A Peek into the
Bangladeshi Rock n' Roll History
The '60s are considered to be the heydays of Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Eagles. These bands literally took the world audience by storm with their sheer energy, live concerts and somewhat rebellious appearance. Bangladesh or erstwhile East Pakistan was also soon catching up with the verve and in no time a couple of band groups came into being, namely Underground Peace Lover and Lightening which started by performing popular English numbers by Beatles, Eagles and Rolling Stones at various clubs and hotels. But it was Pop guru Azam Khan who first ventured into the realm of blending Bangla lyrics with western style rendition in the early '70s. This new genre of music instantly struck a chord with the young generation and leading to the emergence of some band groups in rapid succession. Azam Khan's Uchcharon Shilpa Goshthi was soon followed by Spondon, Souls, Feelings, Winning, Chime, Miles, Renaissance, Feedback, and Rock Strata. Many more names could be included in the long line of bands that have come to be formed since the post liberation period but only a handful of them have managed to make a lasting impression on the music aficionados.
Miles, now celebrating their silver jubilee, is one Bangladeshi band that can be singled out for gaining popularity not only at home but also beyond the borders. Founded way back in '79 by Fareed Rashid, Miles is widely considered to be the bench mark for any band for superb performance and a largely unchanged line up for a long period of time. Miles' popularity first transcended the national borders in the 90s when they were invited to perform in Bangalore. The show was an instant hit. Afterwards Miles took part in a charity show aimed at raising funds for the earthquake victims in Gujarat in '01. In that particular concert, Miles' riveting performance caught the imagination of everyone present at the show. Recognition came pouring in Miles' way from all directions and for the first time a Bangladeshi band was interviewed by CNN. Interestingly enough, Miles is equally popular in non-Bangali regions of India such as Delhi and Chandigarh as it is in Calcutta. Feedback and LRB are two other notable band groups that have had considerable success all over Bangladesh.
Even well into the late '80s, Bangla band songs didn't hold much appeal to the audience, but Feedback changed the whole scenario with 'Melai Jairay', one of the most popular band songs ever, that sent ripples all over Bangladesh. Feedback's success arguably set the tempo for Bangla band songs and more and more bands started singing Bangla songs. Miles who were yet to bring out any Bangla album, also decided to venture into Bangla songs banking on the success of Feedback; this signaled a revolutionary change in the band music industry. However, it's the '90s that heralded the heydays of band music in the country. This particular decade marked the rise of some gifted and mercurial artists to prominence that came to mesmerise the audience with their inimitable style and poise. The enigmatic James of Nagarbaul arguably has had the largest fan following ever. His robust energy, Eric Clapton-like strumming, Punjabi-clad rough and tough appearance and heavy metal voice were enough to drive the concert goers into a state of frenzy. Hasan of Ark, who with his unique, high-pitched voice caught the attention of many music fans. Ayub Bachchu of LRB is another name that came to gain immense popularity in the '90s. Considered as one of the niftiest pluckers in the region, Bachchu's popularity stemmed from brilliant musical composition and rocking performance on stage.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since the early days. At the beginning most bands played pop or pop-rock. Gradually with the proliferation of the number of bands, genres diversified; some ventured into Rock n' Roll, some others started hard rock and many others have had their time experimenting with fusion of many genres. Many see Rock Strata as the pioneer of hard rock in Bangladesh; this group started in the '80s. Then in the '90s Warfaze took over from Rock Strata and became a huge hit with rock fans. Cryptic Fate was the first band to bring out a heavy metal album of English songs. Recent trends show that the young bands are more into heavy metal music these days. Heavy metal bands like Black and Artcell are predicted to stay longer than a brief tryst with the audience. But other genres such as pop are also going quite well with the audience.
"The taste of the audience is always a determining factor in promoting any type of music, says Hasan 'A certain section of the audience is very knowledgeable and true connoisseurs of good music. There is also a section that goes after catchy tunes and beats. If there's a boom in tasteless songs, then the taste of audience to some extent should be held responsible too. If people hadn't been listening to tasteless songs, them these songs would never have been commercially successful."
Recording companies more often than not show disinterest in upcoming bands or artists; they hardly give their nod to anyone new or something alternative; this is one unanimous lament that reverberates in the junior camps. Some of them even came up with serious allegations of malpractice and depravity against the stalwarts in the band arena. "In most cases when a debutante approaches a recording company they are made to go through a sham assessment phase conducted by an appointed panel of judges comprised of some stalwarts in the music arena. More often than not, the initial verdict happens to be negative; but this initial 'No' ultimately turns into 'Yes' upon acquiescing to amoral demands such as hefty amounts in kickbacks.'
Even though contacted several times, the 'stalwart' in question was unavailable for comments. 'With so many substandard artists getting breaks all round the year, I should term the complaint baseless,' says Bogy, a prominent band personality of the country, and founder of Ektaar. 'I'm not trying to say that such practices are totally non-existent in the industry. But my opinion is that there's still ample scope for a new comer to break through.'
