Abdul Shohid Jalil: Osmani Soundz
Track One (00.02.19). April 14th 2019. Abdul Shohid Jalil (Shohid) was born in East London in the early 1970s and grew up in East London, Brick Lane and Whitechapel. He is a part of Nasha Records and Hundred Colours Music (fusion dance record labels). He has worked with Talvin Singh and Nitin Sawhney. Track Two: (00:10:48). Shohid works with electronic music, fusion, drum and bass, dubstep and experimental sound.Osmani Soundz is named after the Bengali freedom fighter Osmani.
Shohid was brought up in the UK and has not been to Bangladesh in 42 years. He uses Ektara, tabla, flutes, and dhol in his music, fused with current dance music. He is not a trained musician but works by ear. He has help from some classical musicians who guide him. He is a sample based producer. He uses records from the local library, or from record fairs, sometimes coming across records of Kolkata origin. He accesses UTube and the Internet.
He tries to get permissions from the original artists but if this is not possible he credits them. He remixes records to create his own sound. He has contact with Habib, now a super-star in Bangladesh, who worked with Osmani Soundz and Nasha Records in the UK. He feels the younger generation of Bengali listeners understand his music, but may be not the older generation. On the whole he feels he has more responce from Western audiences and has a huge following in Europe and the USA, and recently also Indian audiences.
Track One 00.09.08.00: April 14th 2019. Anvita Gupta, known as Putu, is ten years old. She was born in the UK and lives in Essex. Her interview took place at the Guildhall Bengali New Year celebrations 2019 where she was performing. Putu learns singing with her aunt, Gauri Choudhary. She learns classical and Bengali semi-classical. She is quite fluent in Bangla, but does not read Bangla script, and writes out songs phonetically in english script. Her favourite songs are about Bangabundhu, Sheik Mujibar Rahman, the saviour of Bangladesh In Western music she listens to Ariana Grande.
As well as patriotic songs Putu likes Bengali folk, Radha Raman, and Tagore songs. She does not sing Bengali rock or pop and does not consider these to be her “genre”. She hopes to develop as a singer, and maybe write her own songs in Bengali in the future. Her family are very encouraging, and her friends also encourage her although they do not understand the Bengali songs she sings, The first song she learnt was “Amra korbo jai”. She has also been taught Rabindrasangeet by Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed. (00:09:08)
Track One (24:39:00). November 18th 2017. Golam Mostafa is President of Udichi Shilpi Gosthi, Bengali Arts Organisation. Udichi is the largest cultural organisation in Bangladesh formed in 1968. There are 200 branches in Bangladesh and branches in the UK, France, USA and Canada. Udichi UK was formed in 1989. (01:00:00). At the age of 14 Golam Mostafa trained as a Freedom Fighter in Bangladesh. After Liberation he returned to Udichi and other cultural organisations.
He studied and worked in Germany and later came to the UK in 1988 (03:00:00) and established Udichi UK branch. In 1996 established Udichi School of Performing Arts. Udichi helped establish the first Boishaki Mela in 1998 (06;30:30). Udichi has actively participated in other London festivals i.e.the Lord Mayor’s Show and London Mela, and has had committee members on the Edinburgh Festival Board of Directors, the Rich Mix committee, Tower Hamlets Council and GLA cultural committees. Golam hopes Udichi can continue to work for the community to create a society for all. Udichi now has music,dance and language tutors and attracts students from diverse backgrounds although essentially attended by Bengali students.
Currently over 100 children attend. Golam Mostafa himself learnt music at school in Bangladesh and at Dhaka University (24:39:00). Track Two (00:00:47). The London Borough of Tower Hamlets commissioned Udichi to do performances for the Olympics and Para-Olympics in 2012. Track Three (00:02:22). In 1988 there was a lot of racial tension in Tower Hamlets, Udichi worked with other organisations to fight racism.
