We know why caged birds sing

In the music industry of Bangladesh, a new generation of young woman singers slowly making space for their songs. Talking to these singers, Akramul Momen writes about their journey…


The-Armeen-Musa-Band.jpg-5Maya Angelo, in her biography, very poetically writes, ‘I know why caged birds sing.’ Indeed. In the music industry of Bangladesh, a new generation of young woman singers slowly making space for their own. They broke free from the chains that continuously try to tie her down. Lyrics of their songs, the way they talk about their musical ambitions, it reminds me of this expression of Maya Angelo.


Anusheh Anadil: Rai Jago Bhai

The music that is a fiery blend of feminism, religion and revolution and speaks of finding God within oneself is the music of Anusheh Anadil. With her unique voice and strong presence in Bangla band, Anusheh first made her presence felt in the otherwise male dominated music band scene of Bangladesh.

Although, she is known as musician, once while talking to an Indian media about her journey, she said, ‘I had no desire to be a musician at the time when I was getting formal training. I felt restricted and trapped. I found music within me after I broke free of all my training. Meeting the fakirs of Bengal was refreshing after my strict schooling in Indian classical and Rabindrasangeet.’

She has avoided corporate world of music. Instead drew inspiration from philosophies of Baul and Lalon. However, she does not really separate her musical journey from her personal spiritual journey. This journey has brought her to a place as she describes in her own words, ‘where I am slowly embracing my own femininity in a grotesquely patriarchal world.’

maxresdefault-2She has collaborated with Indian percussionist, tabla player and music composer Tanmoy Bose for the album Baul And Beyond; and sung for Tollywood films like Abhik Mukhopadhyay’s Bhoomi (alongside Delhi band Indian Ocean) and Q’s Tasher Desh. She has also sung for Zee Bangla serials — the award-winning title track for Subarnalata, and her song Rai Jago Bhai and her rendition of Hrid Majhaare have been used in Raaikishori. When she is not fusing rural folk and rock music, she is running her crafts shop Jatra in Dhaka, where she employs disabled people, former sex workers and roadside painters.

After the release of her first solo album Rai (2012), now she is largely busy with creating a space of free and fearless musical expression. In Jatra Biroti, singers from all walks of life perform. When asked about Jatr Biroti, she said, ‘Gaan (singing) is not entertainment for me, it is a philosophy of life, a sense of being. To keep that sense alive, one has to nurture creative thinking; they also need to be aware of the cultural, social and historical surroundings. It is true that my journey began in search of the root and rhizome of Bengali culture. In this journey, whenever I am faced, attacked by the forces of oposangskriti, I flinch. As long as there is oppression, inequality, rape, I am obligated to protest as an artist.’


Armeen Musa: Dreaming Bangladesh

Although Armeen Musa gained prominence singing solo, she enjoys more working collectively. Hence, the Armeen Musa Band. Armeen describes herself in her website, ‘I am a singer-songwriter and composer from Dhaka, Bangladesh who just graduated from Berklee. I love performing, recording, creating and just being immersed in music. I love working with people from all over the world and coming up with new and old sounds. Other than music I dabble in teaching, food photography, cooking and writing.’

After spending a good ten year in USA, studying music, she now works in Bangladesh. During her higher studies in Boston College, she has successfully experimented to blend traditional Bengali song with rock and blues genre.

Sayan Ara, Avita, Dipti and Anik are there with her in the band. Armeen herself plays the keyboard, while lead guitarist is Anik. In addition to the band, she also has ‘ghashforing choir.’  Here, with a group of 15-17 singers, Armeen is trying to spread her musical training and knowledge that she has acquired abroad. The group has already earned accolade from their instrumental creation of Bengali folk songs. During the Bengali New Year 2017, their musical ‘jago pia’ was a hit. Besides, they have also performed at the blues festival this year.

The journey of Armeen Musa Band started in early January this year. Already, the band has performed in different television channels and radios. They sing both in Bengali and English. The lyrics in English are written by Armeen. When asked about the songs in English, she says, ‘Although, I sing in English at times, I am a proud Bengali, Bangladeshi. I performed abroad in deshi attire. I have always worked to represent Bangladeshi culture in foreign shores.’

Armeen Musa started her musical training during her childhood with Nazrul Sangeet, however, her main inspiration is Indian classical music, Rabindranath, Panchakabi, and Lalon’s song. She is quite critical of the current trend that is largely about mimicking bollywood. Contrastingly, she wants to compose her originals. Recently, her band has released a few songs — ‘Bangladesh,’ ‘Jokhon chole Jao,’ ‘akta lona deyal,’ and ‘dancing on my earth.’

