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     Volume 7 Issue 44 | November 7, 2008 |

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Straight Talk

Voices of Bangladesh in London

Nadia Kabir Barb

Arnob. Photo: Shoayeeb Chamak.

It was one of those days when everything was turning out to be a mad rush. It felt as if I had been running from one thing to another from the morning and barely being able to keep up. Having just attended my son's school concert, I was now rushing to another one in a different part of London. The last thing I wanted was to be late for my second concert of the night which was a Bangladeshi concert organised by Drishtipat, a global human rights organisation. As we weaved our way through the traffic filled streets of London I told my friends if this concert was true to our Bangladeshi roots, we would be in good time as it was bound to start late! I think the powers that be took a little pity on us and we were lucky enough to find a parking space just outside the venue and were not the only ones rushing into the foyer. Actually I think we were the few people rushing everyone else was ambling in and those who had already arrived were chatting away to their companions. But being a compulsive worrier, I was only able to relax once the tickets had been collected and my friends and I had found our seats. As I looked around I could see the seats filling up rapidly and the auditorium was bustling. It was amazing how many familiar faces I saw and how many acquaintances I was able to spot in the audience. Obviously a few moments were spent greeting everyone and it was good to see the Bangladeshi community out in full force in support of a deserving cause.

I had heard Arnob performing a few years ago and was very taken with his music. So when I heard that Drishtipat was organising a worldwide concert tour with Arnob and his friends, as its central focus to mark its seven-year anniversary, it was something I was very keen to support. Drishtipat is a non-profit, non-partisan volunteer organisation that works to empower the underprivileged and marginalised segments of Bangladeshi society so that they can exercise their basic rights with dignity, opportunity and hope. All in all this musical event presented itself as a wonderful way to enjoy an evening with immensely talented Bangladeshi artists while helping to raise money for the organisations' upcoming projects in 2009 and continued aim to ensure basic human rights for all Bangladeshis.

Arnob rendering his popular numbers in London as part of Drishtipat's world tour.

As the lights grew dimmer and the Master of Ceremonies came on stage, the noise in the auditorium died down and the audience waited eagerly for the first performance of the night to commence. First to come on stage was Sohini Alam accompanied by a small group of musicians. As I had never heard her sing before, I was not sure what to expect but it was definitely a pleasure to hear this talented young woman sing songs ranging from our traditional Nazrul Sangeet to patriotic songs and modern fusion music. She had a soulful quality to her voice and her songs seemed to reverberate with emotion. Following hot on her heels came Nobonita Chowdhury - a singer who kept us mesmerised with songs by Lalon and Rabindranath Tagore. Once again I was thoroughly impressed by the depth of passion in her voice. The audience was enthralled by the first two artists and when Labik Kamal and his group Ajob were introduced they cheered loudly. I have to admit I felt as if I should rush off enroll myself into an intensive course to educate myself about the up and coming musical talent of Bangladesh. Labik was another surprise as he sang some Baul songs in a deep and melodious voice. It was truly inspiring to see so much young Bangladeshi talent on stage.

I think we Bangladeshis have a tendency to be a little bit stingy with our applause but I was delighted to see everyone clapping away and showing their appreciation of the musicians performing for them. By the time Arnob came on stage the atmosphere in the concert hall was buzzing. With him were Drubo, the band's bassist, Nazrul on the dhol, Jibon on the drums and Andrew playing the saxophone. To accompany Arnob on vocals was Nazia and once I heard her sing I was blown away. She had a superb voice and is someone I would definitely keep an eye out for (or should it be an ear!) in the future.

When I had heard Arnob perform a few years ago, there had been a melancholic and almost haunting quality to his songs. This time he brought us an eclectic mix of his own contemporary compositions and Bengali folk songs with a modern twist which were slightly more upbeat. Whereas last time you were transfixed by the pathos in his voice, this time you found yourself tapping your feet and drumming your fingers to the beat of his songs. What struck me was that not only was Arnob a highly talented singer but had a charismatic and modest personality to go with it. People in the audience were shouting out requests continuously which became a little irritating after a while as the group must have had songs that they had prepared but he smiled and joked with his listeners. On top of that the sound system started playing up and we could see how frustrating it was for the singers not to be able to hear their own voices properly. At one point Arnob just stopped midway and said, “Dude, this is London, you have some of the best sound systems so what's going on? If I don't enjoy singing then how will they enjoy it?” Thankfully for everyone the sound system was sorted out and we could enjoy the rest of the show without any more minor glitches.

It was a wonderful feeling to just sit there and let the music wash over me. I listened with rapt admiration to Arnob playing his guitar and singing with the accompaniment of the Bangla speaking Welsh Saxophonist Andrew. Together they were brilliant. We were also privileged to hear Zoe Rahman on the piano while her brother Idris Rahman played the clarinet. The combination of the duo with Arnob on vocals was truly beautiful to hear.

I had brought a few of my friends with me and some of them had never heard Bangladeshi music before so I was curious to find out what they thought. The fact that the moment the concert ended, they made their way to the foyer and bought a couple of the CDs on offer gave me my answer.

Just before we left, the MC said something which caught my attention. He said that he was tired of hearing people say that Bangladesh was a poor country. It would be correct to say that Bangladesh is an economically poor country but we are rich in culture and have a heritage that we can all be proud of. He is absolutely right. Judging from the few artists we heard, there is no dearth of talent in our country and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think Drishtipat did a wonderful job of bringing such gifted artists together and combining it with a worthwhile cause.


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