mother used to say I started to hum much before I
started to talk,” Ferdausi Rahman, one of the finest
artistes of Bangla music, speaks of her initiation
into music. Being the only daughter of legendary Abbasuddin
Ahmed, the king of Bangla folk songs, music was very
much in her blood. Her first lessons in music began
under the tutelage of her father. “My father would
take not only me, but all three of us (Ferdausi and
her two elder brothers, Mostafa Kamal Abbasi and Mostafa
Zaman Abbasi) together and make us sing with him.
with her father at a literary gathering.
I used to accompany my father to different places
to sing with him. Sometimes, however, he would leave
me alone on the stage and make me sing,” she remembers.
Ferdausi took lessons in classical music from several
renowned Ustads like Muhammad Hussain Khosru, Yusuf
Khan Uuraishi, Qader Zamiri, Nazakat Ali Khan and
Salamat Ali Khan.
Ferdausi went on air when she was only six. She became
a regular artist of the television when Dhaka Television
started in 1964. In fact, she happens to be the first
artist of Dhaka Television. Even before that, Ferdausi
had already begun to sing in the films for both Bangla
and Urdu films. Till date, she has sung for about
200 films. Since her childhood Ferdausi has traversed
a wide range of music with equal ease and skill. Her
strong foundation in classical music enables her to
make the different genres of music sound as if each
was her specialisation. While the more classical based
music like Khayal, Thumri, Ghazals are her forte she
is also the exponent of traditional Bangla music like
Bhawaiya, Bhatiali, Folk songs. She has also made
her mark in Nazrul Geeti, and modern songs.
her numerous awards in 1954.
It was sometimes around the late sixties. Ferdausy
received a rather strange proposal. “Montu bhai (artist
Mostafa Monwar) who was our family friend, wanted
to involve me in a children's programme. I refused
point blank, but finally gave in to his relentless
persuasion,” Ferdausi recalls how this particular
programme started. It was, 'Esho Gan Shikhi', a programme
that offered music lessons to children on television.
Ferdausi's unique handling of the programme, specially
her ability to interact with children with a little
bit of pep talk and that well-known, ever-assuring
smile, gave the programme a different kind of charm
and liveliness. Then there was Mithu-Monti, the puppet
duo, who engaged in mutual fighting at every opportunity
and sang out in their strange voice, often distorting
the melodious chorus. “Children keep on asking me
about MithuMonti. Khalamoni, why can't we see their
feet? Why don't they go near your dais and give music
exams?” Rahman says.
performing on the BBC, November 1967.
In the late seventies a new chapter opened up in her
illustrious career. Already a veteran of more than
a hundred films as a playback singer, Rahman ventured
into music direction. Not willingly though.
“I never thought of composing music until I was kind
of forced into trying my hands in music direction.”
It was the renowned filmmaker Ehtesham, who asked
Ferdausi to do music direction in his film.( She used
to call him chacha and he also fondly called her chacha).
A somewhat bewildered Ferdausi rejected the idea:
“What do I know of music direction?” Finally, however,
she agreed to give it a try. Along with Robin Ghosh,
who would later become the famous music director,
Ferdausi gave music direction in Rajdhanir Buke. The
film was a hit, so was its music. One of the songs
of this film has found a place in the all time greatest
hits of Bangla film songs: Tomare legeche eto je bhalo,
chand bhujhi ta jane..ee… ee, ratero basore doshor
hoye tai she amare tane……... Hardly a week went by
before film lovers in Dhaka and soon the entire country
was humming this song. And the song is just as popular
with legendary Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan.
confidant Rahman then accepted another film Megher
Onek Rong. This time she did the score all by herself.
Interestingly there were no songs, so Ahmed had to
play around the background music. “It was extremely
challenging and I worked really hard for that film,”
she recalls. Her efforts didn't go unrecognised. The
film won the National Award for Ferdausi in the category
of music direction. Ferdausi then gave music direction
in two more films -- Nolok and Garial Bhai. The movie
Garial Bhai however couldn't be completed for some
reason even though the music was done.
Unfortunately Ferdausi's career as a music director
was destined to be short-lived. It was the early eighties
and the copying spree that would engulf the Bangla
filmdom had already started to surface. Thus, in spite
of the huge success of her composition, that too,
with only three films to her credit, Ferdausi had
to impose self-retirement. “Besides less and less
number of people were coming to me, as they knew that
the kind of music they need for their films would
not be done by me”, Ferdausi remembers. The copying
has now grown so rampant that people have even stopped
complaining about it.
