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     Volume 6 Issue 26 | July 6, 2007 |

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The Dream Team

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

An Amra Kojon concert showcasing solos by their best singers in Cambridge, MA on on April 2006

As much as we hate to admit it the stigma on Bangladesh and Bangali culture is overwhelming. When we are not being labelled as the “number one most corrupt” nation in the world, we are "harbouring terrorists” in our midst. Our economic growth has been unimpressive and our geographic location makes our part of the world an easy victim for natural disasters. Unfortunately these are the things that are shown to the rest of the world by the media, painting a very dreary picture.

Amra Kojon members pose outside Walthamstow Hall in
London before their first international show on May 6, 2007.

But there is more to Bangalis than all that -- there is something that has been around from before our time, and has not died out, but rather evolved and changed with time -- our music and our heritage. And though we have so many things working against us, it is important for the people who share our identity as Bangalis to focus on our strengths, which is what cultural group Amra Kojon, based in the United States is doing.

“We specialise in music that best reflects the spirit of our people,” says Mohitosh Talukder Taposh, a member of Amra Kojon. “Music that celebrates the sweat and toil of the farmer, music that celebrates that tide and ebb of the river that defines and dictates the lives of the fisherman, music that celebrates the joy and comfort of harvest and music that celebrates our love for one another, for our soil and our rivers and for our motherland. To date, we have not once been able to sing the song O Amar Desh er Mati, Tomar Pore Thekai Matha, without someone amongst us…crying from the emotions associated with the song.”

It all started in 2002, when a group of friends in Boston came together to discuss the possibility of creating a platform for Bangali culture and heritage. The common love for music, the Bangla language, and pride in the Bangali culture and heritage tied Bangalis from both India and Bangladesh together.

“[We wanted] to discuss how fragmented the Bangali community in Boston could often be,” says Taposh, “People who didn't get along with each other did not want to share the same performing stage. People debated what 'banner' to perform under -- which 'group' should get credit for the performances and many other mundane but real issues. A few of us just wanted to pay homage to our culture and heritage and share our pride with our colleagues and peers in the diverse internationally community that we lived in.”

Amra Kojon's first appearance involving more than 100 singers in a unique concert showcasing 1000 years of Bangla musical tradition was sold out at MIT's Kresge Auditorium in February 2003.

Their pilot programme 'A Festival of Friends' had the unique theme of 1000 years of Bangla musical tradition. It outlined songs such as “Charya Geeti”, then onto songs written by Rabindranath Tagore, D.L. Roy and Kazi Nazrul Islam, followed by the showcasing of artists like Hemanta, Shondha, S.D. Burman and Talaat Mahmood, who were part of a more urban culture which involved technological advances such as the gramophone and radio.

After these three segments the group sang a range of different genres of music such as children's songs, folk songs and patriotic songs. The festival, held in February of 2003, was at full audience capacity at the Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was a huge success, despite the fact that many people had their reservations as to how a spontaneous group such as this would manage to organise such a major event.

“We were met with immediate resistance,” says Taposh. “[People thought,] how could a loose group of non-professional performers, without a professional managing team, pull off something as big as presenting the evolution of Bangla music over the last 1000 years, through the voices of 100 passionate youngsters…What made the first show a reality was the sense of ownership each and every performer felt -- it was 'our' show, 'our' project, 'our' endeavour -- hence 'our' success or 'our' failure.”

Since their first taste of success, Amra Kojon has been active not only by disseminating Bangali culture and music, but also fundraising shows to aid victims of the September 11 bombings and the Tsunami, co-hosting events such as The Millennium Generation in Diaspora: Owning Our Future, held in December 2006 in Cambridge (USA). One of their larger programmes celebrating Pahela Baishakh, featured four hours of solo performers by twenty of the members in the group.

Amra Kojon prides itself on its diverse group of people who are from different parts of Bengal, therefore bringing variety not only to their performances but also within themselves.

“Our performances are enriched by the differences in styles, difference in music and integrated seamlessly through our love for the language,” says Taposh.

Originally most of the members were from Boston and Rhode Island. Today however, Amra Kojon consists of people hailing from all over the world such as New York, San Fransisco, Washington, D.C., Austria, Germany and the U.K. Many of the members are students, but many of them are young professionals. Although it is hard to manage a day job and/or classes as well as organise grand-scale events such as these, the group manages to make time for their cause.

“We are predominantly made up of students and young professionals with challenging academic and professional commitments,” says Taposh. “Despite that, our love and passion for our language, our music and our culture draws us together. We prioritise and make time. We value efficiency and teamwork to help us pull together professional shows in as little time as possible. Our dedication stems from our integration into a family of friends.”

Amra Kojon is currently organising a tour, which will start in North America, where the group was born and continue on an international “journey” until they reach their final destination, Dhaka, where the group's “spirit” originated. Unfortunately they do not have the financial capability to make this journey just yet but are trying to build enough support and funds to realise this dream.

“We realise our funding limitations and that something of this magnitude will require more integrated management and logistical support,” says Taposh. “It is not something that we can achieve on our own but rather something that needs the cooperation from our friends all over the world.”

Photo credit: Amra Kojon


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