At the moment they are working on their new album. For the album poet Umme Rayhana, Rajib Ashraf among others have written lyrics. About her band, she says, ‘I love poetry. Courageous voices like Kafil Ahmed, Meghdal or Arnob inspired me to form a band. Otherwise, as an independent woman, it would probably have been very difficult for me to work regularly. I think, music industry in Bangladesh is women dominated. We have Runa Laila, Sabina Yasmin, Ferdousi Rahman to look up to. Still, those who want to tame our voice as women; I don’t regard them as human. The current political crisis unsettles me, even though I am not an activist. I have returned home with a lot of dreams, but continued violence against women, blogger killing, and attack on minority communities frustrates me. It feels like the dream with which we fought the war in 1971, that dream is lost in violence.’

Methopoth: A collective of folk singers

Methopoth — a collective of folk singers started its journey in 2015. After her higher studies in music, particularly on folk songs, Shamima Akhter Mukta started the band on her own. In her student life, she was involved with theaters. Hence, the same year, Methopoth also declared its presence as a theater group. Mukta says, ‘theater is our platform to express our opinion and have dialogue, but the main objective of the band is to sing.’

Methopoth is working with the ambition of collecting folk songs from different regions and making it available for wider public. It also wants to work with women singers from different parts of the country. On the willingness to work singers from across the country Mukta says, ‘Today, in Bangladesh, there are a lot of women who are really talented in musical instruments be it behala, tanpura, flue or even tabla. In music college, I have met many women artists who I would love to work with. After their, studies they too want to work with Methopoth.

The current members of Methopoth are Sohan Babub, Saiful Islam Jewel, Nazrul, Kishor Kumar Odhikari, Murad o Babu. In addition to live performance in different stages, they have also sang and earned accolades for Machranga, Boishakhi televisions. They sing many of Lalon, Hasan Raja, Akkas Dewan and Panchakobir songs. Mukta often compose songs from the lyrics written by other band members. One of their famous song is call and longing for a return to childhood, when life was to a certain extent rather free like a bird — ‘আয়রে আমার ছেলেবেলার ঘুড়ি, পাখির মতন ডানা মেলে উড়ি. ‘As because, in patriarchal society, world as we grew up continue to grow smaller and we sing to spread our wing,’ says Mukta.


In conversation with Khiyo  

Youth: Khiyo is usually a letter of Bengali alphabet. Why is the name of your band Khiyo?


methopoth.jpg-2Khiyo: We found that the majority of bands in Bangladesh seemed to have English names. As we are a British band based in London but with vocals in Bengali, we thought it would be nice to have a Bengali band name. We chose Khiyo because it is the only letter in the Bengali alphabet that has its own identity despite actually being an amalgamation of two different letters/sounds. Similarly, though our band members have backgrounds that include Western classical, rock, jazz, blues, Nazrul Sangeet, Bengali folk and Indian classical, the amalgamation of the whole has a singularly identifiable sound.


Youth: What are recent activities and plans of Khiyo?


Khiyo:We’ve been a bit quiet recently as our singer Sohini has been touring with dancer/choreographer Akram Khan’s show Until the Lions, but we have a few shows coming up in London this summer. We are also developing new material for another album and working on the music of Komola Collective’s Rising Silence, an upcoming documentary about some of the Birangona women of Bangladesh.


Youth: Please tell us about the members of Khiyo.


khiyoKhiyo: Khiyo is usually a six-person band. The three core members are Sohini Alam: vocals, Oliver Weeks: guitars and piano, and Ben Heartland: bass. The other members are Hassan Mohyeddin: tabla, David Ingamells: drums, and Flora Curzon: violin. We have performed with smaller and larger line-ups depending on the event.


Khiyo: When and how did you start this initiative?


Youth: Sohini and Oliver started the band in 2007. What started as jamming a few songs for fun eventually took shape into a band as the songs started to flow.


Khiyo: As you work internationally, do you work with all Bangladeshi songs?


Youth: Not Bangladeshi songs specifically, but Bengali songs from all of Bengal. We want Bengali music to have a space in the international music scene. We started by reworking Bengali heritage songs, but we’re also composing some original Bengali songs now with lyrics by Leesa Gazi and by Moushumi Bhowmik.


Khiyo: What do you like about music and what are Khiyo’s next thoughts about music?


Youth: We worked on the music for a theatre show called Daughter of the Forest based on the Bengali legend of Bonbibi. The show was by arts company Komola Collective, of which Sohini is a co-founder. We would like to expand that music and perhaps record it as an album.


Youth: How do you dream of creating this world for this generation?


Khiyo:  Our ambitions aren’t quite that lofty. We would like to see a generation of kind, open-minded people making music that inspires them. With any luck, maybe some people will find our music inspiring too.


Youth: Do you have any plan of concert, album or any discussion program in Bangladesh soon?


Khiyo: We don’t have anything planned in Bangladesh at the moment, but if the right show or sponsor comes along, we’d be thrilled to perform there.


Youth: How Khiyo will reach to all off our people? Do you have any plans?


Khiyo: Our debut album was released physically everywhere but in Bangladesh because of logistical reasons. Although there has been an international digital release, we hope to be able to do a physical release of the album in Bangladesh soon.




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