One last revolution in Bengali music: Ekti Biborton Er Kahini
“Keep this audio cd with you, you may keep it with you or create pirated versions of these songs, I don’t care, but can you tell me, did I deserve what I have got for these songs?”
Maqsudul Haque’s eyes drenched with tears, when he uttered these words of painstaking experience in front of a budding journalist. Maqsudul, more popular by the name “Mack” joined new band “Dhaka” as the lyricist cum vocalist, after he shifted from his previous band “Feedback”, both based in Bangladesh. Dhaka was probably the first band who brought songs to the public of Bangladesh which did not deal much on love and lack of love, I mean to say heart break. They broke the barrier, by writing songs about the system and its corruptions that exists in Bangladesh. In 1998, Dhaka released their album “Praptoboyoshkoder jonne nishiddho” (Banned for the adults). The album told about the enormous corruption of the Bangladeshi political system that goes on and on. More over the lyrics of those songs consisted of the very names of the political leaders of Bangladesh and raised the finger of attack directly at them, which was in its own way a cry of a rebel. Attack of the words was relentless and on the bulls eye. Even the fundamentalists were not left out from the target of that attack. It was told in the songs that they do nothing according to the religion; they have no rite to call them the holders of religion. An album which was bound to get banned, an album whose pride was hidden in the fact that of getting banned was actually never banned. The experienced campaigners in the form of politicians and the fundamentalists waited a bit longer for Mack’s next “wrong” step. And they got what they were looking for. Out came the next album of “Dhaka”. In that album there was a jazz version of the famous Rabindrasangeet (Tagore’s song) “Na Chahile jaare pawa jay” (That you get without asking for it). Mack named it “Rabindranath 2010”. Politicians accused Mack that he had abused Tagore and asked the police to arrest him for the discrimination of Rabindrasangeet. Mack was kept in the police custody for two days and continuously tortured by the police. He was beaten so much that it took 6 longs months for Mack to stand straight on his feet.
May be during the independence of India, Bangladesh was taken away from West Bengal, but the rich art culture and music that they both possessed kept on beeping in both brothers heart with the same pulse. When bands like Dhaka, Artcell and Warfaze and about hundreds like them were turning it on against the system, against everything that is corrupted and static in Bangladesh with their new age sound and alternative lyrics ,“the winds of change” was flowing in West Bengals music scenario too. But the irony was that, these songs that were made, keeping the adults and their maturity as its target audience amazingly became popular among the teen agers and fresh bloods. Thus in a way, this last revolution that I am talking about changed into an underground movement, a movement of music. Probably it is one of those most underrated underground movements that ever happened in the history of Indian music. The movement that started with a string of solo singers who were lyricist, music director and singers of their songs, found its more superior support in the form of band music.
Changes and Revolution have gone hand to hand with Bangla music over the years. From the days of “Charyapad” [the first evidence of Bengali literature found till date], the musical river in Bengal has taken its turns so many times, changed her style of lyrics, essence , texture , tempo or sound in so many directions that up to now there is no sign of her destination Estuary i.e. becoming stagnant in a way. Except the period when Marathas (Known as a race called “borgi” in Bengal) attacked the lands of Bengal, the literature and poetry factory of Bengal had never come across any lean period that was devoid of songs. And look, it came back with a bang, when great Chandidas wrote “Sri Krishna kirtan”, and poetry of Bengal again found its galaxy way. Over the year’s great poets and musicians born in the golden lands of Bengal, created some of the greatest creations of poetry and music, for which the whole nation can feel proud. But during late 80’s music in Bengal was going nowhere except boring and monotonous romantic songs. “Ami ar Tumi” (“me and you”) seemed to be the core of each and every Bengali song whereas so many different things were happening around the common Bengalis life. Perhaps music taste and the lyrical sense of Bengalis at that time was slowly but surely moving more towards national way, which means they were taking more interests on Hindi bollywood music than Bengali contemporary music. Kishore Kumar can be used as a great example of this sudden change. Many guys in Bengal at that time were so much impressed by the easy but god gifted voice of the maestro that they started trying their hands in singing without even taking the basic trainings. Copying Kishore Kumar’s voice is easy as there is not that much “harkat” in it but constantly hitting the nodes bingo like him is task of a genius only, which a few understood. Taking music easily for the first time became a trend in Bengal. You can still find traces of that even today when you see beggars singing Kishore Kumar songs in local trains of Kolkata to earn a few for their life. Going easy with music became a good friend of writing cheap, monotonous and pretty common type lyrics. Hypnotized by the foot tappers and very romance oriented music, Bengali music industry was reluctant to touch those issues that deal with the common mans life. But it takes only a spark for Fire to show its true colors. Here new generations and new talents over the years have saved the graces whenever Bengal, the “Kurukshetra” of “Arts and culture”, found it wanting just like those words used in “Madvagwat Gita”. Canteens of Presidency College and quite a few like it, the coffee house at College Street, many outings like these where thinking Bengalis come together, stretched their helping hand to create a platform to re establish Bengali music again on its earlier grace and glory. The platform was set for a revolution to blossom and it blossomed in the form of “Tomake chai” (Want you) (1992), an album by Kabir Suman, one the forefathers of a new genre called “Jibonmukhi gaan” (songs that deals with life or more precisely that is not larger than life). Like “Tomake chai” many albums hit the billboard of bangla music and left its mark in the common peoples mind. In a short span of 8 or 9 years so many classics came out in various forms of music. In this regard there are two things that don’t go parallel with time and taste. The type of lyrics that these songs were carrying was not much different from the lyrics written by “Moheener Ghoraguli” (Moheen’s Horses), A Bengali band that evolved during the 70’s. But MG never got their due respect from the public that they deserved when they actually existed. Probably they were quite ahead of time and their approach towards music was so alien to common Bengalis that it took them a while to feel it in their system. The another reason could be, the golden era of Bengali music that was in its full flow during 70’s never allowed MG’s songs to hit the heart of Bengalis with same vibration and to hold its head high in the parallel competition. Now MG is treated as an icon band in Bengal. From Teen agers to the sophisticated old Bengali go mad listening to their creations, you have the “Abar Bochhor Tirish pore” (Again after 30 years) organized in the dome of bangla band “Najrul Manch”, just like “Metallica icon” is organized in abroad where other bands show tribute to “Metallica” by performing Metallica’s Popular numbers.
