Understanding pop music - magic of 21st century Bangla songs

Shihab Sarkar | Published: October 25, 2018 21:01:17 | Updated: October 26, 2018 21:04:58

Ayub Bachchu (1962-2018)

The sudden death of pop music icon Ayub Bachhu on last October 18 and the pervasive gloom it created among his fans was phenomenal. The nation witnessed a cross-country outburst of spontaneous grief, mostly in the urban areas, not noticed after the death of any local music personality. The death of the feverishly admired pop vocalist and guitarist will, undoubtedly, go down in local musical history as a remarkable event. The Chattogram-born artist (b 1962) emerged in the Bangladesh pop music, later known as band music, in 1991. He and a few music-loving youths launched the band LRB around this time. It continued to win over fans as years wore on. Thanks to his enviable musical talent and the unalloyed passion for it coupled with his inimitable stage performance, Ayub Bacchu was able to carve out an individual place of his own. Bangladesh band music scenario had already been dominated by another of his contemporaries -- James. In the whole 1990s and the nearly three decades afterwards, the two pop superstars became iconic figures, creating hundreds and thousands of fans all over the country.

The history of Western pop music's popularity in Bangladesh goes back to the post-Liberation War period of the 1970s. The short-lived 'Underground Peace Lovers' is credited with the launch of the first ever band in Bangladesh. It was a ragtag group of a few rock music-loving youths who formed the band in Dhaka in 1972. It made its debut through a concert at the capital's Purbani Hotel the same year. The group was led by Omar Khalid Rumi. That was the decade which saw the sprouting of the seeds of the pop genre in Bangladesh, with Azam Khan, lovingly called Guru, later ruling the roost. He was not alone. Although the band 'Uchharon' centred round the Freedom Fighter-turned-singer Azam Khan, it had a few musical talents who became celebrities in the following years. They included Ferdous Wahid, Naquib Khan, Tapan Chowdhury, Partho Barua et al. All of them later became musical celebrities of the country. However, many trace the advent of pop music in the country, then East Pakistan, back to the late 1960s. During this period, a family-based and female artiste-dominant group called Jinga Goshthi whipped up quite a sensation in Dhaka's music world.

Bangladesh has for ages been blessed with a rich musical tradition. Notwithstanding the fact that the folk genre of music essentially defined its character, the area had witnessed the steady growth of modern singers and their admirers since the 1940s. Roughly from that period onwards, music in both parts of Bengal parted their ways --- one following the ever-innovative modern trend, the other virtually stuck to its traditional folk identity. In fact, the trend of modern Bangla songs stemmed from the tradition of Akhrai, Half Akhrai, Toppa, Boithoki etc. This period was followed by the era of the five greats --- Tagore, Nazrul, Dwijendralal, Otulproshad and Rojonikanto. In the 1950s, Salil Chowdhury and his left-leaning contemporaries entered the scene spectacularly, with Chowdhury's completely fresh style of compositions and lyrics spawning a new generation of admirers. To be joined later by Sachin Devbarman, Hemonto, Sondhya, Satinath, Manobendra and scores of others, the trend later gave shape to the mainstream Bangla songs. It prevails dominantly still in 2018. However, the emergence of Sumon, and later Nochiketa, with their monologue-dominant and lightly Westernised compositions heralded a completely different trend in Bangla vocal music. The two and some others would perform solo on being reportedly inspired by Usha Utthup, Sharon Pravakar and, partly, by Kishore Kumar -- known for his inimitable yodeling.  

A parallel picture played out in the eastern part of Bengal with Kalim Sharafi, Abdul Ahad, Samar Das, Satya Saha and Robin Ghose as pioneering composers. Ferdousi Rahman, Anjuman Ara et al belonged to the group of newly emergent singers. Like in every field of the arts, the entry of semi-avant-garde or unconventional forms of songs into Bangla music was once considered a matter of time. With the sensational entry of 'Spondon' and 'Uchharon' in the Dhaka musical arena in the 1970s, and that of 'Mohiner Ghoraguli' around the same period in Kolkata, marked a turning-point in music culture in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. In spite of the disapproval of the purist music lovers, the soft rock, pop or band music has made great strides in the Bangla-speaking region. To the eclectic music lovers, the 'new music' in a way represented a parallel trend. On occasions, it overlapped with that presented or sung in the traditional form. Thus the hit Hindi film song 'Vigi vigi se haei raat', presented in a pop form by Dhaka's James, has emerged as a phenomenal success. Similar is the case with 'Aami taray taray rotiye debo', based on a poem by Shamsur Rahman and sung also by James.

Bangladesh can take pride in over a dozen band music groups. Except the now-defunct 'Spondon' and 'Uchharon', those include 'Souls', 'Feedback', 'Miles', 'Warfaze', 'LRB', 'Ark' etc. James was the unbeatable lead artiste of his group 'Feelings', later renamed 'Nagarbaul'.  To a lot of conservative music connoisseurs in Bangladesh, band music is sham music. According to them, this so-called music is wreaking havoc with the land's rich musical tradition. A lot of young music lovers disagree. They are said to find the echoes of their inner-most feelings in the songs presented by the bands. The influence of pop tunes on the traditional ones has now become universal. In the songs of the West, the demarcation line between the two genres is hardly noticeable. Thus casual music lovers often confuse stage-based standing musical performances with pop music. Singers Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard are purely mainstream vocalists. The singer and song-writer that overshadows them all is, indisputably, Bob Dylan. Country songs artiste Kenny Rogers occupies a distinctive place among these singers. On the other hand, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Elton John or Madonna belong to the genre of the pop. They are chiefly known as globally admired figures of rock music.

 Like in the West, the nature and style of Bangladesh music have lately started thriving on a blend of the mainstream and parallel genres. At times they generously draw on each other. With the audience of pop music expanding to the tradition-bound outlying areas of the country, it is expected to broadly define the land's musical identity. Like the other forms of the arts, music too is set to undergo many changes. If the country's music prefers to progress in two separate ways, the trend may not go on for long. The Western influence might not allow the musical genres to thrive finally on their distinctively native courses. Except the songs of Tagore, Nazrul, or for that matter, Lalon or Hason Raja or the folk pieces, conventional modern Bangla songs are feared to walk into chaotic times. In that case the songs once shun by the purists may come to the rescue. They have an ineffable quality integral to them. It's because neither Ayub Bachhu, nor James or the likes of Lucky Akand et al advocated a wholesale rock transformation of Bangla songs. They have always preferred a middle course. Here lies the magic of the 21st century Bangla songs. Bangladesh has never lacked the evolutionary features of music.


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