Today Udichi struggles against the influences of Islamic Fundamentalism and an ideology that opposes music. Golam believes Bangladeshis must remember their true cultural heritage where there has never been a contradiction between religions. Bangladeshis gave their lives for their language and culture.(00:27:48)
Track One 00:20:32. November 13th 2017. Himangshu Goswami (HG) is a very well known Bengali folk singer in the UK. He was born in Sylhet, Bangladesh. His family are Hindu. He learnt singing from his mother, and tabla from an uncle who was a tabla player. He then learnt at the Sylhet Academy of Fine Arts. He first appeared on radio in Bangladesh in 1969. During the 1971 Liberation Struggle his family house was attacked and the family left for India, supporting the struggle from there by singing and fundraising.
After Liberation HG and others started a school, Sangeet Academy. In 1977 HG was selected to join a delegation from Bangladesh to the UK to sing in many places. The Bengali community in the UK wanted him to stay in order to help build community relations, and with the help of Peter Shore MP he was granted Leave to Remain by the Home Office.
He worked in local schools in Tower Hamlets introducing Bengali music programmes. (00:20:32). Track Two 00:13:59. November 13th 2017. In 1982 HG won a song contest in Birmingham. He sang in Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Ghandi’. HG gives an example (00:03:18). He won a Civic Award from Tower Hamlets in 2001. He originally learnt classical as well as folk songs. He sings folk songs now (inc. Nazrul Geeti, Atul Prasad, folk, and patriotic songs, Basha Andolan Gan (language movement songs i.e.by Abdul Gaffar Choudhuri), and Rabindrasangeet) because he wants people to know these songs, and it is his responsibility and duty to teach people about Bengali culture.
He is proud of his son Himanish who has learnt music and tabla (see interview with Himanish in this series). He was awarded the Mother Teresa International Award in 2016. Also awarded for singing George Harrison’s Bengali Freedom Song in New York 2002 (00:13:59). Track Three 00:05:37 November 13th 2017. HG says he comes from a musical background and was welcomed in the UK as a musician. He is much loved and appreciated here. He feels at home here.
He is proud to be Bengali. He is proud of Bengali language and songs. (00:05:37). Track Four 00:07:52 November 13th 2017. HG explains the Boishaki Mela was started in 1980, at first held in Trafalgar Square. The Mela should be held for two or three days, involving children and the younger generation, and including literature, poetry and drama. HG and his son have also played with the band Khulashekar in the 1990s. He concludes by saying he likes to live in happiness – with music.(00:07:52)
Himanish Goswami :
Track One (00:02:27). November 13th 2017. Himanish Goswami is a tabla player. He is the son of Himangshu Goswami, a famous Bangladeshi folk singer living in the UK (see also interview with Himangshu Goswami in this series). Himanish comments on how his Dad has been actively singing for four decades, and has a strong belief in community service.
When Himangshu Goswami first came to the UK Bengali music was not performed here for financial profit, but performed for community engagement. You cannot weigh feelings and emotions with money (00:02:00). Track Two (00:26:34). When Himanish (HG) was nine or ten years old his father introduced him to the tambourine, and he played with his father in programmes. He grew up with artists from India and Bangladesh visiting their house. His father was his first teacher.
To begin with he felt he was a product of his environment, but at the age of 14-15 he really started wanting to learn. At the age of 18-19 he went to India to start formal tabla lessons with his Guru. He started performing with his father, and has since performed in many programmes in the UK and in Europe (00:05:00). Although his training is in classical music he sees himself primarily as from a folk tradition. HG studied for a degree in Film Production and Photography. Currently he works for Transport for London. HG feels he comes from two places – Bangladesh and the UK.
He listens to music from here, but feels his heart is in Indian classical and folk music. No one can say Indian classical is more difficult to sing (00:17:14). Folk music is difficult in its own way. There is never an end to how much you can learn. Bengali music in the UK began from the times HG’s father and his generation settled here in the 1970s. The Boishaki Mela is a celebration of music and the community which came here and is proud of its roots (00:21:15). This is the biggest Bangladeshi festival in the world outside of Bangladesh (00:26:34)
Ina Khan :
Track One 00.16:55. April 14th 2019. Ina Khan was born and raised in Whitechapel, East London, and is of 4th generation Bengali heritage. Her parents and grandparents were born in the UK. She is 32 years old. She is married with 4 children. Her interview took place at the Guildhall Bengali New Year celebrations 2019 where she was performing.
