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The universal appeal of Koler Gaan

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Perhaps the earliest scientific invention in the area of music to enter Bangladesh was phonograph, commonly known as gramophone. It was also known locally as Koler Gaan. Musical instruments like flute, dotara, sarengi etc had been in use for long in the region --- but not the device of music coming out of a half-open box, topped with a shiny round object called disc. The box would later be known as a record player. The music box used to be operated by making the black disc move round on being placed on a velvety disc. A centimetre-long sharp pin's contact with the disc would let recorded musical sounds come out from an interior device. The musical sounds would mostly comprise songs. In spite of the complicated inner structure, the affluent music lovers accepted the gramophone.

The entry of the marvellous invention of Koler Gaan in the sub-continent in the 1930s emerged as a major event in the local world of music. The region of Bengal didn't lag behind. The Kolkata-based Hindusthan Record, opened in 1932, enabled dozens of artistes to have their songs recorded on discs. The songs included modern songs, and those of Tagore, Nazrul, Otulprosad, Rojonikanta etc. At the same time, the Hindusthan Record released records of songs by Abbas Uddin Ahmed, 'ghazals' by Begum Akhtar, 'thumri' by Angurbala, Kamala Jharia, Nazrul Geeti by Firoza Begum et al. Despite the financial inability to procure a gramophone, the amazing music box continued to create passionate admirers in all parts of the Bengal region. The gramophone dominated the music world of Bengal for four long decades --- till the 1970s.

A similar scenario prevailed in almost all parts of the world. The gramophone had played a central role in the evolution of music in Britain, the USA and many European countries. Perhaps in order to remember the glorious days of gramophone records, a US music company has been observing the Record Store Day since 2007. It has inspired the observance of the day worldwide every year. As a music loving country, Bangladesh observed the day this year under the title 'Record Store Day 2023'. As could be gleaned from the title, the day's theme revolves round the individual collections of disc records. On the occasion of the day's celebration in Dhaka, scores of disc record collectors assembled at the exhibition venue to display their fondly preserved records, some ancient.

The history of music listening from records has undergone bouts of change over the last few decades. At one phase in the 1960s, the gramophones or their latest versions became integral to the affluent families. For some those were a symbol of status. But people with strong passion for music collected them as a prerequisite for aesthetic pleasure and wellbeing. With the entry of audio cassettes in the scenario, the disc records underwent a jolt. The square-shaped music laden cassettes containing ribbons became instantly popular among the music lovers. Due its small size and user-friendliness, people spontaneously accepted the hard plastic-made cassettes and the cassette players. Cassettes dominated the music world for several years. The cassette-playing culture eventually made inroads into villages, where electricity connection is available. Sections of people would be found in the rural areas using batteries to power their cassettes. This particular music listening appliance had veritably detracted a lot from the popularity of the disc records.

The omnipresence and popularity of the cassette players only kept rising as years wore on. Listening to songs on a low-price musical medium affordable to middle- and lower-middle classes, had, however, brought songs to the common people. Despite having a genuine love for music, many connoisseurs had mostly remained deprived of the most popular of the arts. The cassette player helped them realise their dream. The journey of cassettes didn't prove too smooth, though. As the ribbon-based and square shaped small player-cum recorder eventually proved popularising Hindi film songs, the purists balked at the trend --- but to no avail. It didn't happen with the gramophone records. Of course, the disc records did contain film songs. But those were culled from selected collections of Bangla and Hindi movies. A lot of immortal movie songs from the decade of the 1950s could still be found in the old gramophone records.

Records of Western vocal and instrumental music were a common feature. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other popular singers' songs would be available on disc records. It's worth mentioning that stars like Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard et al and the Beatles made their sensational debut on gramophone records. So was the case Michael Jackson.

Due to the exclusively prestigious place enjoyed by the stellar singers of the West, many a talented pop singer had their voices recorded on gramophone. In a similar way, the Hindi and Bangla master singers at one time found themselves amid the new-generation vocalists. They were also talented artistes, but they showed their leanings to light sentimentalised songs. Notwithstanding the musical puritans' reservations, the entry of the cassette-based cheap songs couldn't be resisted. A section of commercial music companies tuned to bringing out the cassettes of popular Hindi and Bangladeshi songs indiscriminately. Like experienced in every sector of the performing arts, the audio songs sector was also seen being overrun by musical schlocks. When it comes to popularity, the other musical mediums stand nowhere near the songs-filled cassettes. At one time, the ribbon-based cassettes became so handy and widely enjoyed that arrays of outlets opened in Dhaka. Their trade was based on filling blank cassettes with songs chosen by clients. The pieces were taken from a master cassette or several gramophone records. One such outlet, located on Elephant Road in Dhaka and called 'Gaaner Dali', earned great popularity among young music lovers.

The bang with which the audio cassettes entered the Dhaka music world was largely absent when the fever began petering out. Their place was taken by smart phones in the early nineties. It occurred in a lightning speed, almost like veni, vidi, vici. When it comes to the start of using a new essential product, which also has a consumer item's features, it overwhelms the market overnight. It has proved true with the mobile-cum-smart phones. The new-age phone has a chip for music. There is an incredibly large space for storage of songs. Apart from communicating over a smart phone, carrying it is like remaining attached to a musical repertoire. Apparently, no other musical devices can go near it --- including gramophone records, CD (compact disc) players, cassette players, and, not even radios. But yet all credits go to gramophone, especially as the pioneer and precursor of the device of storing recorded music.

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