Bangla Desh: George Harrison


BY Sameer Mohammad Mubeen

song photoIMAGINE this, George Harrison being on the same stage as Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr right after ‘The Beatles’ broke-up; this was exactly what had happened on August 1, 1971. One of the most memorable nights in music history unfolded at Madison Square Garden. Ravi Shankar, a friend of George, apparently asked for help to raise awareness for the millions of refugees from Bangladesh, following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the outbreak of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

A Bengali by birth, Shankar had brought the growing humanitarian crisis to George Harrison’s attention and he released ‘Bangla Desh’ in July, 1971. The powerful vocal of George signifies the struggle, chaos and pain the people of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, had to endure. George Harrison began the song outlining his very own introduction to the very little known nation from the east. In fact, the name of the song which has been spelt with two different words indicate how little the world knew about this new country. George Harrison stated that he chose to stay away from politics and rather focused on the humane perspective regarding this crisis. The lyrics are bound to cause some heart-searching as it portrays a cry for help, a help which was vital for the survival of the war-stricken nation. The despair and pity in Harrison’s voice is quite noticeable in this iconic song.  It was a cry for help in a specific crisis and it was a direct message to the world for recognising this issue. It proved how music could break barriers and contribute enormously to the ones in need. It was a statement not to be forgotten and it had a clear message promoting love and empathy.

‘Now it may seem so far from where we all are/ It’s something we can’t neglect’. This portrays the torture and chaos caused by the West Pakistan during the war. It was a dark chapter in history that can’t be ignored. ‘Now please don’t turn away, I want to hear you say/ We’ve got to relieve Bangla Desh’. It depicts the wake-up call which signifies a cry for help and marks the light at the end of the tunnel.

The song was quite appreciated by fans all over the world as the single became a top-ten hit in the United Kingdom and in other parts of Europe. Contributions from Leon Russell, Jim Horn, Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner in the single ensured a spot in the America’s Billboard Hot 100 as well.  The song was released six months before the release of the full album, ‘Concert For Bangla Desh’. It even won the album of the year Grammy in 1971. The concert which was organised with the help of Ravi Shankar and George Harrison is still termed to be one of the first big charity shows.

  Sameer  Mohammad Mubeen is a student of North South University.

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