Ina started singing after she got married and her mother-in-law encouraged her not only to sing but also to learn Bengali language and learn about Bengali culture and heritage. Before marriage Ina did not speak Bengali as her parents spoke english to their children at home. She became very happy to learn more about her Bengali roots and culture. She started singing after hearing a competition on Channel ‘i’ in which she heard a singer who was out of tune and Ina’s husband then challenged her to sing better ! Her husband supports and encourages her singing. Before marriage she listened to english music.
She visited Bangladesh for the first time after marriage. She loves the sound of the Ektara, Dhol and acoustic instruments. She listens to Baul, Sufi, Lalon and Hasan Raja songs. She does not have traditional music lessons, but listens to recordings and YouTube in order to learn. She writes down the lyrics in english script as she does not write Bengali script.
She wants to visit Khushtia in Bangladesh and she and her husband are planning a ‘musical journey’. She is starting to compose her own songs. She sees herself as a bridge between East and West. (00:16:55).
Jawad Chowdhury :
Track One 00:17.37. April 4th 2018. Jawad Choudhury lives in Sylhet, Bangladesh and is currently an engineering student. He spent a year in the UK age 8 or 9. His relevance to this project is the flow of musical ideas between Bangladesh and the UK which is being generated by young people from Bangladesh such as Jawad who have strong links with the UK.
Jawad’s style of music is heavily influenced by Western genres of rock. He listens to bands such as Acorn, ACDC, Iron Maiden, Metallica. He comments how schools in Sylhet do not support extra curriculum activities such as music. His mother bought him a guitar after he gained straight ‘A’s in all subjects at GCSE level. He started teaching himself and later age 15 went to a teacher named Dr. Muttaki J Shafayath, who was a pediatrician. When at High School he formed a band named The Morons which has now been going for three years (00:07:02). He also has another band named Zodiac Prodigy. They write their own songs, psychedelic and hard rock. They also modify Bengali songs. He is influenced by British music.
He admires the british guitarist Guthrie Govan. He says people from Bangladesh are moving to England to pursue music. He comments on how British Bangladeshi bands play a different style of music to bands back home in Bangladesh. He has friends in the UK who play music.
Although studying to work in engineering he wants to contribute to music and sees himself as a social entrepreneur, believing in social movements and change. He believes the arts can bring about change and revolution. He will shortly be moving to Canada for further studies, and hopes to continue music there. (00:17:37)
Mahamaya Shil :
Track One (00:10:53). November 25th 2017. Mahamaya Shil (MS) is a vocalist and teacher at Udichi School of Performing Arts. MS has lived in London for 21 years. She was born in Assam, went to University in Kolkata, and also learnt Indian classical music in Kolkata. Her father also taught her. She started learning age 4.
Her whole family are musicians and teachers. She also studied for a Degree in Arts and B.Ed Teachers Training. Came to this country in 1998 (00:03:30). She started teaching at Kobi Nazrul Centre. Worked in primary and secondary schools. She teaches classical and semi-classical – Nazrul Geeti, Rabindrasangeet, Lalon Geeti.
MS thinks if you can sing basic classical then you can sing any other song. She is also involved with the Grand Union Orchestra and worked on a project with them in different schools. MS feels music is in her blood, and without music she cannot live (00:10:53).
Mohammed Mobassher Choudhury
Mohammed Mobassher Choudhury :
Track One 00:35:46. August 1st 2018. Mohammed Mobassher Choudhury was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He studied telecommunications electrical engineering at university. In his childhood he was not particularly attracted to music, although he sang at school functions, but he did not buy many cassettes and CDs. He learnt singing with teachers at home. in 2008 while at university he formed a band (00:06:04) called Old School. Initially the bands objective was to cover english songs.
