Young Sing Along with Arnob
Photos: Ranak Martin
I came to know that Shayan Chowdhury Arnob would be doing a live programme for the Star Campus audience at Omni Music. Although I have not heard Arnob's music to an extent that I can write a critique, I have heard a lot about him from friends and students. Being the son of Shapan Chowdhury, a member of the troubadours who sang songs for the Muktijuddhas in 1971, and the nephew of Tapan Chowdhury, a former member of the phenomenal Bangla Band, Souls, tells something about Arnob. It is even more impressive when one learns that Arnob studied at Viswa Bharati University in Fine Arts and is trained in classical music. Arnob spent 17 years at Shantiniketan where he got his lesson in music and the philosophy that associates music. However, a final treat was in the waiting. This was no ordinary live programme. Arnob wanted to talk about himself and his music, a chance he rarely gets in a programme. I therefore decided to submit to fate.
Arnob started the programme with a question- “what is a good song”? This got me thinking. I have always defined a good song as a composition that speaks the heart of the musician and the listener. I was impressed when Arnob said he likes a song that makes him think. Prior to the programme we were talking about Mozart and his symphony number 40. Arnob was playing pieces of the symphony the night before and was going through the staff notations. He expressed his amazement to Neo Mendis on how it was possible for Mozart to come up with such a composition.
I was more interested to see Arnob's performance and views on fusion. Fusion in music is nothing new because there is no such thing as an original tune. Music is based on a universal alphabet of 12 notes in each octave (saptak) and all musicians are influenced by someone. The freshness in Arnob's voice surprised me when he started with Amar Har Kala Korla Re. In it one could hear the passion of a rural singer and at the same time the strumming of the guitar gave out the restlessness of a young person from an urban setting. “The content of a song is very important” Arnob spoke in the middle and rightfully so. I added- to bring out the passion of the song, i.e., its spirit, and present it to a wide audience is comparatively more difficult.
“We have to go back to our roots” Arnob said, but what are our roots? Bangladesh is blessed by a criss-cross of cultures. We have Bhatiyali, Baul and Lalon, Spiritual music in the Sufis and Kirtan, songs of Jagoron, and at the same time we have a strong influence from Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Narul Islam. Nowadays, Arnob makes it a point to sing Tagore songs in a programme besides singing the classics of Palli music. At Omnibooks he sang quite a few Tagore songs where his Shantiniketan roots emblazed. Although authoritarians may disagree, I quite liked his blending of Tagore songs with the guitar. The passion in art is probably the most important dimension in performance. Arnob did not hesitate to sing the first song of the Gitabitan, Kanna Hashir Dol Dolano, at my request. I also could not resist the temptation of helping him with the lyrics.
It is refreshing to see an icon of contemporary music rejuvenate the songs of the old in the new generation. But this is not where Arnob stops. He is also experimenting in the fusion of the music of Bangladesh with a pinch of western music with the bands Bangla and Prayer Hall. With his classical training and his growing up in the Shantiniketan, one can only wait for good fusion to result. “Through experimentation, good music will come out” Arnob told the audience.
At this stage I wanted to know Arnob's views on Nazrul and the other Panchapandavas, DL Roy, Rajanikanta Sen and Nidhu Babu. Personally, I have always been inclined to listen to listen to Nazrul's music because of its rich compositions and Nazrul being a man for all seasons and all cults and creeds of Bengal. My chance came when a person in the audience told Arnob, anybody can sing Tagore's songs. Arnob replied, “Tagore's music is tough; Nazrul's is tougher; and Lalon's music is probably the toughest of all”. This is where I intervened and asked Arnob why he has failed to cover Nazrul's music compared to Lalon and Tagore. Arnob gave an honest reply. Although Arnob sings Lalon's songs, he never feels he does proper justice because music to the Bauls is a way of life and is thus almost impossible to replicate. Nazrul's music is one of those things in life that never crossed Arnob's attention properly. Nazrul, to Arnob, is truly one of the few composers of Bengal who wrote for everybody and to this very day Nazrul's Shyama Sangit and Islamic songs outclasses that of any other composer. My final comment that day was for Arnob to explore Nazrul's music and the great singers of Nazrul especially my all-time great Manabendra Mukherjee. Arnob assured me that he would. And this also goes for the other three Panchapandavas of Bangla music. Additional influences from all the Panchpandavas can only improve the quality of contemporary Bangla music.
