Without music, life would be a mistake.
--- Friedrich Nietzsche
Songs are to be seen these days. They are more visual than auditory, having sprouted, rather erupted, only Providence knows from where, over quite a considerable period of time. We listeners, whose auditory sense organs still retain residues of the lilting songs of yesteryears, were caught unawares primarily by the outlandishness of tunes combined with a semi-militant mode of their rendition. However, full realization came as we learnt that these 'songs' are also categorized as modern Bengali songs. The mystery only grew, further intensifying our bewilderment. It was all the more so because these new kinds of songs had already successfully replaced our biologically allotted sense organs for hearing sounds by installing another meant for seeing in its place. But then again, because seeing is believing, as the saying goes, we started modifying our vision for doing an extra job of hearing with gusto. And what success since then! The feeling was akin to achieving a feat in biological or genetic engineering, albeit in a socio-cultural context for whatever it was.
Songs these days are like some electrical gadgets, some of which are two in one, some three in one and some others with multiple functions built in them. You will not have to allocate your time for hearing only songs, for going to a dance programme or seeing a play, watching boxing or wrestling or having to see a prelude to a strike fondly called hartal in a show of chaos and anarchy that take place all over the country at lightning speed. You name it, they have it all ready miraculously in just one 'song'. All such ingredients combined together make our modern-day Bengali songs. It is all in one. It is a multi-purpose song tailored for all and sundry, analogous to what we call free size in cases of clothing, et cetera. Under the prevailing circumstances, it has become expedient to redefine a song as it has become so much different through a wide deviation from its original features.
A change in style, lyrics, composition and accompaniments with a song is bound to occur over a passage of time as is natural with most things. Nevertheless, a complete about-turn is most disturbing and by all standards unacceptable to our ears that are more used to receiving sounds --- not oppressive but friendly, soothing and peacefully stimulating. Had a song been a mere shriek involving a high pitch of noise, our ears could have taken it as it is. But because a song is not supposed to be such, our auditory nerves reject it by not recognizing it as one. Metamorphosis in some cases may be a natural process of development, but songs that are meant for the heart, soul, spirit and mind in no way are to be subjected to this process. It has them degenerate into mindless jugglery, however much one would believe that by so doing, one is modernising songs by infusing them with new life.
These days the world of modern Bengali songs is saturated with an admixture of verbosity, high tune, heavy orchestration, gaudy and glitzy presentation, physical animation (if not inner) accompanied by a show of acrobatics euphemistically called dance and what not. Even love songs are not immune to the malady. Such ultra-modern songs have been described in epithets, such as 'instant coffee' and 'readymade garments', by two very eminent artistes of West Bengal. This has brought us straight down to taking a closer look at the modern Bengali song that presents itself completely in a new garb, making it an unwelcome guest in a party of melody. Thus along with the exterior of a song, melody is blighted. Now a disturbing question is: if songs primarily are of this kind, then are they to be heard or seen? Are songs to be sung or danced through and that too for endless time? Ought the songs to be acted along? Why is picturization necessary along with almost all songs?
Should every song, even a basic one, look like a trailer from a film? Should singers all look like actors as they use their body language in full while singing? One wonders if these songs cannot attain the status of songs without innumerable such props and support. At this stage one naturally remembers the fabulous songs, sung with minimal accompaniment, that have remained unforgettable to date. These modern Bengali songs remain stuck in their infancy and cannot take off, let alone claim any vestige of permanence. Every song is merely temporal, very much transient. Similar to one-time use products, they are also for one-time listening. They glitter, much to the detriment of the essence of a song. But although they all glitter, they are not gold. Quantity is not the measure of quality. Against this backdrop, one wonders about the appeal of songs that were heard on the radio which came in audio medium only. Were those songs as ephemeral as most songs are these days? How many of those songs are retained in the faculty of memory compared to these ultra-modern songs is a question to probe into seriously. Due to too many visual aids these days, the imagery that shaped itself as one listened to a good quality song, a love song, a soulful song, even a song of joy in fast rhythm is no longer there in the jungle of heavily loaded picturization that tells you everything in a brazen manner. Nothing is left to your imagination. And imagination gets stunted.
One discovers a strange relationship between these songs and our present day lifestyle. They are fast, loud, clamorous and aided with a showing off that makes them more of spectacular objects on display rather than as songs. In the end, instead of carrying the tunes of a song in one's heart, one is left only with some jarring sensation in one's ears. A glut of such songs has flooded the market like a shipload of mercenaries invading a country. Thus there is song, song everywhere, but very few to remember. This is not to repudiate songs these days en masse but to point out that although there has been a burgeoning growth of them, yet very few of them have stood the test of time in terms of their acceptability among listeners. People hardly, if at all, hum the tunes of these songs in their precious moments of life. The CDs on the shelves barely offer songs worth their names. Songs that are oriented towards life, called 'jibonmukhi' or pro-life, have added more anomalies to our already troubled arena of modern Bengali songs. If they are so didactic, being primarily concerned with social ills, they had rather be left as poetry to be read and recited rather than be beautified with tunes that renders them neither this nor that. Thus the end product is absolute hotch-potch.
In the midst of such a chaotic situation existing in the field of modern Bengali songs, there are still attempts by a few to create melodies that are gentle, be those romantic, inspiring or of any other type. The objective is to try to bring back the golden era of songs. And yet the problem persists because the existence of a few good musical renditions does not necessarily create an ambience conducive to a flourishing of songs. They are rather lost in the wilderness of cacophony. We have lost many of our precious things due to mindless dispensation. We are losing our prized possession of modern Bengali songs to others' whims. We do not wish to add pollution to an already high decibel noise in our atmosphere, for that will be the murder of our songs. Our artistic sensibilities are already much shaken.
Dr. Nazma Yeasmeen Haque, educationist and critic, is a connoisseur of music.