<%-- Page Title--%> Weekend Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 116 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

August 01, 2003

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Why are we so Indefferent towards Our songs and music

Mahfuz Anam

It was during the last Eid that I went to buy a new CD cum cassette player. The electronic shop was overflowing with Eid time buyers, as this particular outlet was the agent of a very famous brand in the CD and cassette player business. Sounds blared from all directions as several customers were trying the CD/cassette players of their choice before finalising their purchase. I couldn't help but notice that only Hindi songs were being played, the popular tunes that one can't help but hear in the dozens of Hindi channels that we get here in Bangladesh.

Not particularly fond of Hindi songs I wanted to hear some of my favourite Bangla songs in the new CD player that I was about to buy. After all I was buying it for myself and I wanted to find out how my favourite songs would sound in it. So I asked for any CD of Tagore or Nazrul songs. His apology indicated that he did not have any. I widened his option and asked for any CD of any type of Bangla songs. The salesman was visibly embarrassed and confessed that his shop did not keep any demonstration CD of Bangla songs.

To my outrage his pat reply was that no customer had asked for it before. I had to face the fact that he may be telling the truth because it did not make any sense for the shop not to keep even one Bangla CD if the customers wanted it. Just to satisfy myself I stayed in the shop for the next hour and observed to my deep sorrow that every CD or cassette player bought were being tried out on Hindi songs. Maybe to tease me or to make his point, the salesman attending to me said “Dekhlen toe Sir”.

Since then I have been to many CD/cassette shops and have been amazed by the huge stock of Hindi songs and the paucity of the Bangla offerings. In one shop I asked if he had any songs of Pankaj, and the salesperson immediately brought me a cassette of Pankaj Udas. He confessed to never having heard of Pankaj Mallik.

If one goes to mid range popular restaurants that provide TV monitors for the entertainment of guests invariably they will show music videos of Hindi songs. Last week I went for a hair cut and was forced to suffer a good forty minutes of the same.

The point I am making here is that there is in an inexplicable indifference among us about our own music. I have nothing against Hindi, Urdu or Western music but how can I tolerate an environment where very little support is being given to promote our own music and songs? We lived in Thailand for a good five years and saw how the Thais promote their own music. Their musical heritage is not particularly richer than ours. The truth is we do not promote our musicians or our music as vigorously as our rich heritage and our artistes deserve.

I will readily admit that there is a certain charm of Hindi music. There are some extremely talented music composers, lyricists and singers in the Hindi film world. Conversely we do not have anybody replacing the genius of Hemanta, Feroza, Sandhya, Manabendra, Ferdousi, Shyamal in today's music world. Our Runas and Sabinas did not get the support of talented lyricists, composers and music directors the Hindi singers get. Playback singing which promotes songs and music through successful films have also not helped our cause very much, as there is nothing much to say about our films.

Much to the credit of exponents of Tagore and Nazrul songs we still have a vibrant group of listeners for that category of music. But still it has not grown to the level that it deserves. The most pathetic situation exists in the case of modern Bangla songs. Here the lyrics and the music are at such a miserable state that most of us have turned away from them. But there are some superb voices whose songs are comparable to the most talented anywhere. But they are not getting our support. I have heard some fresh new voices who can easily make enchanting records given the due support. They definitely need our patronisation. Just the other day two young singers from outside Dhaka held a small audience totally captivated. As I was listening to them I couldn't help wonder what these talented artists could do for us given proper exposure and support.

There are some incredible voices in the folk arena and there has been a cassette revolution of sorts where some artists are known to have a huge following. Much to the credit of our band groups, they have helped to bring back our youngsters to Bangla songs and music. The songs and music of these band groups were looked down upon at the beginning as some kind of vulgar distortion of our music. But it is they who have, in my view, made the most effective contribution in bringing the youth back to Bangla music through their innovation and adoption of modern forms and musical instruments.

The bottom line is that we must promote our own music and our musicians. We are not suggesting a narrowing of our focus nor the exclusion of outside music. In fact the very opposite. We must hear and enjoy music from all over the world but at the same time promote our own. Look at countries like France, Spain, Japan or any other country whose music tradition is as rich as ours. They have modernised and adopted new music forms and instruments but they never abandoned their own music.

There is a certain ambivalence in us about our musical heritage. There are those among us who are great lovers of Tagore and Nazrul songs. But they are a special group. Our folk music also has a very large following. But if we see the status of our artists, the financial constraints they live under and the money they make from their musical career, the scene is quite depressing. The condition of our musicians is even worse. The recent trend of holding musical soirees in private homes and paying artists and music hands for performing in them is opening a very narrow avenue for the artists to earn some extra money. But that is hardly adequate. The real answer lies in large-scale societal patronisation of our music. We must support music institutions and our newspapers must promote our artists. Our corporate world must sponsor big national musical events so that artists can perform in them and receive national recognition. Both the government TV channels and the private ones must show innovations in their programmes to promote newer talents. In this regard a word of praise must be added for the Bengal Foundation for their sponsorship of local artists to make CDs and cassettes. They have done a great job and others should follow their example.


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