His father gave him much encouragement, but his mother would have preferred him to work in an office rather than become a musician. He learnt traditional music like Rabindra Sangeet with Abul Kalam Azad at Chhyanot School of Music, Dhaka, As a teenager he wanted to branch out. His father bought him a guitar, and a violin and drums. His father helped him in many ways, whereas other of his friends’ parents would not allow them to have instruments.(00:11:37). His band Old School preformed with acoustic instruments, and this was appreciated. MMC says he does not have a particular genre of music. The band started to write their own compositions. Their song Aaj Raate Kono Rupkotha Nei was played on radio (00:21:49) and won Youngster of the Month on the show. MSS also would like to develop creative after-school clubs for children. MSS struggled with his own success as a musician while still a student.
He recommends people should have normal lives and not only lives as musicians (00:29:31). People in creative industries/entertainment sector need to recognise their responsibilities to set an example to the younger generation (00:35:46)
Performance on Sarod. Raag Bhairavi.
Mukul Ahmed Gauhar Jaan interview
Mukul Ahmed Gauhar Jaan interview :
Track One 00:11:02. May 16th 2018. Mukul Ahmed discusses the production of Gauhar Jaan, The Datia Incident. Written by Tarun Jasani (see interview with TJ in this collection). Performed by Mukul and the Ghetto Tigers at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham April 10-29 2018. This is a fictional version of true historic facts about India’s first recording artist, Gauhar Jaan, who made recordings for Fred Gaisberg in 1902 in Kolkata.
Mukul read her biography and was inspired by her life and struggle for the emancipation of female musicians and court musicians, and her ability to embrace new technology. She opened the door for music to be accessible to ordinary people. She connected Indian music globally. Mukul explains the story of Gauhar Jaan’s mother converting to Islam and giving her daughter an Islamic name. Gauhar Jaan’s parents were Armenian, living in Kolkata. She travelled to Datia in real life, but the story in the play of her signing contracts is fictional. Mukul plans to tour the play nationally and internationally.
Rafa Haque Audio Summary :
Track One 00:11:28. July 6th 2019. Rafa Haque is a 16 year old living in Walthamstow, born and raised in the UK. She is a vocalist who performs solo and in groups. She likes singing original Bengali folk song, Rabindrasangeet and Nazrul Geeti. She has been singing from the age of 8-9 years. She started singing group songs with Bengali International, then progressed to solo under her teacher, Mital. She was encouraged to sing by an aunt. She grew up in the UK speaking Sylheti at home, but does not know ‘shuda bangla’ (pure Bengali) well. However she reads and writes standard Bengali.
Her teacher writes down songs in english script and helps her with correct pronunciation. She does not always know the names of Bengali singers, but knows the music and songs. She likes english pop music, Ariana Grande, and musical theatre. Her cousin Nish is a well known Bengali singer, and she likes his versions of fusion that are a mixture of pop and classical Bengali. She studied for GCSE music, and did coursework on a fusion of Indian classical Raga and english pop. The difficulties in learning she encounters are: pronunciation, singing high notes, runs and rifts, and scales. She always finds out the meaning of a song. Her favourite singer at the moment is her cousin Nish. 00:11:28.
Somjit Dasgupta Interview
Somjit Dasgupta Interview & Audio Summary :
Track One 00:44:20. June 8th 2018. Somjit Dasgupta (SG) was born on December 20th 1960 and lives in Kolkata, India. He is a musician, specialising in Sarod, and a collector and player of historic instruments of this genre. He explains his family background from Chittagong, Bangladesh, and his family’s migration to Kolkata during Partition (1947), when the family lost everything. SJ was born in Kolkata. SJ grew up with the tail end of the Bengali Renaissance, and as a boy saw many music conferences in Kolkata. He met his Guru Pandit Radhika Mohan Moitra, and learned much from him about the traditions of music in the Zamindaris of Bengal prior to Indian Independence.
