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Bangla Music - Bengali Songs
Baul singers at Shantiniketan
Bangladesh and West Bengal, India
are traditionally very rich in its musical heritage. From the ancient times,
music documented the lives of the people and was widely patronized by the
Bangla music in ancient times was mostly linked to prayer. Due to the immense
influence of Hindu mythology, most folk songs are related to some sort of praise
of the gods and their creation. Songs were associated with particular groups of
people, such as fishermen, cart-drivers, hermits and so on. Most songs were
based on classical themes.
Modernisation of Bangla music occurred at different times and most of these
modernisation processes happened independently of western influence. Most
notable of these changes were:
Popularity of folk music of Sufi genres: introduction of non-Hindu notions and
philosophy in music
Works of Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Laureate poet: introduction of variations
of classical music to music
Works of Kazi Nazrul Islam: introduction of complicated musical composition and
use of music as a revolutionary tool
Modernisation of folk music: bringing folk music into mainstream
Fusion work: fusion of traditional music with electronic instruments and Western
work to revitalise and re-popularise Bangla music in a society increasingly
overwhelmed by the West
Rabindranath Tagore wrote thousands of songs that are cherished even today. A
famous writer of Bengal whose music was very popular in Bangladesh is Kazi
Nazrul Islam. Lalon Fokir is a popular Bangladeshi mystic poet, famous for his
spiritual tunes. Bangladesh is not wealthy in money, but is a culturally rich
The music of Bangladesh can be broadly categorized among the following genres:
Bangladeshi classical music is based on modes called ragas (rag, in Bangla). All
traditional Bangla music are based on classical music or on its variations.
Some of the most talented classical musicians of the sub-continent come from
Bangladesh including Ustad Allauddin Khan, Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakraborty,
Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Manas Chakraborty, Ustad Ayet Ali Khan, Ustad Abed
Hossain Khan and so on.
Rabindra sangeet origins from the works of Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindra sangeet
is one of the best-known genres of Bangla music outside Bengal. The main origin
of Rabindra sangeet is from the works of Nobel laureate poet, novelist and play
writer, Rabindranath Tagore. (Rabindra sangeet literally means music of Rabindra).
Rabindra sangeet itself is broadly classified into few sub-genres:
puja porjai (prayer songs)
prem porjai (love songs) [some argue prem porjai is actually a part of puja
bichitra porjai (variety songs)
swadesh porjai (patriotic songs)
All categories are tied by a common theme of philosophy and love. Tagore also
composed most of the songs himself. Hence, a common compositional similarity is
visible. All songs are based on minor variations of Sub-continental musical
modes or ragas. On the other hand some songs are fundamental creation of Tagore.
Also he has composed some songs based on European music. He learned about
western music while living in England for about 1 year 5 months during his first
visit in the year of 1878 at the age of 17. After return from England he
composed a music drama "Balmikiprotiva". After grand success of this he composed
another musical drama "Kalmrigoya" in few years. Both of these contain songs
based on western music. We don't see any western based songs after the age of
33. Rabindranath went to England second time in 1882. However, he only stayed
there a month or two. At this time he showed less interest in western music.
From 1882 until 1885 he only composed 3 songs with flavour of European music.
Tagore used ragaas while composing these songs as such anyone can identify them
as rabindra sangeet.
Rabindra sangeet forms an integral part of almost any Bengali cultural festival
and is seen as one of the most important parts of Bangla cultural heritage.
These songs have also been used in several movies, both in Bangla and Hindi.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
Nazrul Geeti origins from the works of Kazi Nazrul Islam
Nazrul geeti, literally meaning "music of Nazrul", are the works of Kazi Nazrul
Islam, national poet of Bangladesh and active revolutionary during Indian
Unlike Rabindra sangeets mentioned above, Nazrul geetis incorporate
revolutionary notions as well as more spiritual and philosophical themes. Islam
used his music as a major way of disseminating his revolutionary notions, mainly
by the use of strong words and powerful, but catchy, tunes. Among the
revolutionary songs, Karar Oi Louho Kopat (Prison-doors of Steel) is best known
and has been used several movies - especially those made during the
pre-independence period of Bangladesh.
Islam also incorporated influences from Western India. He played an active role
in carrying out a fusion between Western Indian ghazals and traditional Bengali
classical music. (Ghazals are poems in Urdu presented with a semi-classical
tune, popular in Western India.) Nazrul geetis that do not incorporate themes of
protest essentially form what is now called Bangla ghazal. The music involves
variation on ragas (modes) along with complicated timing based almost entirely
on vocal work and complex structure.
Due to Islam's dedicated nature and lifestyle, Nazrul geeti was not mainstream
for a very long time (and possibly still is not as commercially promoted as
Rabindra sangeet). Bangladeshi singer and composer, Firoza Begum, played a very
big role in popularising Nazrul geeti in both Bangladesh and West Bengal.