(The writer is a university academic in Bangladesh)
Star Campus Musical Adda With Arnob
Asif Ahmed Noor and Nazia Ahmed
STAR Campus in collaboration with Omni Music, road 27, house 16 Genetic Plaza, Dhanmondi, had initiated a monthly Musical Adda sessions aimed towards the youth of today in order to create a space for exchange of views and constructive discussions regarding music in our country.
A second session of Musical Adda was held on the 26th of November, 2009 at Omni Music, Dhanmondi and this time the invited guest for the music chit-chat was none other than Shayan Chowdhury Arnob.
For this session of 'Adda' Star Campus summoned upon one of the most talented and well trained musician and composer of current times, Shayan Chowdhury Arnob. Spending 17 years of his life at the legendary institution Shanti-Niketon, he literally lived in and around music 24X7. He had undergone rigorous training in Rabindra Sangeet for almost all the time that he had spent in Shanti-Niketon as well as undergoing a 5 year training in North Indian Classical music, which endowed him with his uncanny sensibility of 'Raags' and their different forms and breaks. For his academic discipline, he pursued a Master Degree in Fine Arts.
Although he had started composing and writing songs ever since grade 10, his first step to professional music was as a vocalist, guitarist and one of the founding members of the very popular band 'Bangla'. The band was a gust of fresh air for all music lovers in Bangladesh. Bangla brought back the Bangladeshi folk culture, specially the Lalon songs back in to people's minds. Keeping the basics of the songs right, the band changed the musical arrangement of the songs using electric guitars, an extremely crafted bass line, precise percussions and overtly strong vocals. The sound of Bangla was heavily influenced by Arnob's guitar skills and classical music understanding. Arnob was also involved with other projects and one of the most successful was 'Shey Je Boshe Ache', originally composed and sung by Arnob, but later commercially released by Black. It was during this time that Arnob decided to take a step further into his musical career by going solo.
Arnob's first solo album 'Chaina Bhabish' released to leave a short, but distinct mark in the music scene due to its uniqueness of sound and lyrics. It was an extremely brave and courageous step for Arnob to shape up the album in such a diversely experimental sound.
Moving on, Arnob did his next album 'Hok Kolorob' which released and created quite a buzz in the music scene. Once again his music was innovative, unique and yet very relatable. It was either that Arnob understood the ears of the listeners or the listeners had put on a habit of listening to sensible, meaningful and soothing music of Arnob, but the chemistry worked. The album brought him considerable acclamation and this point on Arnob's career only went higher with every passing day.
His fan craze went to a new level with the release of the songs of the critically acclaimed movie, 'Monpura'. The sound connected to the masses irrelevant to which walk of life the listener came from, everyone fell in love with 'Monpura' sound tracks, with all the songs staying on the radio top charts for more than 6 months. Soon after the outstanding response of 'Monpura' came the next movie sound track composed by Arnob for the recently released movie 'Jaago'. Very predictably, this sound track was also a winner.
In his constant search of new sound, within his genre Arnob formed 'Arnob and Friends'. The USP of the band was their intelligent use of saxophone and heavy bass line to create a jazz feel to the songs. Soon after their formation, 'Arnob and Friends' in collaboration with Drishtipat went off to a three month world tour doing numerous shows at the US, Canada and UK. The world tour was an immense success with accolades all over the world and the 'Arnob and Friends' fever all across. Seeing the stupendous response to the tour, the band decided to release an album with the numbers that they have performed in their tour, with a live arrangement for recording, instead of a typical individual instrument recording and final mixing, to bring in the 'Live' element to the sound. The album was released in August 2009 under the name 'Arnob and Friends Live-Songs from the World tour 2008'
With such an impressive body of work behind, there could not possibly have been a better music personality to be invited to the second session of Star Campus Musical Adda.
