnation of the early ’90s rock music revolution when mixed album Charpotro was launched in 2001. Time had changed a lot within that long break and everyone wished that the mount-up would not fade away like before.

From the release of Charpotro in 2001 onwards, many people term the period of a 'rock music rebellion'. The music admirers know what they deserve, not allowing commercial bands to have domination among the enthusiasts anymore. Whether your band is good or not, depends on the ultimate testing ground--the rock music market and the shows. Army Stadium, Womens Complex are the most popular open-air venues to host a capacity of around 30,000 to 50,000 crowd. While Shishu Academy, Engineering Institute, Russian Cultural Centre Auditoriums up to restaurant hall rooms and Dhaka Billiard Centre (DBC) are indoor locations staging underground concerts mainly with fewer big names as well. They start with 350 and almost race up-to a crowd of 1500 maximum. As soon as the lighting flashes and the sound system is properly set, a good concert is ready to roll.

The Army Stadium is one of those esteemed venues, which hold 'history' in a showcase. In Bangladesh, Pepsi provided a much needed platform to musicians and to its younger consumers. A tribute to the rock legends was rewarded through the concert 'Rock Fest' in 2001.The bands played all time favourite English numbers of the rock icons. Coca-Cola sponsored few of the many hit concerts as well. Benson & Hedges tried a similar sort of endeavour with its Star Search Contest.

The array of new bands from that slot had a broad and segmented listening group and with the advantage of cutting-edge technology in recording and media, they were one-step ahead. It was then that Aurthohin's second album Biborton started making unbelievable records both home and abroad. The sole album on release, became the Best Seller of 2001-2002 in New York, Jackson Heights Bangla Community. Following that success and the introduction of a fresh and improved form of music, Artcell, Black and Cryptic Fate a.k.a the popular ABC triangle released their solo debut Bangla albums. It was a groundbreaking performance with Artcell's progressive rock synthesis, Black's alternative rock compositions and Cryptic Fate's old-school-metal madness.

The most famous bands heading the rock scene now are mentionably Aurthohin as a caring father followed by the famous ABC faction. Although Miles has remained silent for a longer period than expected (in Bangladesh but staging a whole lot of shows in India recently), it is Nagar Baul, who still wishes to fight with occasional good compositions. Bangla, however is the only band having 'rock influence', and continues to create an uproar with its folk, fused with contemporary fashioned music breeding into tremendous hits.

Our music scene, moreover, is now prized with another new set of talented bands (from noble projects as mixed compilation of Sumon's Agontuk and Duray's Dinbodol) Arbovirus, Aashor, Breach, dNA, Fulbanu's Revenge, Nemesis, Kral, Kronic, Reborn, Stentorian. The successful Old DOHS open-air Alternative concert of 2002 brought bands like Breach and Fulbanu's Revenge into the lime light. Breach later carried onto receiving a record deal from G-series. Others worthy of receiving such award included Kronic, Triloy, Nemesis and Ajob from Ektaar label. The bands Breach, dNA, Fulbanu's Revenge and Sellout are very promising musicians of the new generation. Their painted faces, wardrobe of fancy cloaks in concerts brings about a hip-hop, rock 'n roll rebel approach relaying to emotional staging. They always leave behind an energetic crowd who certainly miss their heroes in action off-stage.

These present bands believe that, although there are about a handful of good recording studios, the revolutionary Pro Tools- "the greatest gift to amateur musicians", came to great aid and advantage for amateur musicians. The recording facility is good, despite the fact that they are behind international standards. The sudden rise of the available facility however is a positive indication. They seemed to be happy with their record label G-Series, allowing them to experiment a completely new dimension of strategic music.

The Internet has played a massive part in promoting Bangla music, especially rock. The web portals from different organisations are actually hosted by the passionate listeners. It needs a handsome amount of money to run these sites, which are usually paid from their own pockets and therefore uploading the rare, latest hit songs, and sharing them over the World Wide Web is considered a noble gesture. Many bands and their songs were promoted via this media and this in-fact one of the fastest ways of music availability. Internet has surely taken our music one-step ahead.ektara.aamibangali.com, bangladeshinfo.com, amadergaan.com are three of the most popular sites right now promoting both mainstream and underground while altermetal.com encourage mostly underground music.

Rock in Bangladesh never had a flashy start. It was rather careless and painful--unavailability of musical instruments, practise pads, social obstruction (uptight parents) and later DRUGS were among the many hurdles it has had to contend with. For many artistes like James, rock started from the streets with a lone man strumming his guitar, gazing through the strings to look for his much-awaited tune--it was tough. Ayub Bachhu very emotionally stated, “the amount of favours and sponsors which are provided to sports, if our music scene could get one-fourth of that blessing, Bangladesh music would have been in the forefront of glory throughout the world.”

As the story ends here for them, it will continue to improve with new faces. These true musical patriots wish to create waves and leave a rich legacy for those who will follow their lead.


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