From Bangla Beat To Afro Beat
Nadia Kabir Barb
I have to admit that I am not an aficionado of Bangladeshi music but I am definitely capable of appreciating good music when I hear it. Last week I was at a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, a prestigious venue for any musician to perform in and it gave me great satisfaction to think that it was a Bangladeshi concert. The name of the event was "From Bangla Beat to Afro Beat". I had heard about it from one of the organisers and a whole group of us decided to attend the concert and show some support for an event that was trying to introduce our music into the mainstream world music arena. It promised to be an interesting night as the music ranged from traditional Baul inspired songs, to a modern urban approach to our traditional music and ultimately to what I would call Jazz fusion combining our Bangladeshi music with a strong Cuban and African influence.
When we arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it was actually like a reunion of old friends and acquaintances. It was rather nice to briefly catch up with people that you had not had a chance to meet up with recently. To a casual observer, it might have seemed like a congregation for young Bangladeshi professionals but on inspection there were actually many non Bangladeshis as well. The foyer was packed with people, which in itself was a good thing. At least the attendance was excellent. Of course, this obviously is not the first Bangladeshi Concert to be held in London but what was interesting was that the audience was diverse in its ethnicity. It was not just comprised of Bangladeshis and what better way to introduce our rich musical heritage to the world music arena than to have a multicultural audience.
As we settled into our seats I was quite curious to find out what was in store for us and surprisingly enough the concert actually started more or less on time! Punctuality is not something we Bangladeshis are renowned for. First to sing were Shahjahan Munshi, a respected folk singer and song writer, and Rob Fakir, well known for his Baul songs performed in its purist form. It was a truly spectacular performance. I found myself unconsciously tapping my foot to the music and was amused to see that most of the people around me were doing exactly the same thing. I was looking at the singers and the other musicians dressed in traditional Baul outfits and I was thinking to myself that we need look no further than our very own Bauls to see where the hippie look may have originated from with their beads and long hair.
Rob Fakir managed to get everyone in the audience to clap along in accompaniment to his songs. Not that we needed much encouragement as his energy was contagious. He exuded charisma and had true rock star qualities! Even the dholok player was superb. I had no idea that in November 2005, UNESCO had declared Baul culture to be a National Treasure. It is about time we started taking a little pride in our cultural heritage.
All we could think was that Ektaar All Stars who were next on stage would have a hard act to follow. But we need not have been worried. Shayan Choudhury (Ornob) blew us away with his haunting voice. We just listened in rapt admiration to his songs. His singing was both mellifluous yet had a melancholy touch to it. I think he managed to endear himself even more with the audience especially the female contingency by dedicating a song to his wife as she was unable to perform with him due to unavoidable circumstances. I do not get to listen to Bangla songs the whole time but being used to listening to Rabindra Sangeet with the accompaniment of a harmonium and tabla, it was refreshing to hear the song complemented by the sounds of the guitar played by Ornob, the electric guitar by Feisal Siddiqi (Bogey), the managing director of Ektaar All Stars and drums. Unsurprisingly at the end of the performance, the applause was tremendous and there were shouts of "one more" from the audience. Luckily for us, we were indulged with an additional song. We were all reluctant to see the singers leave the stage and during the interval there was a sudden rush to try and buy CDs by Ornob! I noticed that many of the people queuing to buy the CDs were non deshi people. However, it seemed that there were none available until a box was retrieved from somewhere and people managed to get their hands on the eagerly awaited songs.
After the interval we had a group called Lokkhi Terra. This is a 'new world fusion outfit created by pianist Kishon Khan, combining his Bangladeshi music heritage with traditions from Africa and the Americas'. There was a Cuban musician on the congas, a Swiss guitarist, an Indian percussionist, a Pakistani flautist and many more. It was a melding of many cultures with a Bangladeshi undertone. I was thoroughly impressed with the skill of all the artists there. What was infectious was all of them seemed to be enjoying themselves and appreciated the performances of their fellow artists. This was clearly evident when they had a little jamming session to end their act.
I sat in the audience and felt an overwhelming sense of pride. I had just spent a few hours listening to a number of truly gifted Bangladeshi musicians. The creative energy in that auditorium must have been immense. All around the world Bangladesh is known for its poverty, corruption and natural disasters but how many people are aware of the fact that we have such an incredibly rich musical cultural heritage. It is events like this that will put us on the map and bring us closer to achieving a stepping stone onto the international music scene.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006