Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 6 Issue 7 | February 23, 2007 |

   Cover Story
   Food for Thought
   Photo Feature
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks
   Movie Review

   SWM Home


Interpreting Tagore

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Ornab and Shahana met at Shantineketan where they were studying and share a love for Rabindra Sangeet.

Most of us can remember a time when our parents used to fight with us about our taste in music. Ours was too loud, too much noise, too toneless. We would get lectures about the beauty in Rabindra Sangeet, sometimes be forced to listen while our parents, with intense concentration, fully immersed themselves in the soft, sweet sounds of the Bengal that was theirs. For most of us in the younger generation, however, Rabindra Sangeet was purely "old peoples' music" -- a music that the youth of today cannot possibly understand or relate too. And it has been that way for a long time.

But there are some artists who do not want to leave Rabindra Sangeet to the elder generation. Rather, they want to re-interpret the sounds and overall feel of the songs and make them accessible to the younger generation of music lovers in Bangladesh. Sahana Bajpaie and Shayan Chowdhury, better known to his fans all over Bangladesh as Ornob, have been working on a project on Rabindra Sangeet for the last ten years. Sahana's first single Amar Nishitho Ratero Badal Dhara came out in 2005 in the album Ek Tare Gaatha. Encouraged by the overall interest in Rabindra Sangeet done in a more modern soundscape, Sahana, along with her husband Ornob will release their first Rabindra Sangeet album Notun Kore Pabo Bole during the last week of February.

"I guess what we are trying to do is make Rabindra Sangeet something that is accessible to our generation," says Sahana. "I wanted to break the preconceived notion of Rabindra Sangeet being another lullaby which cannot be heard by the young masses. It has been the music for the intellectual masses, a sort of cultural elite, in Bangladesh for too long."

But the so-called cultural elite is not completely supportive of this attempt to re-interpret Rabindra Sangeet and make it comprehensible to the younger masses. Many Rabindra Sangeet fans in their senior years believe Rabindra Sangeet to be almost sacred, and beyond changing and modernising.

Shahana-reinterpreting Rabindra Sangeet for the young generation.

In fact, the patent for Rabindra Sangeet in India, which disallowed any form of “experimentation” with the songs was only lifted in 2002. So although Ornob and Sahana had already recorded and done a few songs, Visva Bharati University (the school from which both singers completed their masters) claimed that they could not officially release the album until after 2002, when the copyright laws were lifted. They were encouraged however, by their counterparts and their professors to unofficially release the album.

Despite working around the rules and regulations, Ornob and Sahana do not feel that they are changing the overall feel of Rabindra Sangeet.

“We are in no way, experimenting with Rabindra Sangeet,” says Ornob. “We do not claim to be so irreverent and cocky as to assume that we can do so, but Rabindranath himself was very experimental in the way he composed his music. He took tunes from old Western folk songs, like the song Purano Shei Diner Kotha [in which Tagore borrowed the tune from the Scottish folk song, Auld Lang Syne], baul songs, Karnatic Classical music from South India and he also used to compose on the piano. What we are doing is basically keeping the main melody line in front and fusing both Western and Eastern instruments to come out with a different sound. We are following the Shorolipi [notations and renditions of Rabindra Sangeet) and adding our own individual feelings to the song without disrupting the overall mood of the song.”

Although the dynamic duo does not claim to be experts in the field of Rabindra Sangeet, they are also in no way, strangers to it. Both Sahana and Ornob studied in Patha Bhavana, Rabindranath Tagore's school in Santiniketan, from the time they were seven years old.

“Rabindra Sangeet was a lifestyle for us,” says Sahana. “It was part of our every day life. It's something that is very close to our hearts and we have grown up with it. Singing Tagore songs was very natural to us. Rabindra Sangeet in Santiniketan was never something which was forced onto us. All of the songs we did in the album were songs that we learned in class in Santiniketan and our school emphasised the understanding of the words and the feelings of the songs rather than the minute nuances and technicalities that constitute Rabindra Sangeet. In keeping with the tradition that I grew up with, I decided to come out with an album.”

But Sahana did not always want to be a singer. She had other interests, which is probably why her husband's star status has not affected her or made her insecure in any way.

“It never occurred to me to compete as a singer so Ornob's success has never affected me in that way,” she says. “I mean, we share our musical ideas with each other and I write many of his songs and he makes me listen to a tune to see if it sounds right, so I am involved but it was more of a passion for me, rather than a profession. I actually wanted to be a teacher in Literature.

“I still don't consider myself a professional singer, because it requires lots of practice, which I don't do. I suppose it is more of a love for me because my father was my first inspiration as a singer. He also came from that intellectual elite class and he taught me my first Rabindra Sangeet song, Satya Mangala Premamoy Tumi, which was a Brohmo Sangeet. I was exposed to all sorts of Indian and Western classical music, including Rabindra Sangeet. When I went to Santiniketan my music teachers realised that I have a penchant for singing and began training me from the time I was ten.”

Ornob, surprisingly enough, failed both his Maths and Bangla entrance exams for Patha Bhavana. He was almost not going to be admitted into the school. The admissions committee decided to give him another chance and asked him to sing a song and he sang Amar Shonar Bangla, and he has never looked back since then. It was in Santiniketan at school where he met Sahana. Although the two of them had known each other for almost as long as they had been there, they were not immediate friends.

“I used to hate Ornob when I was young,” says Sahana. “I thought he was such a poser with his Jim Morrison jacket and his torn jeans. I remember that he was very involved in cultural programmes and that's how we knew each other. But the real shocker came when one of my friends came up to me and said that Shayan [Ornob] wanted to marry me when he got older. I was so offended that I complained to the headmaster and he got into trouble. I guess we became friends after that incident. He used to draw pictures of me. We started dating when we were sixteen years old and have been working together on music ever since. In fact, I wrote Ornob's first song. It is called Ekta Chele.”

It is safe to say that Ornob and Sahana complement each other in more ways than one. Apart from being childhood sweethearts, they work well together, which is obvious to anyone who has heard their album. They both contribute their own individual flavour to the album and both believe that it is important to bring Rabindra Sangeet back to the mass public. They also hope that with their step in this direction, other musicians will feel encouraged to do similar projects and Rabindra Sangeet will come out of its cobwebs of the past and move towards the future.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007