SJ inherited his Guru’s collection of old musical instruments, which include a dotara belonging to Hasan Raja. He heard tales from his Guru’s father of how famous Bauls such as Lalon Sai played music in the area of their Zamindari north of Khushtia. He learnt how folk song and classical music were integrated. SJ aims to keep all his Guru’s old instruments in a playable condition, and provide a living heritage.
The collection has about 250 instruments. SJ gives his Guru’s history including the regular journeys between Kabul in Afghanistan and Bengal in India for musical exchange. SJ sees the UK as playing a very important part in conserving and promoting Bengali musical tradition. In 2019 his collection will be on display in the UK, presented alongside concerts and symposiums.(00:44:20).
Tarun Jasani Audio Summary :
Track One 00:39:32. June 6th 2018.
Tarun Jasani (TJ) was born on May 23rd 1975 in Stockholm, Sweden. His family are Gujarati. He is a writer, musician, composer and film director. He is the writer of the play Gauhar Jaan, The Datia Incident, performed at the Clapham Omnibus Theatre, South London April 11-29th 2018 (see also interview with Mukul Ahmed in this collection).
TJ’s background is in Indian Classical Music as a Sarodist. While working for the Asian Music Circuit TJ worked on a project in Kolkata interviewing courtesans and recording their lives and style of music (thumri). He became interested in the life of Gauhar Jaan, India’s first recorded artist (1902). While writing the play TJ wanted to focus on the Indian habit of exaggeration, and bring this focus into his play in a fictional and humorous form. (00:08:41). Many men in Gauhar Jaan’s day were afraid of recording equipment, but Gauhar Jaan was not afraid and helped make music accessible through her recordings. She condensed Ragas into 3 minutes for recording purposes. Her tabla player at the time got into trouble for increasing the tempo on the tabla and bringing courtesan music into classical music. Gauhar Jaan was in fact an excellent musician, and performed to a very high standard.
TJ remarks how he actually finds Gauhar Jaan’s mother, Malka Jaan, more fascinating. She started out as a factory worker and ended up as a famous courtesan. She wrote poetry (00:18:46). Her marriage broke down because of her husband’s jealousy of her talents. TJ is interested in extending the courtesan project and writing a play based on Othello set in courtesan quarters in India. TJ sees his own progress from classical music to script writing and film production on a continuum of ‘Vistar’, the concept in Indian classical music of expansion and stretching ideas.
He aims at breaking free of some of the limited boundaries surrounding classical music which are imposed by this tradition. He is interested in integrating Raag and Western classical music (00:39:32) (see also composition by TS in recording of Manusher Gaan in this collection)
Tony Haynes Audio Summary :
Track One (00:55:09). Nov 20th 2019. Tony Haynes (TH) is director of the Grand Union Orchestra (GUO) and a jazz musician and composer. Founded in 1984, the GUO is a multi-cultural musical project aimed at bringing together music and musicians from the UK’s many various cultural backgrounds, and includes a Youth Orchestra. TH lives in Hackney, East London. He was born in 1941 and lived in London throughout WW2 until near the end of the war when the family was evacuated.
The family then lived in Didcot, Oxfordshire, where TH attended school locally and then studied music at Oxford University. From childhood he wanted to be a composer. Age 14 he joined a local brass band playing trombone. He then studied for a post-graduate degree in Nottingham. He was offered the job of Musical Director at Nottingham Play House in 1968 (00:05:00). Next 10-12 years became known as the “go-to” man for regional theatre and music. Wrote music for Brecht plays that influenced him enormously and introduced him to ideas about the authenticity of the performer.
Early 1980s started to work independently. In 1983 produced Strange Migrations that brought together performers who had experience of migration: Sarah Laryea, an economic migrant, Ghanaian singer, drummer and dancer; Vladimir Vega, recently released from amnesty of Chilean political prisoners who had been learning all his instruments and singing in jail; and Tunukwa (Stella Smith) a Caribbean American blues/jazz singer who was part of the civil rights movement (00:08:57).
The GUO was formed in London in 1984 under the Greater London Council, led by Ken Livingstone. It began by including African/Caribbean and South American artists, and the next year, under the Commonwealth Institute, included Indian sitar player Baluji Shrivastav. TH first met Bangladeshi tabla player Yousuf Ali Khan (see interview in this collection) in 1986 and has worked with him since.