Like MG, I have found many other bands or solo artists who have played significant hand in these still running innings of renaissance. I know the pool of songs is gigantic and my article would never end talking about them. So keeping all the genres and different messages they wanted to portray I have shamelessly chosen only six(five) songs which I believe left traces in common Bengalis mind and thus became classics of all time.
1. Telephone: [officially released in the album “Maya” by “Moheener Ghoraguli”, 1997]
Those who have heard “Knocking on Heavens Door” by Bob Dylan will be able to relate themselves with the respect and iconic stature that “Telephone” achieved from the audience of Bengal. Arguably this is the best track ever made in the history of bangla band music. Similar to “Knocking on Heavens Door” this particular song has more than one version to its credit. Just like a string of solo singers and bands in the from of Eric Clapton, Avril Lavigne, Guns and Roses, Dunblane or The Alarm who had sung KOHD as covers, Bands all over Bengal decorate this number in their own way and with the sound that they believe in, just to show their tribute to beloved Moni Mama (Gautam Chattopadhyay), the front man and founder of “Moheener Ghoraguli”. The core flavor of “Telephone” is actually a genre called “Baul”. Like “Folk” or “Toppa”, Baul is also a genre of music that has a deep connection with our motherland. Usually Music of Baul songs are very prolific but require a singer who has got a huge range to sing them properly. That’s why “Telephone” is not an easy piece to sing. Listening to “Telephone” for the first time, most of us will feel it is an intense love song. But actually the song tells you about hope. It’s the hope that keeps you going, just like a lover waits for the telephone to ring and hopes that it’s his girlfriends call. Seeing so many Rock versions of “Telephone”, another thing that strikes about this song is that, just like “Rock and roll” evolved from “Country music” and “Blues” in west, in Bengal too “Rock music” was formed from the soul of “Baul” music. In a way, it proves that the more you come close to your motherland, the more it will hit your heart.
2. Prithibi (The earth): [officially released in the album “Abar bochhor kuri pore” (Again after 20 years) by “Moheener Ghoraguli”, 1995]
When the promos of the Hindi movie “Gangster” started to hit the screens of various television channels, for the first time Indian audience tasted the quality of music that bangla bands usually develop in the form of “Bheegi Bheegi”. The basic composition of “Bheegi Bheegi” was taken from another legendary song “Prithibi”, again by MG. Krosswindz for the first time officially recorded that number, while Bonnie Chakraborty was the vocalist. “Prithibi” was musically a Psychedelic rock and lyrically an irony of our civilization. Though our world is getting smaller with the advent of new technologies and with one press of a button of remote control the whole world is in our hand in the form of idiot box, but the distance between two human beings is getting larger each and every day, is what the lyrics of “Prithibi” wants to tell. Prithibi was written in the early 80’s, when television set in each Bengali house would be considered as a piece of luxury. Thus in a way, Prithibi was not only a number of world music quality but also a song which crossed the regional sentiments and touched the international issue.
3. Holud pakhi (The Yellow Bird): [Released in the album “Cactus” by Cactus, 1999]
“Holud Pakhi” by cactus is an answer to Bryan Adams “summer of 69” keeping Bengali sentiments in mind. Holud Pakhi talks about a yellow bird, which signifies our childhood. A yellow bird that used to twitter sitting on a “Jamrul” (Bell fruit) tree in those days of childhood has flown away from our vision. The singer therefore croons the words “Firbe na she ki Firbe na. Firbe na ar kono din” (Will it never return, Will it never return, Will it ever return in future). Words like “Juborajer Ghora” (Horse of the Prince) and “Rajkonnar nupur” (Nupur of Princess), hit the nostalgic corner of your mind again and again and the soft yet profound music of “Holud Pakhi”, pushes you back to your childhood days in a flicker. The song is so magnetic in its own rites that , while listening to this number you loose yourself and as you start remembering your own childhood days , suddenly you utter those lines “Firbe na she ki Firbe na. Firbe na ar kono din” (Will it never return, Will it never return, will it ever return in future) instinctively.
