Vol. 5 Num 658 Tue. April 04, 2006  

We want to link our music with the rest of the world ---Azad Rahman

AZAD Rahman had music in his family, with his father being a singer. When he was born, in the pre- Partition days there were songs, jatra, leto (a folk drama) the playing of dhol during Moharram, Saraswati and Durga puja songs and dances throughout the year. He has acted danced and sung on these memorable occasions. In his birthplace, Bardhaman, classical songs flourished, patronised by the raja of the place, with Gopeshor Bandyopadhyay to lead them. Rahman studied at the Rabindrabharati University. Along with classical music, he learnt folk songs, kirtan, dhrupad, khayal, toppa, thumri, songs of Tagore, Atul Prasad, DL Rai and Rajani Kanta. At the same time he learnt the piano from a Christian priest. Thus, says, Azad Rahman, there was practice of both classical and western music in Kolkata during his time.

He embarked on his career as a music director in the film Miss Priyongboda in 1962. After the Kolkata riots, he came away to Dhaka and joined the Radio as a composer and music director. In time he became the Director General of the Shilpakala Academy. In this role, he had to supervise the painting, music and literature departments of the Academy. He sought to bring in permanency in the posts of artistes so that they had a better status than those on contract basis. He also began the Shilpkala Academy bureaus at the upazilla basis. In addition he also organised the Asian Biennials of those times. He retired in 2000 from the Shilpakala Academy.

Currently he works for the Centre for Education Creative and Performing Arts. Along with UNESCO, the Centre organised the National Music Festival at the end of January 2006. Last year they had held an international music festival, comprising Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi artistes.

"We want to link our music with the rest of the world," said Rahman, adding, "In particular I'm concentrating on Bangla khayal. Earlier khayal, thumri and dadra were all in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujarati and Punjabi. Khayal is a classical form that came down from Amir Khusro's time and is a reflection of Muslim culture. Under Persian and Turkish influence, dhrupad was transformed into khayal. I'm trying to work on this and there are two books on khayal from the Bangla Academy. We create songs, teach them and try to reach out to the rest of the world by releasing them from BBC, VOA and even Deutsche Welle. This has been recorded in NHK in Japan too. I've done workshops on this in Shantiniketan. When the musicians come to the music festivals they can sing in their own language," Azad Rahman said.

The Bangla khayal that Azad Rahman is concentrating on is not a translation of the Hindi khayal. In his view, the regional flavour is essential. This, says Azad Rahman, is akin to Chinese cuisine, which differs from New York to Shanghai. Thus one sees that Ghulam Ali and Ajai Chakrabarti's khayals differ. Azad Rahman has maintained the raag and raagini and introduced the Bangla flavour into the khayal, evoking particular thoughts and emotions.

Apart from this, Azad Rahman is also working on 'Raga on Piano' in which he tries to reach out to the western world by introducing them to the innovative work of the East. The piano he plays is a blending of the East and West. Even in Bonn they have heard the piece called 'Azad Rahman', a composition in the form of a symphony orchestra.

Azad Rahman on the piano