The sound of music…

Karim Waheed

Music has always been an indivisible part of our lives. Besides several genres of folk songs that are considered to be the true essence of Bangalee music, Tagore and Nazrul songs are considered to be integral parts of our heritage. But Bangalee music is not limited to just these. We also have an opulent array of adhunik (modern) songs, classical (a genre shared with India and Pakistan) and
semi-classical music.

Although only about 24 percent of our total population lives in cities, the urban populace has always had a profound influence on our national culture and mass taste in music. Tagore and Nazrul songs may be heard in the remotest corners of Bangladesh now but there was a time when they were appreciated only among the educated and sophisticated urban folks. Same can be said of classical music. Adhunik songs originated in the cities and delved issues an urban commoner goes through be it romance related or anything else. City dwellers never ignored folk music either.

Folk songs may have been overshadowed by other dominant genres of music in the cities at times but it has certainly made its way back big time recently with a different approach: fusion. Fusion is in vogue now and thanks to its growing popularity, a generation of youngsters is humming folk tunes, which they might never have heard of otherwise.

On the 15th anniversary of The Daily Star, let's a take a glimpse at what the urbanites have been listening to over the last 15 years.

1991-1995: Exposure
The first half of the 90s saw some major changes in urban taste in music. It was a booming time for pop and rock bands. Urban youngsters in our country were getting a taste of live concerts that included energetic performances by the popular bands. We finally realised why the western world goes wild at live concerts. Music albums by leading bands were selling like piping hot “halim” during Ramadaan. Every other hipster (if not all) living in the cities was humming Melaye jaire, Chaand tara shurjo nao tumi or Ekdin ghumbhanga shohorey.

With the introduction of satellite TV channels, radio’s significance was going downhill. In fact, satellite TV channels had an intense effect on the urban taste. In the earlier years, urbanites used to selectively listen to Western and Indian songs. Courtesy of the Indian satellite channels, Hindi songs found a significantly large audience among the city dwellers. Tasteful or often tasteless that's another issue; Hindi songs were making an impact on our audio market.

Film songs could never rekindle the liaisons they used to have with urbanites up until the 80s. Divas Runa and Sabina were still reigning supreme. However, through singers like Ayub Bachchu, Agun, Maqsood, Baby Nazneen and Kanak Champa doing playbacks, some film songs did become popular (Songs of Chandni, Chandni Raate, Anjali and Moushumi for instance).

No substantial achievements were made in the fields of Tagore and Nazrul songs. Among Tagore artistes, Rizwana Chowdhury Banya, Mita Haque and Sadi Muhammad were in demand whereas Nilufar Yasmeen, Shaheen Samad, Sadya Afreem Mallick, Fatema Tuz Zohra and Ferdaus Ara were among the leading Nazrul artistes. The grand musical soiree on Nababorsho (Bangla New Year) organised by Chhayanaut at Ramna attracted Dhakaiites, just like it did in the previous years.

Established artistes like, Subir Nandi, Abida Sultana, Shakila Zafar, Samina Chowdhury, Tapan Chowdhury, Shubhro Dev and Khaild Hasan Milu dominated the market of adhunik songs. The early 90s also saw the emergence of Dolly Shayontani carving a niche for herself in the genre of adhunik songs. Artistes of West Bengal Shumon, Anjan Dutta and Nachiketa popularised modern songs that spoke of mundane issues of urban life. Shumona Haque was the undisputed “jingle queen” of this era, belting out tunes for almost every other TV commercial.

1996-2000: Standstill
By mid 90s, satellite TV channels had become a force to be reckoned with. Mushrooming Indian channels playing Hindi songs 24/7 made an unavoidable effect on the local music market. Fortunately, local satellite TV channels ATN and Channel-i came into being in this time line. Thanks to these TV channels, Bangla music had more outlets to the urban audience. It was a significant feat in the sense that, urbanites had become predominantly visual due to the exposure to glitzy music videos on MTV, Channel V and such.

The soundtrack of noted author and filmmaker, Humayun Ahmed's movie Srabon Megher Din created a hype among the audience both rural and urban. With striking lyrics and melody that's easy to the ear, the folk tunes used in the film had a universal appeal. Flutist Bari Siddqui became an instant rage for his heartfelt renditions of songs, Amar gaye joto dukhkho shoy and Shonwachan pakhi featured in the movie. Sabina Yasmin's Amar bhanga ghorey and Subir Nandi's Ekta chhilo shonar konnya from the same movie became popular as well. Songs of Hothat Brishti were also well received. Local satellite TV channels started the trend of producing movies and having their premiers on TV, thus creating another window of opportunity for film music.