The venue was buzzing with the young 'Adda-pals' who had excitement and enthusiasm painted all over their faces while Arnob and his associates were busy doing a quick sound check, and in no time- the Adda was on!
Although Arnob had come in well prepared for a light and fun session of discussion on the history, variations and nitty-gritties of music genres, the chit-chat buddies were very much in an unplugged concert mood!
The session started with Arnob giving a short summary of his background, his schooling in Shanti-Niketon and a little about his academic training in classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. Throughout the discussion, Arnob's honesty towards his work and music reflected through his words, as he went on to say 'It is unfortunate that our society and education system is very rigid about academic music. People do not tend to understand the importance of learning music academically. People study English, Business or Engineering as a discipline, but nobody studies music as a discipline.'
With more and more interactions with the audience, the 'Adda' seemed to have just found its place when Arnob elaborated more on musical genres saying, 'It is important to have respect for different kinds of music genres. I personally love Fuad's Disco Bandor! Not that I'd make anything like that, but I like what he has come up with.'
He also added, 'Recently there's a lot going on about reviving the old songs, through remixes or new versions especially of Lalon songs. What we fail to understand is that Lalon is not just a genre of songs, but rather a lifestyle. Every song has its own underlying meaning and message to it. Unless you understand that, you won't understand the beauty of the song.'
Further into the discussion he went on to explain that it is important to be versatile in terms work that an artist does, not only to explore his or her own potential but also to do justice to the listeners who are craving for good music.
When quizzed about his compositions and music sensibilities, Arnob explained that his master's degree in fine arts has helped him to get a strong aesthetic sense which he transcends into his music. 'The sensibility of what is nice and what is not in terms of hearing is very important. Apart from the grammar, it is also important to have a soul to your music. A lot of people come to me and ask me to compose an album for them, but I discourage them because it's very important to find your own sound. You need to sit with yourself and figure out on your own that what is your sound'.
Explaining further on his own sound, 'In my first two solo albums I had a sound that was very own. I went experimental and tried out all the things that I felt like was inside me waiting to come out. However, the sound of 'Arnob and Friends' is comparatively very different, with a heavy bass line in the songs and especially with the saxophone added to it.'
To his fan's amazement he brought with him his laptop filled with his upcoming songs that he is working on to share with everyone. 'Here are some examples to give you a little idea on how we work with melodies and beats on logic, the software I use for my compositions.'
To keep the 'Adda' in tune, despite a horrible cold and broken voice, Arnob sang several songs on request of which a few were 'Hariye Geiche', 'Koshto Gulo', 'Amay Dhore Rakho', 'Sonar Moyna Pakhi', 'Haar Kala' and 'Tomar Jonno'. Along with the fans in the audience, Nemesis's vocalist Zohad and Nazia from 'Arnob and Friends' sang along with Arnob in a few songs.
The evening was a warm experience with Arnob at his humorous best, a heart to heart interaction on music and a few unforgettable unplugged performances. The program ended with a short thank you speech from Shahnoor Wahid (Editor of Star Campus Magazine) presenting Arnob a bouquet to express gratitude “It is an honor to have amongst us an artist who without any hesitation has agreed to do this adda on such a short notice in exchange of nothing but the student's participation”. Finally the fans in the audience rushed towards Arnob and cameras went 'click-click' to get a snap with their favorite artist!
Star Campus and Omni books are basically encouraging the young generation to engage in a monthly get-together and discuss music of different genre and language, an effort to provide them a platform where they can interact with the artists and get to know about their music first hand. So it is not only about singing or playing an instrument, it's about appreciating music, whether or not you're a musician.