Sohorab Hossain, Shabnam Mushtari also played a crucial role in making Nazrul
Bangla folk music has a long history. Several people contributed to what has
become one of the most important musical influences in lives of Bengalis on both
sides of the (West Bengal-Bangladesh) border. Among these are Lalon Fokir, Hason
Raja and Ramesh Shill. Abbas Uddin was a key player in popularising folk music
Painting depicting Hason Raja.
Folk music can clearly be distinguished and classified into several sub-genres:
Baul: mainly inspired by Lalon Fokir and his Sufi way of living and almost
exclusively performed by hermits who have adopted such (Sufi) life style
Bhandari: devotional music from the South (mainly Chittagong)
Bhatiali: music of fishermen and boatman, almost always tied by a common raga
(mode), sung solo
Bhawaiya: song of bullock-cart drivers of the North (Rangpur)
Gajir geet: tradition song from the North (Rangpur)
Gombhira: song (originating in Chapai Nawabganj, in the North) performed with a
particular distinctive rhythm and dance with two performers, always personifying
a man and his grand father, discussing a topic to raise social awareness
Hason Raja: devotional songs written by music composer Hason Raja (from Sylhet
near Assam) that was recently repopularised as popular dance music
Jaari: song that involves musical battle between two groups
Jatra Pala: songs associated exclusively with plays (performed on-stage) that
usually always involve historical themes presented in a very colourful way
Kirtan: devotional song depicting love of Hindu god Krishno and his (best-known)
Pala: songs from the haor (lake) area in Sylhet, Kishoregonj, and Netrokona
usually performed on stage live by folk singers
Kobi gaan: poems sung with simple music usually presented on stage as a musical
battle between poets
Lalon: best known of all folk songs and the most import sub-genre of Baul songs,
almost entirely attribute to spiritual writer and composer, Lalon Fokir of
Kustia (Western Bangladesh, near the border with West Bengal)
Mursiya: Islamic songs of devotion of the Shi'ah groups based mainly on Western
Shaari: song of boatmen sung in group to match the beat of the oar movement
Upojatiyo: songs of the minor ethnic groups - worth noting, this is not really a
classification since songs of these ethnic groups (of which there are at least
13 different groups) vary widely and have very distinct and intriguing
Letto's song: songs from Mymensingh (North of Dhaka) that also allegedly
influenced Nazrul geeti
Wedding songs: sung all over Bangladesh but always tied by similar tunes and by,
obviously, a common theme, marriage
Of these several groups, Baul song is best known and was further enriched by
works of Lalon.
All folk songs are characterised by simple musical structure and words. Before
advent of radio, stage performances of folk singers used to be possibly the only
entertainment for the vast rural population of Bengal. After arrival of new
communication and digital media, many of the folk songs were modernised and
incorporated into modern songs (Adhunik songeet).
Baul has been such a huge influence in
Bangladeshi music that it deserves being called a genre on its own. However,
although Baul geeti can be characterised by particular nature of music and
presentation, in general, the genre is actually also defined by a definite cult.
In order to understand Baul geeti, it is necessary to understand its creators.
Baul is almost exclusively performed by Bauls (hermits) who are followers of
Sufism in Bangladesh. (Note that traditionally bauls were Hindus; Sufism was
started following the lifestyle of Lalon Shah.) In Bangladesh, in the early days
of Bauls who claimed to be Muslims, with greater focus on love of the society
and harmony with nature, baul geeti had to go through a major struggle of
survival as did the Bauls themselves. Bauls were subjected to harsh teasing and
isolation. However, with time, Islamists were forced by the general population
to accept the Bauls and their spiritual music as part of the society.
Current day Bauls in Bangladesh are Sufis. Most live simple lives on an absolute
minimum, earned mainly from performing their music. Baul songs always
incorporate simple words expressing songs with deeper meanings involving
Creation, society, lifestyle and human emotions. The songs are performed with
very little musical support to the main carrier, the vocal. Bauls, bohemian by
nature and belief, leave on grand expeditions, writing and performing music on
their entire trip to earn living and disseminate notion of love and
Ektara (literally, the one-string), Dotara (literally, the two-strings),
ba(n)shi (flute made from bamboo shoot)) and cymbals are used in the
presentation of Baul geeti. Although, in recent days, Baul geeti has lost
popularity mainly due to disruption of the lifestyle of the bauls by
urbanisation and westernisation, the songs have permanently altered Bangla
music, especially in the form of Lalon geeti.
Baul songs were hugely promoted by Fakir Alamgir and Feroz Shahi in Bangladesh.