There was a certain standstill in the genres of adhunik, pop and rock music. The leading bands were still churning out one album after another but very few of these were able to create mass excitement. However, Hasan's (vocalist of Arc) Sweety, Eto koshto kano bhalochae and Ayub Bachchu's solo album Koshto were major hits. Other rock musicians in demand were James, Maqsood and the band Miles. Prometheus, a band, was gaining fast recognition among a certain crowd.

A new feat during the latter half of the 90s was the budding popularity of title songs of TV plays/serials. Bhulitey pari na, tarey bhola jai na rendered by Shakila Zafar and Prithibir ei khelaghorey by Chandan, used in TV plays, Chhoto Chhoto Dheu and Shirshobindu respectively, were very well received by the urban audience. This phenomenon created a new trend, thus making catchy and meticulously composed title songs a must for TV serials.

2000-current: Revival and rediscovery
The beginning of a new decade was providential for our music in general. Ushered by a breed of talented and motivated young musicians, Bangla songs went through a major revitalisation. Established artistes have been doing their bit as well.

With a mega-hit O priya tumi kothae, Asif became a sought-after adhunik singer. Dolly Shayontani, widely known as an adhunik singer, offered a soulful rendition of a mystic folk number, Konba pothey Nitaigonjo jai. The song fetched Dolly rave reviews and made the listeners contemplate why she hasn't performed folk songs before.

Perhaps the most significant and talked about issue of this period is fusion music. What exactly is the difference between plain remixes and fusion music? According to music enthusiasts, remix is just a process of re-doing the music arrangement of songs; mostly made into catchy, dance numbers. Fusion, on the other hand, is incorporating a certain genre of music with a tune that belongs to a different style. Whatever the definition is, fusion music made a huge impact on the urbanites. Among the first few who started popularising this genre are Shanjiban Chowdhury and Bappa Majumdar of the group Dalchhut, with their hit number, Gadi choley na.

Anushey and her group Bangla attained instant fame with songs like Ghatey lagaiyya dinga and Ami opaar hoye boshey achhi. Lalan's timeless verses didn't lose its soul; neither did Bangla modify the basic tunes. Besides Anushey's psychedelic vocals and use of modern instruments, hints of jazz and rock made the songs appealing to the urban audience.

Habib Waheed took fusion music to a whole new level with Krishno. His first album was a smash hit and the sensation continued with his next two albums Maya and Moina Go. Habib's first two albums, featuring folk tunes tactfully fused with electronic music, had a fresh sound and an entrancing effect on young urbanites.

The music scene in the first half of this decade won't be complete without mentioning Momotaj. The folk singer was introduced to the urbanites through an 'Eid-special' episode of Ittyadi, where she performed Return ticket. Since then Momotaj hasn't looked back. Within a brief period, she has recorded about 500 albums, definitely an achievement for a singer. Although the lyrics of quite a few of her songs are 'questionable' (Faitta jai, for instance), it is undeniable that Momotaj has become immensely popular in rural areas as well as among a major part of the population living in the cities.

Besides the well-known bands releasing new albums, newcomers Black introduced alternative music to the urbanites and the audience seemed to like their sound. More and more metal bands like Cryptic Faith and Fulbanu's Revenge have emerged. The 'underground rock' scene seems to be a thriving fad among young urbanites.
Natoker gaan (songs from TV plays/serials) have justifiably formed a separate existence in our music. Arnab's Shey je boshey achhey eka eka from the Valentine's Day-special TV play in 2004, the title song of mega-serial Ronger Manush, Bhalobashar sporsho kotha pai by Shahana Bajpeyi from the TV serial Sporsher Bairey and the title song of Kachher Manush by Samina Chowdhuryto name a few of the popular Natoker gaan. Among film songs, Keu prem korey, keu bhuley podey from the movie Bachelor and songs of the movie Moner Majhey Tumi seemed to lure the urbanites.

An issue that has spurred controversies is the experimentation with Tagore and Nazrul songs. With the copyright to Tagore songs expiring this year, quite a few artistes have indulged in toying with the Master's tunes. Few of these efforts have been well received but for the most part, they were frowned upon by critics and Tagore exponents.

The urban audience has been a key factor in shaping the comprehensive taste in music that represents Bangladesh to the outer world. Here's hoping our music can be a source of pride to the 140 million people.

Courtesy: Kaushik Sankar Das, Kashtan Habeeb

The author is cultural correspondent of The Daily Star.

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