During the '70s, '80s and even '90s, a bunch of singers enthralled the Nazrul Sangeet connoisseurs and lovers. Those were the days when most of the people, especially middle-class educated ones, found music, dramas and movies alongside book reading as the main forms of their entertainment.
Unlike today's more than 20 local television channels, there was only Bangladesh Television (BTV) to watch. Compared to the BTV, the Radio Bangladesh was more popular as it used to broadcast a series of musical programmes every day where Nazrul Sangeet got its share of prominence. Nazrul song connoisseurs also used to collect long-playing records, known as Long Play (LP), and cassettes of different artistes.
A good number of high school and college students grew up attuned to the Tagore and Nazrul songs. School and college friends listening to and discussing music were not a very rare scene in those days. In the port city of Narayanganj, this writer belonged to such a group of young people. Besides their regular academic work in schools and colleges, they used to involve themselves in different cultural activities and book reading.
There were at least three, who used to be trained in music in their childhood. They were Iqbal Ahmed Sumon, Khaleda Yasmin Eti and Tariqul Hasan Sumon. Iqbal is now a professional artiste and trainer of Nazrul Sangeet in Narayanganj. Eti continues her music practice focusing on Rabindra Sangeet, though not a professional one. Tariq, however, left the country almost two decades ago.
The group had created their own audience of music, especially Nazrul Sangeet. They rarely missed any TV show on Nazrul Sangeet, and some of them regularly listened to the musical programmes on the radio. Collecting albums or cassettes of famous artistes or making records of the selected songs was a matter of great pleasure. Recording the songs on blank cassettes from any music shop was the best option. This writer even recorded the songs broadcasted on the TV or radio on cassettes with an audio recorder. It gave the leverage to collect many songs not available in the market on cassettes or long-playing records. Compact Discs (CD) were yet to come into being then. In those days, two-in-one cassette players and tape recorders were the favoured gadgets for entertainment. Besides playing cassettes, one could listen to radio programmes and also record any music or drama on the cassette. National Panasonic and Sony recorders were the most popular brands then.
Undoubtedly the most popular singer of the time was Firoza Begum. She was dubbed the 'Queen of Nazrul Songs' and her cassettes were available everywhere. At any national programme on Nazrul, it was Firoza Begum who came first. Leila Arjumand Banu, Sohrab Hossain, Sudhin Das, Bedruddin Ahmed and Khalid Hossain have also contributed greatly to popularising Nazrul songs. Among them Sudhin Das dedicated himself to prepare accurate notation of Nazrul songs and train the younger generation.
Three daughters of late poet Talim Hossain, the founder secretary of Nazrul Academy in Dhaka, devoted themselves to the practice of Nazrul Songs. Of them, Shabnam Mustari has become very popular while Parveen Mustari has performed very little. Yasmin Mustari, the youngest sister, has overshadowed her elders. She is still performing in shows on television, radio and stages. Today she is one of the most popular Nazrul Song singers in the country. While Shabnam Mustari's voice is deemed 'sweet and soft,' Yasmin Mustari's is 'sweet and sharp.' Moreover, she has a very good command over the devotional songs of Nazrul belonging to the raga genre.
As far as popularity is concerned, the name of Ferdous Ara probably comes first now-a-days, though she has been performing for the last three decades. She is considered the pioneer of expressive performance of Nazrul Songs. It was in early '90s when she sang 'Jare hat dieea mala dite paro nai' on BTV with facial expression and moving around. By doing this, she initiated a new form of Nazrul Sangeet performance. The melody of her voice with perfect dramatisation makes the listeners just enchanted.
Sadya Afreen Mallick has emerged a Nazrul exponent. Besides performing the songs of the national poet, she has devoted herself to research on Nazrul. Her admirers find Islamic songs of Nazrul like 'Hera Hote Hele Dule' and 'Khoder Premer Shorab Peeay' quite enchanting in her tuneful voice.
Among the male singers, it is MA Mannan who has cemented his unique position in this arena, thanks to his resonant voice. This writer still remembers his performance on radio, from where he recorded the songs like 'Megh Boron Konnya Thake', 'Dao Sourjo, Dao Dhiorjo Hay Udernath,' and 'Ooi Boishakhi Jhar Elo.'
Back to '80 and '90s, with his deep and well-rehearsed voice, Khairul Anam Shakil successfully enthralled his listeners. His devotion makes him the most popular male singer of Nazrul Songs and a leading organiser promoting the cause.
Sujit Mustafa has also been playing a key role in popularising Nazrul Songs across the country and beyond for about three decades. His vibrant and classical style with consistency, passion and organised efforts has helped expand the outreach of Nazrul Sangeet to the grassroots level of the country. A brilliant singer with tremendous command over diverse ragas, Sujit Mustafa is also very vocal about the rightful dignities of artistes.
If a gleaming singer goes to hiatus all on a sudden, it is the listeners and enthusiasts who count the ultimate loss. Shamshy Faruque Shimky compelled her admirers to accept the same fate, when she left the country two decades back. But she never gave up the practice and continued performing mostly at informal gatherings abroad. This year she made her comeback to Dhaka.
Shimky has a mesmeric voice with wonderful modulation. Back in '80s and early '90s she set her own distinctive style of performing Nazrul Sangeet which she still continues. 'Bhoria poran sunitechi gan,' 'Kaberi nodi jole ke go balika,' 'Chonder bonnya, horini aronnya' , 'Shaon rate jodi,' and 'Sure o banir mala diye tumi' are some of her best songs.
They are the few singing birds enlivening the sky of Nazrul Sangeet. They are the few in Bangladesh exploring this treasure trove of Kazi Nazrul Islam. On this 119th birth anniversary of this gifted poet (May 25), we are just amazed thinking about what this great poet has left behind for us to explore for years to come and how he has enriched our music arena.
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