Four-time national award-winning music director, and also the younger son of the illustrious composer Satya Shaha, Emon Shaha's journey with music had begun in his nest. But the path he has taken it on was self-made. The prolific composer recently shared his story with the Daily Star.
Did you always want to be a music director like your father?
Emon Shaha: I initially wanted to be a film director when I was younger. I always felt being one would make me feel like a 'leader' of some sort. In third grade, I told my father I wanted to learn singing. After persistently bugging him for 6-8 months about wanting to learn music, I was able to prove my consistent desire to him and he finally took me seriously. My first guru to teach me Hindustani Classical sangeet was Guru Satindra Nath Halder.
When did the thought of directing or composing music come to mind?
Emon Shaha: Even though I learned to sing, it never appealed to me as much. I would be meddling with the instruments – keyboards and tabla. I began accompanying my father to the studio and observing what he would do. I would observe the work of Shawkat Ali Emon, who was my father's assistant then, and also Manam Ahmed. Eventually, I was immersed in composing. When I was doing my BBA in the USA, I confessed to my father that my heart was not in business administration. My father insisted that I finish my education, and I told him that I'd rather finish it in recording engineering, to which he agreed.
Did you get the chance to work with your father? How did his death affect your career?
Emon Shaha: I came back to Bangladesh and began assisting my father. I also got my first break through Gazi Mazharul Anwar -- for which my father was my mentor, for the blockbuster “Poradhin”. Everyone believed it was actually my father's work but I was credited in it. It wasn't the case. Unfortunately, within a year after my return, my father passed away, and I felt completely lost. I just knew that I began this journey and there was no way I was going to quit midway. I began going door-to-door. At that time, the bulk of directors working were all new generation directors, who hadn't worked too much with my father. I was totally new to them, and they were a little apprehensive to have me on board.
When do you think you began gaining recognition?
Emon Shaha: In 2001, I did “Shoshur Bari Zindabad” by Debasish Biswas, which was a big hit. Then in 2003, “Khairun Shundori” was released and it was a massive hit and the title song's popularity spread like wildfire and then there was no looking back for me. From 2004 to 2007-8, every year I would have 30-40 film releases each year.
Was it easy to maintain quality with that kind of workload?
Emon Shaha: I realised then that being busy wasn't really supposed to be the target; maintaining quality was. And when you're that occupied, it's impossible to provide the best quality to each film. I was working so much and without any satisfaction, so I decided to take a break. I realised that the veterans of the industry, were expecting a lot from me- being the son of Satya Shaha. I wanted to live up to that expectation, for which I had to learn more. I began searching for universities or conservatories when I suddenly came across KM Music Conservatory run by AR Rahman. I immediately flew to Chennai and enrolled myself for a year-long course on western classical music.
How did the tutelage under AR Rahman bring a change to your career and work?
Emon Shaha: Everything changed: my views, my thoughts, and my musicality. When I listened to the background scores and music of movies such as “ET” and “Jurassic Park” by John Williams, I would often wonder how on Earth he produced such beautiful things. These questions were answered once I did my higher studies in music. The monotony of my own work was beginning to kill me and taking that break and getting more knowledge revived me and my love for what I do. In 2012, I did another year-long course there, and I want to go and study again in Berkeley, MI or Full Sail soon.
What kind of change do you think you were able to bring to the industry, and what do you believe is your next move?
Emon Shaha: What I did, solely from my responsibilities towards the industry, was to watch films and create compact scores -- a trend that died out in the 80's due to the horrendous use of stock-music to save money. They even created a new term for it called the 'jackground' because they'd use a jack to extract the music from the tape recorders. It's someone else's music, someone else's intellectual property. Ethically, it's wrong. I did scores for films like “Rajdhani”, and then “Mollabari'r bou”, “Poramon”, and “Agnee”, before people recognised the importance of an authentic background score. I now feel it is my responsibility to take the music of my country to an international platform. That, I feel, is my next step. My country has already given me the national award four times, so I owe it a lot.
Which films are you most proud of working on? And what are some of your upcoming works?
Emon Shaha: I'm proud of “Molla Bari'r Bou”, “Shoshurbari Zindabad”, “Khairun Shundori” amongst a few. From recent works, I did the background music of “Nuru Mia o Tar Beauty Driver”, “Onek Shadher Moyna”, which was the remake of “Moynamoti”, and Animesh Aich's “Zero Degree”. I'm also looking forward to my work in Animesh's “Bhoyonkor Shundor”. And I'm very excited about upcoming film “Gohin Baluchor”, for which I did all the songs and the background score.
What advice would you like to give to upcoming composers?
Emon Shaha: Music is bigger than the ocean. You can never stop learning. Youtube tutorials can only take you so far, but actual institutionalised education is what will build you and your career.