A renowned figure in Bangladesh's music history with her melodious voice, Shahnaz Rahmatullah is among the few singers who sang patriotic songs for both Bangladesh and Pakistan, and won the hearts of millions.
She began her singing career at the age of 11, which illustriously spawned over five decades, during which she released four albums. Despite her somewhat humble discography, four of her songs were selected in the list of the top 20 Bangla songs by BBC. I had the privilege of watching her perform live thrice; the last time was at her home, around two years ago. Her music was so enthralling, so delicately beautiful, that it left me with memories that I shall forever cherish.
Around a decade ago, she announced her retirement from music. But among her closest people, she would at times unveil her melodious aptitude. One day, I asked her whether she felt bad for leaving her musical career, having mastered the craft over so many years. “I sang for 50 years at a stretch. People showered me with immense love and affection. Not a single song of mine has let anyone down. Is that not enough for a singer?” came her swift reply.
The debate that troubled her for many years was that one of her songs, Prothom Bangladesh Amar Shesh Bangladesh was used, without her consent, as the theme song for BNP. During my discussions with her, she expressed her frustration with the fact that her songs were politicised, although she sang for the nation as a whole, and not for any specific party.
Interestingly, during the Liberation War, her song Joy Bangla Banglar Joy served as the opening soundtrack for many programmes which inspired the Freedom Fighters.
Her extraordinary voice caught the attention of ghazal maestro, Mehedi Hassan, under whom she trained for a few years. She further received training under the tutelage of revered names including Ustad Phul Mohammad, Ustad Munir Hossain and Shahid Altaf Mahmud.
Shahnaz Rahmatullah was the beloved sister of late Anwar Parvez, a renowned music composer and celebrated actor, and singer Zafar Iqbal. After her demise, musical legend, Runa Laila addressed took to social media saying, “A great loss to the music world. Shahnaz Rahmatullah is no more. How many more of these great artistes will we have to lose? Another legend becomes a bright shining star in the sky. May Allah rest her soul in peace.”
The 67 year old singer gained fame in Pakistan after singing iconic national songs of Pakistan including Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhay and Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan.
Famed Pakistani journalist, Hamid Meer writes, “Shahnaz Begum passed away in Bangladesh on March 23 when many Pakistanis were listening to her famous song Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhay on Pakistan day.”
To me, Shahnaz Rahmatullah is a singer who possessed the rare quality of having an everlasting impact on your soul with her melodious voice.