'Recording companies are here to do business, and they always look for someone who can give them a hit. I personally believe anyone with real promise won't have to hanker after recording companies, rather they'll be sought out by the recording companies. The point is that a newcomer should really try and grab any opportunity by both hands in order to be successful,' says Shafin, lead vocalist of Miles.
Even though the number of bands is increasing day by day in this country, the dearth of female band musicians is still quite conspicuous. What could be the reason for the absence of female band groups?
"Being a regular band member entails a lot of commitments to keep up with, which I think is one major reason why many female artists haven't been on the circuit. It's also applicable for western countries as well where female representation in bands is pretty minimal compared to male. I don't think there's any other factor that discourages girls from forming or joining bands. But one thing you should take notice of, there are lots of solo female artists who are performing and doing well everywhere. So overall female representation is quite satisfactory I should say," Bogy contends.
"Often we have to rehearse up as late as 3 o'clock at night, especially prior to live shows. The physical rigours of travelling and performing for two consecutive hours on the stage are never quite easy to take either. All these factors plus a conservative social mindset unfortunately haven't helped to create a propitious atmosphere for girls," Shafin explains.
Cameo appearances and evanescent popularity mark careers of many band musicians.
"The real success of any artist lies in how long his songs echo among the audience. In the case of modern music, style and presentation are constantly changing as tastes change, and that makes staying popular over an extended period of time even more difficult. But genuinely good bands will always be able to eke out a special place in the heart of audience over time. Look at the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; they are still very much in with the audience even after 40 years," Bogy contends. There are at least a dozen examples of how a band started with a lot of promise, but eventually that promise died down even before it could take shape either because of break up or sudden inactivity. But why does this happen?
"Forming a band is something akin to getting into wedlock,' Bogy explains. 'A marriage falls apart when the two persons involved can no longer get along with each other well or fail to live up to the marital vows. In a band, things are even more complex with five or six people committing themselves to one another. So in my opinion, the question should be how a band of five or six people manages to stay together for so long, rather than why do bands break up."
"Band members are just like other people; they have their personal commitments which often force them to part ways with the band even if it is for some days. Fareed Rashid had to move permanently to USA for personal reasons and Shafin had to leave in early eighties in pursuit of higher studies before coming back in '90s. There are so many reasons for which a person may not be able to continue," says Manam, Miles's keyboardist.
However, a junior band musician was more precise in pointing at the underlying reasons behind band break ups. "Personality clashes, distribution of money and leadership are more frequent reasons for band disintegration. Almost all the big bands have one problem; the band leader entitles himself to the lion's share of incomes and then distributes a negligible among the rest."
A handful of companies like Pepsi, Benson & Hedges often came forward to sponsor concerts and organise talent hunt programmes. Star Search was one very laudable initiative British. American Tobacco had taken in 1999 with a view to give budding artists and groups a break. Vikings, Steeler, Saptak and Subconscious all came up using the platform of Star Search. However, the recent interest of organisers in flying in Indian artists had left many of local artists fuming with deep resentment. Maqsood, Feedback's founder, was quite livid with the press for creating a fuss over the presence of Indian Idols in the country: 'The press always seems to go gaga over foreign artists, while hardly giving coverage of local artists. This outrageous tendency irks me to no end."
"During an open air concert, the organisers arranged a chopper flight for Junoon while doing nothing of that sort for the participating Bangladeshi bands. This kind of preferential treatment surely belittles local bands and hurts local music," says Saju of Artcell.
Allegations of drug abuse for long have been the bane in band music industry. Often band personalities are accused of encouraging the young generation who hero-worship them, to use drugs.
'This is complete rubbish,' Shafin says. 'Drugs have nothing to do with any type of music. Music calls for the utmost dedication on the part of musicians. Look at the musician who moves restlessly on the stage regaling fans with his unerring notes on the guitar and tireless voice for two hours on the trot. A tipsy person simply cannot do that. On top of that, band music like any other form of recreation provides a respite from the throes of life. The youngsters who throng the concert venues would be more prone to drug abuse if there were no recreational arrangement such as live concerts etc for them.'
"Whether a person chooses to live on drugs or not is entirely a personal choice; he/she can't be accused of encouraging drug abuse as long as he/she keeps it to him/herself. I don't think any artist has ever made any overt gesture on the stage that indicated he's on drugs," Bogy says.
Band music has a long history of extending a hand for charitable causes and motivational purposes. Be it for raising funds for those in distress or creating mass awareness about a burning social issue, bands have always been overwhelming in their response to such causes and as well as quite successful in their campaign.
"I can still hear the voice of George Harrison singing 'Bangladesh, Bangladesh' at Madison Square Garden. That was one concert that echoed Bangladesh's cry for independence all across the world,' says a middle-aged music fan "Whenever I see any local bands rising up for a humanitarian cause, I can feel the spirit in them that led to the birth of a nation."
(R) thedailystar.net 2005