Bangla music has long lost its glorious days. What
we have today in the name of Bangla music has very
little Bangali element in it. The rich mellifluous
tune of our Bangla music, very much characteristic
of the soil it springs from, is not heard anymore.
Ferdausi feels sad, sometimes regrets, but never loses
heart at the wretched state of Bangla music. She points
out some of the main reasons behind that. Our absolute
indifference to or ignorance about our traditional
Bangla music has left us musically rootless. Secondly,
the ever-spreading virus of copying has gradually
infected the entire Bangla filmdom and with it, its
music. The advent of satellite channels have also
brought about radical changes in our musical taste,
particularly among the younger generation. “I am not
against Hindi songs, but that should not be at the
expense of our own musical heritage,” she says.
with her husband.
But who is responsible for this wretched state of
our films and film music? Is it the bad taste of those
who make films or those who watch and enjoy them?
Ferdausi uses an analogy to answer: “It is the responsibility
of the housewife to serve good food. If she keeps
on serving bad, stale and adulterated food, others
in the house will begin to like it. Simply because
they haven't tasted good food.” She believes that
'making money' has become the guiding principle and
'greed' the basic 'driving force' among most of them
who invest money for filmmaking. No doubt filmmaking
has its commercial/business side, but a film is also
an art work, she argues. “And as far as business is
concerned, good films do make profit. There are numerous
examples”, she says.
Ferdausi is also critical about television's performances
when it comes to upholding and promoting our cultural
heritage of which music is a most vital component.
Again, since BTV or Betar for that matter, is not
supposed to be worried about making profit, they are
in an ideal position to promote and nurture our musical
heritage. The picture is unfortunately exactly the
opposite. Those who are in charge of running the television
are more concerned about their own 'chairs' and busy
in exploiting their official positions to pursue their
personal interests. They care little about how a programme
should be improved or what new things can be added
or doing experiments or playing with new ideas.
Besides, some musical programmes like those of classical
music and folk songs are presented with great negligence,
Rahman alleges. While these programmes receive lowest
attention in terms of time slot, budgetary allocation,
recording facilities, etc. The way those programmes
are presented (bears no marks) of even the most minimal
of effort and thought that usually go into making
a good programme. Naturally such dull and boring productions
don't interest the audience who, instead, grow a permanent
distaste to traditional folk music. Whereas, the copied
film songs and other musical programmes enjoying great
care and often luxurious treatment.
Besides, what is the cultural ministry doing? She
asks, it is the job of the cultural ministry to nurture
our traditional Bangla music. They haven't even managed
to preserve what we have, not to mention nurturing
it, she accuses.
The private television channels have also done precious
little in this regard, Rahman alleges. Our treasure
of musical heritage continued to be neglected. Besides,
standards are often compromised for commercial concerns.
“You want to make quality programmes, but when it
comes to paying the artists you become close-fisted,”
Rahman doesn't hide her disapproval of such bad tendency.
Again, petty political considerations and sectarian
interests have often done serious harms by creating
divisions and mistrust in artist community. Rahman
doesn't mask her resentment as she talks about the
'black listing culture' of artists mainly in the government
controlled media. Every time a government is changed,
a blacklist is prepared of some artists who allegedly
enjoyed the previous government's blessing. After
5 years the same procedure is repeated. This must
be stopped…,' she goes on, 'I am sorry but I must
say that this practice had its origin in '71. Some
artists who stayed in Bangladesh during the war and
did programmes on TV or Radio were readily labelled
as “collaborators”. They did not try to understand
the circumstances--in many cases artists were forced,
even at gun-points to do programmes. But nobody seemed
to be listening', she pauses after a long gap.
In a career spanning over almost five decades Ferdausi
Rahman has received many awards in recognition to
her achievements and contribution to the different
branches of Bangla music. The President's Pride of
Performance Medal in 1965, Ekushey Padak, Shadhinota
Padak, Best TV Singer National Award, Pakistan Film
Journalists Award are only the more illustrious entries
of a surprisingly long list.
At present Ferdausi is busy with Abbasudin Music Academy.
She hopes to acquaint today's children with their
rich musical heritage, which, seems to be fast vanishing.
She has a dream. “I want to send my students to every
locality, where they will teach the people one or
two particular songs. Gradually the entire country
will learn to sing a common song. Wherever you go,
whoever you are with, the moment you start to sing
that song everybody around you joins you immediately.
Isn't it great?” she asks eagerly. Yes, it is.