“Nazrul was a true worshipper of fine arts” – Sadya Afreen Mallick
Eminent Nazrul Sangeet exponent Sadya Afreen Mallick is one of the most celebrated names in the music industry. In addition to being awarded the prestigious Nazrul Padak by Nazrul Institute and the Ministry of Culture in 2016 and the Gold Medal by Anandadhara, she also won the Ustaad Moti Miya Gold Medal at Chhayanaut . On the occasion of Nazrul Jayanti, the artiste talks about her initiatives to popularise the National Poet's creations among the younger generations, and more.
Over the years, Sadya Afreen Mallick noticed a widening gap between the audience and Nazrul's creations. "I felt that we needed established Nazrul Sangeet singers to create a platform for talented upcoming artistes to bring Nazrul's work to old and new audiences," she mentions. "Bearing this in mind, I started working on an initiative called Gems of Nazrul."
Till date, Gems of Nazrul has released 16 productions of music videos sponsored by leading corporations and banks. Sadya Afreen Mallick is currently working towards popularising Nazrul's artistic creations, including his songs, poems, and plays amongst audiences both at home and abroad through television and social media.
"We started out Gems of Nazrul with around 30 prominent and promising singers and the number has now reached close to 70," she says. Nazrul singers around the world are now eager to support the platform.
"We all know Nazrul as a poet, rebel, philosopher, and musician, but above all, he was a true worshipper of fine arts," adds Sadya Afreen Mallick, who is also a columnist.
She started singing from a young age, under the guidance of renowned Nazrul researcher and singer Sudhin Das. The daughter of Dhaka University academicians Professor Syed Moqsud Ali and Dr N Fyzennessa, she was introduced to the performing arts – music, dance, and instrumentals – quite early on. But it was in music that she found her calling.
From a young age, she performed songs in the popular radio programme "Khela Ghor", conducted by her mother. Many child artistes who were regulars at the show went on to become household names, Sabina Yasmin, Shahnaz Rahmatullah to name a few.
She started her formal vocal training at Chhayanaut, where she came across maestros Sohrab Hossain, Sheikh Luthfur Rahman, and Anjali Roy. Upon graduating with a gold medal, she started to gain exposure to the professional music world. It brought her close to the Thumri queen Naina Devi, who was also the producer of Doordarshan, in New Delhi. Sadya Afreen Mallick soon accepted an invitation to perform at a concert organised in New Delhi by eminent Nazrul singer Deepali Naag Chaudhury.
"I had just completed my high school at that time. The opportunity to perform on radio and live concerts overseas was like a dream to a young girl," shares Sadya Afreen Mallick. She went on to be an enlisted artist on BTV and Radio Bangladesh, appearing regularly on public media. After BTV's launch, she was amongst the first and youngest performers on the channel.
In 1990, she had the rare honour of being the only artiste from Bangladesh to attend the first North American conference on Nazrul with renowned singer Firoza Begum. During this three-month tour, Sadya Afreen Mallick performed at over fifteen concerts at MIT, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and New York.
The following year, she released her first solo Nazrul album "Elo Phuler Moshum" under the direction of Firoza Begum. This is the only time that Firoza Begum is known to have directed an album.
"The contributions of Kazi Nazrul Islam should be treasured. But somehow his creations fail to come into the limelight," shares Sadya Afreen Mallick. "His compositions ranged from romancse to rebellions, sufi to the philosophical songs, Shyma sangeet to raga based songs, with a huge trove of Islamic songs that have lived on for years since his passing. His work covers over 3,500 songs, including 17 new ragas, a rare feat for someone to do over a short span of 22 years. As Nazrul joined the Gramaphone Company as chief trainer in 1928, musical legends like Dilip Kumar Roy, Angur Bala, Indu Bala, and Abbas Uddin, K Mallick and others would sing his Ghazals and a wide variety of songs. Today, all those numbers are long forgotten except for a few."
She further says, "Nazrul played a pioneering role in establishing the practice of theatre in the subcontinent as well. "His songs pulled the audience through the theatre doors." "Most importantly, his poems "Bidrohi" and "Anandamoyir Agomone", and his songs like "Durgomogiri" and "Karar oi Louho Kopat" were stronger than rifles and guns in the rebellion against the British Raj."
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Nazrul's poem "Bidrohi" and his 122nd birth anniversary. "I hope to keep trying to do justice to Nazrul's legacy so that his words and vision can inspire future leaders, just as they inspired me," adds Sadya Afreen Mallick.