Vol. 5 Num 60 Sun. July 25, 2004  

73rd Birth Anniversary
Abdul Alim: The king of folk songs
A forgotten chapter

Every artiste is identified by his/her tonal colour,' said Abdullah Abu Sayeed, chairman of the trustee board of the Biswa Sahittya Kendra. Only the radiant 'golden glow' can match that of Alim's admirable vocal range and tonal quality,' he added. 'He displayed unparalleled talent in songs such as Premer mora jole dobe na, Holudia pakhi shonar boron, Amare shajay dio nowshar shajey, Porer jayga porer jomi, Mone boro asha chhilo jabo Modinay, Sharbonasha Padma nadirey, Babu selam bare bar, Shab shakhire par korite nebo ana ana, Ujan ganger naiya and many more,' Sayeed said.

The Folk Music Council (FMC) recently gathered to pay rich tributes to the folk maestro Abdul Alim at the Biswa Sahittya Kendra. Chief guest Sayeed, special guest Tax Inspector M Khurshid Alam, eminent artistes Nadira Begum, Abdul Latif and others spoke on the occasion.

The founder president of FMC, Indra Mohon Rajbangshi took great pride in organising the programme commemorating the birth anniversary of the legendary singer for the first time in Bangladesh.'Abdul Alim's talent in Bhatiyali songs was a treat to the listeners. His melodious and gifted voice is yet to be surpassed by any other folk artiste. Alim played a vital role in popularising folk music and epitomised the very essence of folk culture,' said Rajbanshi.

Nadira Begum, a prominent folk singer, reminisced on how Alim often spent time with her father Abdul Aziz, a noted lyricist. Alim had often visited her house and stayed over to collect songs. 'In those days cassettes were not common. Gurumukhi bidda or learning from the Guru was the only way artistes developed themselves,' she said.

'Once, while returning from a programme,' Nadira said, 'our train was halted for several hours by the local people at Akhaura, keen to have a glimpse of the great singer Alim.'

'And this was not an uncommon feature,' she added. 'Often the other accompanying artistes fled from the scene, fearing audience reaction once Alim declined to perform any more,' Nadira added.

Abdul Alim was born on July 27, 1931 at Talibpur village of Murshidabad, India. Soon after the Partition, he came to Dhaka and joined the Dhaka Station of Pakistan Radio as a staff artiste. His musical talents flourished from a very young age. He grew fond of music through listening to records of the Gramophone Company. At the age of 14 he recorded two songs for the company. It is said that Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, was so moved by his voice that he gifted him with a handsome honorarium.

Once he settled here, he started to take music lessons from Mumtaz Ali Khan and Mohammad Hossain Khasru. Later he got in touch with Poet Jasimuddin, Kanailal Shil, M Osman Khan, Abdul Latif, Shamsher Ali and others.

He recorded over 300 Gramophone records and sang playbacks in over 100 films. He recorded songs for Mukh O Mukhosh, the first film ever produced in the erstwhile East Pakistan. He won the National Award 1974 posthumously for playback in Shujan Shokhi directed by Khan Ataur Rahman. During his career, he performed at a number of music conferences. Alim was awarded five gold medals for his virtuoso performance and contribution to music.

I vividly remember our music classes at Chayyanaut. Eminent Nazrul singer Sohrab Hossain, a very close associate of Alim, often filled us with humorous anecdotes on their long friendship. 'He was very afraid of heights, and dreaded the government delegations which were sent to far away countries by plane.

'Then there were times when the microphone had to be kept at a fair distance to avoid distortion while recording a song because of his powerful vocal range,' Sohrab Hossain would reminisce.

Stout and short in stature with deep penetrating eyes, Alim was a man of simple habits. Many of you who have seen Alim perform on stage or at the BTV will remember him in his simple dress of white pajama-panjabi. Popularity never drove him into illusory glamour.

With a life of great achievement, it is unfortunate that his work is gradually fading. BTV has stopped airing the recorded programmes of Alim, which are now mostly damaged due to the sheer negligence of the authority.

It was however, praiseworthy and heartening to see Bibi Russell organising Alim's popular songs to be presented by his children at the recently held Aarong Bangladesh Fashion display.

The Bangladesh Betar is the birthplace of so many talents. The authority should wake up and take immediate steps to preserve the golden voices of yesteryears. Let's not pay tribute to the legends who left a powerful footprint in the realm of music in death only.

Let's give folk music a boost.