A major production at the time was “Threads”, produced in Manchester, and featured the slave trade and textile industry in Manchester with links to textile industry in India. TH describes his interests as that of a practical musician, and not as a musicologist. He is not a specialist or purist, and feels it is the musicians themselves and their personalities that shape the music.
All musicians he has worked with love to work with each other and enjoy their differing cultures. TH started work with the Bengali community (00:16:17) recalling historic evernts such as the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence (see more on this subject in interview with Mahmuder Rahman Benubhai).
He likes to use personal stories, as in the composition “Mother of the River”. Sees material in the mother-tongue of singers as essential. TH loves folk songs, that led him to discover the 19th century Bengali Baul songwriter Lalon Shah. He choses songs that melodically appeal to him. with harmonic possibilities, and using Raga base in Indian music. TH and Yousuf Ali Khan initiated Bengal to Bethnal Green five years ago, a series of free concerts on sunday afternoons at the Rich Mix, Bethnal Green. Began with traditional music, but has now introduced cross-cultural themes.
The GUO has travelled to Bangladesh and would like to do more of this. Other Bangladeshi singers have joined GUO (00:33:41): Lucy Rahman, Alaur Rahman and Dillu Hossain (see interviews of both in this collection).
The GUO project is not well funded, and the musical establishment does not readily recognise the value of this work. But TH emphasises that if you want to bring communities together then music, art and culture is the way to do it (00:37:12).
He is happy with the way GUO has gone over the last 30-40 years, but tinged with sadness that it has not got the recognition it deserves from the point of view that it is the social and political value of the project that counts. The GUO Youth Orchestra is a particular aspect that is essential, influencing and encouraging the next generation.
The essential thing is the importance of musical cross-over, and the people involved who are influenced and make connections and build positive relationships across cultures through music. Examples of GUO music are in the collection. (00:55:09)
Yousuf Ali Khan
Yousuf Ali Khan Audio Summary :
Track One (00:39:00). May 15th 2019.
Yousuf Ali Khan is a tabla player born in Shahapur, Comilla, Bangladesh on January 21st 1958. His maternal grandfather was the renowned sarodist Ustaad Alauddin Khan, guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar and father and guru of Ustaad Ali Akbar Khan. His father’s family were doctors and engineers. Yousuf did not himself have a full school education. His father died when he was 10 years old. He had been learning tabla at home but after his father died there were no more lessons.
He resisted being sent to a Madrassa by his uncles and made his way all on his own as a 12 year old across the border into Tripura, India, and onwards to Kolkata. A journey of 4 days. In Kolkata he went to the house of his uncle the sarodist Bahadur Khan and told his uncle he wanted to learn music. Tabla lessons were arranged, however it took a while before his teacher took him seriously and recognised his talent. After 4-5 years he returned to Bangladesh. He worked for Bangladesh TV. He later met an American Ambassador who organised a scholarship for Yousuf to go back to India to study tabla with Pandit Shankar Ghosh in Kolkata.
After completing 5 years he was invited to work in the UK in Leicester and then the ILEA in London teaching in secondary schools. He then started performing, but continued teaching and offering lectures at universities. He also works with Tony Haynes’s Grand Union Orchestra. He gives an important message to the Bangladeshi community urging people to go to a teacher to learn music and not just learn off YOUTube. He says learn slowly and develop your own voice. He encourages parents not to want their child instantly on the stage, but wait until they are ready. He does not like teaching children unless they themselves want to learn and are not just being pushed by parents (00:39:00). Track Two (00:20:17). Yousuf talks a bit about how frightening the Bangladesh War of 1971 was to him as a 12 year old boy.
He talks further about the development of music since his childhood and his opinion of Baul music. He explains how as a 6 year old boy his singing teacher recognised his ability with rhythm (00:20:17). Track Three (00:05:48). Recital of vocal tabla bols (00:05:48)