Lalon geeti is the work of composer and philosopher, Lalon Shah (also known as
Lalon Fokir). Most of his songs are extensions of Baul geeti. However, his songs
are always more philosophical in nature, involving greater thought about
Lalon geeti originated in Kushtia and has been popularised throughout the two
Bengals (West Bengal and Bangladesh) by various artists. Among the proponents of
Lalon geeti, Farida Parveen is particularly worth mentioning for her extensive
work in modernising tunes.
Adhunik songeet literally means "modern songs". Although, to outsiders, this may
seem an extremely ambiguous way of nomenclature, it has particular motivations.
Bangla music traditionally has been classified mainly by the region of origin
and the creators of the musical genre, such as Nazrul geeti (written and
composed by Kazi Nazrul Islam), ghombhira (unique to a specific area in
Bangladesh), etc. However, this prevented the ability to classify any music that
failed to fit into any of the classes.
In the period just before Indian independence (Bengal, under British rule, was a
part of one massive India that does not exactly correspond to the India of
current day), several new minor musical groups emerged, mainly as playback songs
for movies. These songs failed to fit into any particular genre, but seemed to
be tied together by common theme of "music for the masses". Most of the music
tended to be aimed at the mainstream audience - popular catchy tunes with simple
words that were far moved from the classical ragas (modes). Hence, a
miscellaneous category, Adhunik songeet, was created, since, at that time, this
music was "modern".
Although over time these so-called "modern" songs have become fairly old, they
continue to be called by the same name. Interestingly, this group of song has
grown faster than any other, since it is a miscellaneous category that can
accommodate anything that fails to fit elsewhere. The common theme continues to
exist. So, although the nomenclature itself might not be as insightful, the
genre itself is still well-defined.
Among the main contributors to Adhunik songeet were several singers from both
West Bengal and Bangladesh. The list can never be completed, but some of the
more prolific (and better known) ones from Bangladesh are:
Runa Laila (also immensely popular Ghazal and play back singer in India and
Shahnaz Rahmatullah (mostly popular for some everlasting country songs)
Sabina Yasmin (possibly most prolific in terms of number of songs)
Shakila Zafar: Sings adhunik and classical, semi-classical songs.
Syed Abdul Hadi
Khalid Hasan Milu, deceased
For a very long time, Adhunik songeet played the same role that pop currently
plays in the Western World. It was the easy-to-follow and simple song that was
fit for people of all age and occupation. It continues to be the most important
music among middle-class, white collar Bangladeshi families to this day.
Modern music and western influence
In the post-independence period, Adhunik songeet continued to attract large
proportiones of music enthusiasts. However, with time, newer generations
demanded more upbeat music. Starting late 80's, music involving political theme
have started to gain popularity once again, in a similar fashion to growth of
Nazrul geeti had gained popularity during the revolution against the British
Monarch and the War of Independence of Bangladesh.
Ayub Bachchu of
L.R.B performing at a concert.
Pop music initially started with the so-called band music. And as the name
suggests, the music was heavily influenced by Western Music. The greatest
contributors to pop music also included the following singers:
Happy Akhand, deceased
It is worth noting that pop music of Bangladesh had an assorted history. Artists
of the "Adhunik Gaan" and folk (especially new wave) genre also contributed to
the pop music from time to time.
The popularity of the band music was started enormously with the music of some
famous band groups which had some mixed flavor of our melody with Western
stream. Some of the best known bands of the era were:
In the female arena, there were singers like Pilu Mumtaz who presented folk
songs in new forms. However, the emergence of the young rock singer Tishma in
Bangla music scene in 2003 changed the face of Bangla music for females forever
with her daring new styles of rock and stage performance, and she created a
revolution for the way Bangla female singers perform.
Bangla rock was started by Azam Khan, Miles and LRB. Hassan (associated with
Ark) and James (Faruk Mahfuz Anam) (associated with Feelings and, later, Nogor
Baul) contributed in popularizing rock music. However, hard-rock did not begin
until arrival of bands like Ark Rockstrata, and later Warfaze among many others
in the early 90s.
Actually the bengali rock songs became popular after featuring Ark's (Tajmohol),(Janmabhumi),(Shadhinota),
James (Thik ache bondhu) etc. albums. Both Hasan (Ark) and James proved their
ability as a world class rocker in those albums and they never looked behind.
New wave of Bangladeshi folk music
Fakir Alamgir, Firoz Shai, Momtaz, Kangalini Sufiya and Kuddus Boyati set
notions of revitalising Bangladeshi folk music. Their immense popularity showed
that despite Western influence, Bangladeshis still thoroughly enjoyed their own
While Bangla rock music was approaching the peak of its success, several
musicians and music enthusiastts felt the need to revitalise traditional music.
