A day after he turned 63 years old, Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul posted a picture on his social media profile, asking friends and loved ones to remember him, lest they forget. In the photograph, he seemed to be waiting for a flight to his next destination, carrying his passport, all dressed and ready to face challenges as he always had. Little did we know that the photograph depicted his final farewell, with Bangladesh in his heart and music in his smile. That was the last post he had made on the platform.
Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul passed away from a cardiac arrest, in the early hours of January 23. For myself and many of my younger colleagues in the music industry, his death came as a shock. Bulbul sir was not only a mentor and a guide when it came to compositions and performances, but also a storyteller and would often tell us stories from his teenage years—his encounters with the Pakistani army during the Liberation War, his mother who he would miss always and of course the years of freedom and music.
Even though Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul was always a household name, thanks to the evergreen compositions of his that many generations grew up with, Bulbul sir's fame rekindled amongst the younger ones, especially after he had begun to judge the first reality show in Bangladesh—a singing competition from which some of the best singers and performers emerged under his guidance and mentorship. Extraordinary talents from the very first season of the show, namely Mahadi, Sabbir, Kishor, Putul and many others, carry the legacy of Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul through their music.
Even though I knew him, I had the opportunity to meet with him in 2012, during the tour of the countrywide audition sessions for the reality show based on the singing competition. I, along with many other singers and musicians were involved in the initial judgment sessions and would only select singers who had more than just basic melody and rhythm sense. Together we had travelled to Cumilla, Chattogram, Sylhet, Kushtia and many other places. While the mornings would be spent busily filtering out the talents from the chaos, the evenings were spent in cha and adda. I, being one of the younger judges, was overwhelmed by the evening addas which would often include Sujyo Shyam, Anup Bhattacharya, Partha Barua, Fahmida Nabi, guitarist Labu Rahman and many more, sometimes including Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul himself. Even though he was always the silent one and did not prefer to be amidst the large crowds, he did appreciate smaller addas where he would often talk about music, compositions, stories from the glorious 80s and of course the plight of the younger ones in the current generation and how they should be more focused rather than allowing their minds to wander about.
“Why do you stay silent when you are in need of something?” I remember him telling me, the last time I was at his studio to record a song dedicated to the Rohingya refugees. “Why are you youngsters always so scared to speak out when and where you need to? Have the courage to speak up!” Having fought in the Liberation War at the young age of 15, Bulbul was always full of stories for the young singers who would often come to his studio for recordings. “You must understand the pain that the martyrs had gone through for our beloved Bangladesh,” he had said to a bunch of us once. “I won't let the younger ones forget!”
Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul was a brave and courageous son of the soil, as one would say. Right from the 70s, when he fought for liberation in his teens, to the present times when he had to stay stuck indoors because of security issues after he became one of the prime witnesses in the war crimes tribunal, Bulbul sir never gave up on his country. Neither did he give up on his loved ones, a large number of fans and followers that he had created thanks to his music. “You are my child, that is why I say what I say, bujhchish?”, I remember him saying at the end of the recording.
Bulbul sir would always want us to remember, and never forget the sacrifices, the positivity and the beauty of creating Bangladesh, or being a Bengali. To him I would say—it is not easy to forget a legend and that too, a courageous one as you, sir. May you finally, rest in peace.
Elita Karim is Editor, Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth. She tweets @elitakarim