4. Nilanjana: [Released in the album “Ei besh valo achhi” (this way, I am living quite a good life) by Nochiketa Chakrabarty]
Nochiketa Chakrabarty was one of the pioneers of the genre “Jibomukhi Gaan”. This rebel student of “Ashutosh” college released his first album “Ei besh valo achhi” (this way, I am living quite good life). The idea was to make a statement that we are actually not living a good life rather we are so compromising that everybody is reluctant to confess or change that. “Nilanjana”, the 4th song of that album did not take long to hit the Bengali music listeners’ heart. Though the song depicts the failure in first love, but behind the curtains this song was pointing its finger to how the pool of huge talent was dying or loosing its way, that exists in Bengal. While lines like “Hazar kobita bekar sob e ta, tar kotha keu bolena, she prothom prem amar Nilanjana” (Those thousands of poems are of no use, because they don’t tell about my first girl friend, Nilanjana) shows the attraction to read poetry and eagerness to try their own hand in writing them among common Bengali youths, “Onker khata vora thakto akay, tar chhobi tar naam patay patay” (Exercise books of Maths were full of drawings, her name and her picture in each page) or “Raat jege natoker mohoray chonchol” (Busy in the practices of plays , during sleepless nights), shows their talent in arts and drawings. But all those talents die before they blossom as issues like lack of employment and failure in love start to play their cruel tricks. “Daam diye jontrona kinte chay” (Want to buy pain) shows how they fall for drugs and uses syringe to push those drugs in their body. Nilanjana was a path breaker in this approach. In fact Nilanjana showed the way to many other upcoming lyricists how they can point their finger towards the evils of the system under envelop of their favorite topic, which is love.
5. 2441139: [Released in the album “Shunte ki chao” (Do you want to listen) by Anjan Dutta, 1994]
If the intro acoustics guitar sound of “Coffee house” by Manna dey was the first successful advent of country sound in Bengali non-movie music, then it soon found its successor in 2441139, more popular by the name “Bela Bose”. 2441139 is a telephone number and a guy is ringing that number to tell his girl friend Bela bose that now she can tell her mother and deny to marry the other guy as at last he has got a job. He is calling from a public telephone booth and meter is notching up each and every second, but still he is not finding his girlfriend at the other end. Throughout the song or this phone call, he remembers his days of struggle and how their life stalled in between this tug of war of unemployment and love. “Raastar koto sosta hotel e boddho cabin e bondi dujone ruddhoshas koto protikkhay” (Sitting in closed cabins of cheap roadside hotels with breathless wait). The song has reached such a height of popularity that any Bengali guy who gets a job for the first time through campus interviews or whatever way it may be, no matter what is his family’s economic condition or he possesses a girlfriend or not, he will sing this number instinctively. 2441139 is a track that throws light on brain drains that is running out of west Bengal and courses like arts and commerce loosing its applications in future, creating a huge lack of employment scopes.
6. Bicycle Chor (Bicycle thief) [Released in the album “Fossils2” (Do you want to listen) by Fossils, 2003]
Somebody told the best way of presenting an art is to hide it. If that is true then the song bicycle chor (Bicycle thief) by the alternative rock band fossils, is the Kohinoor of bangla band song lyrics. The song is full of slangs and untoward harsh statements. Lines like “Ma bon hoyechhe bessa, ami bicycle chor” (Mother and sisters have become prostitutes, I am bicycle thief) or “Boyesh Tero theke unish, choice chor hobina khuni “(Age is between thirteen and nineteen, choice is to be a thief or a murderer) make you feel what kind of rubbish is this. But actually it tells you that production factory of the system is getting inert day by day. Just like recycle bin where there are only two (bi) facilities available, either to restore or delete , our system is moving in that same direction. The songs tells if you are a teen ager then there are two choices available for you , either be a murderer , means destroy everything that was developed in the past or be a thief , means plagiarize from the existing materials. Thus nothing new will be created which is the trend. Famous Italian novel “Bicycle thief” puts the light on the same issue, where the system was totally dependent on the “chor bazaar”. Mothers and sisters regarded in this song are none but the ladies doing skin show in remix videos of old songs. Thus bicycle chor in a way takes the Mickey out of the remix and remakes going in the music industry.
The outburst of senses has really brought the freedom of thoughts in Bengal. Now hardly anyone in Bengal calls the guitarist as a “hand”, rather they get their actual respect as “Musicians”. Now days so many young guys in Bengal take band music as their profession and tries their hand in creating music and writing lyrics, it makes me feel the days of individualism will fade away from Bengal for ever and soon everyone will feel the power of group work.
Author Biswarup Ghatak is a technocrat and this is his first contribution for Pentasect. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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