Inspired by the previous work done by those mentioned above, several new bands
and singers emerged with the notion of creating true Bangladeshi pop music,
inspired by traditional compositional structure.
Abeda Sultana: contemporary
Abdul Jabbar: playback singer for movies in 1960s and 1970s & artist of the
Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro
Andrew Kishor: playback singer for movies for three decades
Fatema-tuz-zohura: respected singer for three decades
Zinga Goshty - one of the earliest bands (1970s) in Dhaka (which originated from
Rebecca Sultana: contemporary
Runa Laila: Ghazal singer and playback singer in 1980s
Sabina Yasmin: playback singer for four decades
Asif Iqbal Sunbeam: Revolutionary remix artist for the album chumki(first ever
bangla digital remix album), also have solo career from 1990s
Tishma : introduced new rock and pop styles in Bangladesh, modern bangla,
teenage heart throb of pop music.
Tapan Chowdhury: went solo after beginning career in Souls.
Uma Islam: playback singer in 1970s and 1980s & artist of the Shadhin Bangla
M. Thakur From the band Zeathers (1989), solo singer, living in New York
Asif Akbar recording artist/playback singer
Begum Akhtar: (deceased)
Sangeetacharya Tarapada Chakraborty: (deceased)
Angur Bala: deceased
Arjumand Banu: deceased
Firoza Begum: popular in the 1960s, carried out lot of experimental composition
work in an attempt to popularise Nazrul geeti
Leena Taposhi Khan (Singer & Nazrrul Reaserser, playing leading role to
popularising Nazrul Song )
Khairul Anam: contemporary
Shamsi Faruque Shimki
Laila Arjumand Banu: deceased
Sadya Afreen Mallick
Shaheen mahmud Samad
Sohorab Hossain: played key-role in popularising Nazrul geeti
Nilufer Yasmin: deceased
Laila Sharafi: A new innovative face in the field, she is honing her skills at
Abbas Uddin: revolutionary work with folk music
and its revitalisation
Abdul Karim: from Sylhet
Abdur Rahman Bayati: from Jessore
Binoy Bansi Das: rhythm-specialist from Chittagong
Bijoy Sarker: from Jessore, deceased
Farida Parveen: unrivalled in Lalon Geeti, known for three decades, carried out
huge projects on modernising and popularising Lalon geeti
Ferdausi Rahman: immensely popular for three decades, heir to rich tradition
established by her father, Abbasuddin,
Horolal Rai: deceased
Kanai Lal Shil: dotara player, deceased
Kangalini Sufia: singer from Chittagong
Khoda Box Shai: from Kustia
Kutubul Alam: gombhira singer from Rajshahi
Neena Hamid: contemporary
Saydur Rahman Bayati: from Manikganj
Rowshan Bayati: from Jessore
Hasan: Pop rock musician.
Azam Khan: A pioneering musician in Bangladeshi Pop culture, often referred to
as the "Pop Guru" of Bangladesh.
Habib Wahid: Singer-songwriter and record producer.
Tishma : singer-songwriter and first female music producer of Bangladesh, she
also changed and revolutionised the entire performance and style for female
singers in Bangladesh, teenage heart throb of pop music. Introduced new rock and
pop styles in Bangladesh too.
Arnob: Singer-songwriter and record producer.
Upol Islam: Singer-songwriter and record producer.
James (Faruk Mahfuz Anam) Vocalist of Nogor Baul
In Dhaka: rock band
Happy Akhand: survived by his brother Lucky Akhand, after his untimely death in
Lucky Akhand: legendary pop singer who carried on the work of brother Happy
Souls: emerged in late 70s in Chittagong, gained popularity over more than a
decade, served to launch Ayub Bacchu (vocalist of L.R.B) and Tapan Chowdhuri,
been less visible in the 90s
Tapan Chowdhury: went solo after beginning career in Souls
Warfaze: emerged in mid-eighties as hard-rock band and initiated rock era of
Urban Fictions : One of the new successful Progressive Rock Band.
Dark : One of the new successful Rock Band.
Powersurge: One of the newcoming successful Heavy metal bands.
Old School: A Nu-Fusion band, redifining the word "fusion".
Nemesis: Hugely popular alt-rock band, currently recording their 2nd album.
Faisal Roddy : One of the rising contemporary pop artists. After a huge success
in the album Rajotto fai is working on this 2nd project.
GrooveTrap: Famous Funk band, currently recording their second album.
Aks: Music Composer and DJ.
Iffat Ara Diwan
Rezwana Chowdhury Banya
Sadi Mohammad Takiullah
Sanjeeda Khatun: contemporary, better known as a specialist in Rabindra sangeet
and as the founder of Dhaka's popular music school, Chhayanot