“If someone asks me who the best kheyal singer in Bangladesh is, one name would instantly spring to my mind: that is of Sylhet's Ramkanai Das. People know him solely as a kheyal artiste, but he is a lot more than that,” eminent Tagore exponent Waheedul Haq had once commented.
Das suffered a stroke and passed away on Friday evening at a city hospital.
Pandit Ramkanai Das was an eminent classical music artiste equally at ease with folk music, Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Sangeet. He was also an avid collector of folk music, especially from the Sylhet region.
Ramkanai Das was like a glittering star in the sky of Bangla music. An unassuming and simple personality, he would perform and record songs maintaining proper melody and notations, especially those composed by the mystic bards of Sylhet region.
Years back, Pandit Ramkanai Das inaugurated and performed at Chhayanaut's annual classical music festival. Performing a full-length kheyal, the artiste presented another chhoto kheyal set on raga Bageshree. His melodic presentation of the raga was outstanding. His grip of ragdari, showcasing the game of meend and gamak and superb bistar made for an enthralling performance.
This correspondent once met him at ITC-Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata, India where Bengal Foundation had organised a nine-day Bangla Gaan-er Utshab, dedicated to National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. At the programme Ramkanai Das shared his musical vision with this writer. He said, “The soil of Bangladesh is musically fertile. This part of the world has generated many classical and folk music maestros; yet they are completely neglected. We somehow fail to recognise the real gems of music. We have to work together to restore our lost heritage. Patronage, publicity and the creation of a discerning audience should be our primary effort.”
Born in Sunamganj in 1935, Ramkanai Das was brought up in a musical family. His family has preserved and practiced folk music through many generations. His father Rashiklal Das, and mother, Divya Mayi Das, were folk singer, lyricist, and composer. His grandfather Prakash Chandra Talukdar and great grandfather Ramcharan Talukdar were all renowned bards of the greater Sylhet region.
Following in their footsteps, Ramkanai Das too made a remarkable contribution to Bangla music. Early on in childhood, he displayed the innate talent for folk music that he had inherited from his parents. Later, he received classical music training under Kalimohan Chakrabarty and tabla lessons from Sri Shurendramohan Sutradhar. In 1967, he started playing the tabla and performed classical, semi-classical, modern and Nazrul's songs on Sylhet Radio.
Bondher Banshi Baje (2004), Shurodhhonir Kinarai (2005), Raganjali (2006), Oshomoye Dhorlam Pari (2006), Pagla Majhee (2010) are some of his notable audio albums.
His biography –“Shongeet O Amar Jibon” -- was published in 2010. A year later, “Surer Pothik”, a documentary on the life and works of the maestro, was released.
In recognition of his musical contributions, he received Ekushey Padak- 2014, Bangla Academy honorary fellowship-2012, Meril-Prothom Alo Lifetime Achievement Award- 2013 and Rabindra Padak- 2000.
Das leaves behind a rich legacy. His elder sister Sushama Das is a well-known folk artiste. His daughter Kaberi Das is a singer and president of Sangeet Parishad, New York. The pandit's two grand daughters Paramita and Shruti are also singers. Ramkanai's elder son Arun Das is a musical instrument businessman while his younger son Pinusen Das is a tabla artiste and daughter-in-law Anindita Chowdhury is a Nazrul Sangeet artiste.