‘Collective Cries’: A Bangladeshi Peace Song

A Bangladeshi devotional song for peace, written by Rabindranth Tagore will be performed on 17.6.17, 7.30pm at the Human Rights Action Centre, Shoreditch  in memory of Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016. This FREE Change of Arts Festival organised by Hope not Hate, aims to bring together members of the community who would not otherwise meet. Jo Cox’s maiden speech to parliament was “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. This performance by Sidrah Muntaha aims to spread messages of peace and highlight how we collectively hope for a more humane world.

This performance will be accompanied by a slideshow of emotive and personally symbolic photography taken and forwarded by members of the Bangladeshi community. These include the following:  Salam Jones, a Carpenter, Writer and Critical Thinker with a passion for photography and charitable causes, Pushpita Gupta, who is actively involved in supporting different faith communities that are victims of sectarian violence in Bangladesh, Dr. Sakti Das, a Professor of Urology who has carried out exceptional humanitarian work in different parts of the world including surgical procedures in Haiti and Afghanistan, Dilawar Hussain who has participated in charitable work in Palestine, Hena Ahmed, a Social Worker, involved in helping a charity that has developed a Mental Health Support Centre in Sylhet, Bangladesh which is being supported by mental health professionals & finally Dr. Muhammad Ahmedullah, a researcher and historian who has travelled extensively and immersed himself with numerous communities around the world.

This performance will be part of an evening of other short acts, entertainment and plays by various artistes. For details, please see  Change of Art festival.

An Inspirational Artiste: Lucy Rahman

Background & Career History

Mrs Lucy Rahman, born into a musical family in Dhaka, Bangladesh, began her Indian Classical and Semi-Classical vocal training at the age of six. Mrs Rahman’s father, Lutfor Rahman, was himself a classical vocalist and composer who encouraged Mrs Rahman to follow in his footsteps. Mrs Rahman enrolled at the Nazrul Academy in Bangladesh where she studied for 6 years and gained a diploma.

Mrs Rahman moved to the UK in 1983, where she soon developed a reputation for being an accomplished artist and vocalist. She is respected by both her peers and the public, not only for her voice but for the emotional depth with which she performs. Since 1998, she has been one of the lead singers in the mainstream Jazz music group, Grand Union Orchestra and continues to perform as the solo vocalist, in Amina Khayyam’s adaptation of Yerma. Mrs. Rahman currently resides in the UK with her family, and continues to perform as well as teach her students.

A Therapeutic Approach to Music

Mrs Rahman is undoubtedly a talented vocalist. Her voice has been developed and refined over the years, and now more enjoyable than ever to listen to. However, Mrs Rahman has an interesting approach to her music. She not only enjoys singing and listening to good performances, she has an appreciation for the therapeutic benefits of singing and engaging in meditative-like practice of singing.

Indian Raga & Emotional Experiences

There is a great deal of evidence demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of singing. Mrs Rahman is particularly interested in Indian Raga and the subjective experiences which accompany singing specific ragas.

The first time I sat with her as she sang Rag Bhairav more than two years ago during one of our lessons, I found myself feeling both tearful and peaceful simultaneously. There was a sadness in her voice and a real sense of her being exported elsewhere emotionally as she sang with only myself as her audience. Her voice communicated the richness of the raga as well as reflected a sombre and almost grief-like state.

When she asked me to visualise an image when considering this raga, I could only imagine a graveyard with a ghostly young woman in white behind a tombstone. Although this rag is considered by many to be majestically peaceful, to me, the image of the sombre graveyard remains as well as the sense of loss, mourning and melancholy. Perhaps it is as much as the listener as it is the artist who creates the subjective emotional experience of any given rag at a given moment.

Mrs Rahman’s Performances

Unfortunately, there are few recordings of Mrs Rahman’s performances. Although she has and continues to perform for large audiences internationally, she experiences her music as almost sacred and wishes to preserve the richness particularly of Nazrul songs. She performs with all her heart, putting in full effort, energy and emotion in each song. Her desire for perfection is common amongst true artists, who no matter how well respected or appreciated, continue to attempt perfection in their art.

My regret is that I am unable to share any recordings which really capture Mrs Rahman’s emotional connection with her music.  However, the following available videos give us examples of her voice in a theatrical production as well as singing a conventional Nazrul song. I hope you enjoy these videos and are encouraged to listen to one of her live performances in the future.

Lucy Rahman as Vocalist in Amina Khayyam’s Yerma
Lucy Rahman on Channel S performing a Nazrul Geeti

Krishnokoli: My Dark Flower

Krishnokoli Ami Tareh Boli

Bangladeshi music often centres around the theme of love and beauty, which is not surprising. What is interesting however is the frequency with which poets have made positive references to the darkness of their beloved’s eyes, hair or skin. One song for example (Dagor dagor chokeh keno kajol dileh?) is asking why the beloved has put black eye liner on her large eyes which are blacker than the eye liner itself! Similarly, another song (Megh Kalo Adhar Kalo) refers to the clouds and night being dark, but not nearly as dark as the bride’s black hair.

Similarly, the colour of a woman and man’s skin has been referenced by many including Radha Ramon (Sham Kalia Shona Bondhureh), Nazrul Islam (Amar Kalo Meye Rag koreche) and Rabindranath Tagore (Krishnokoli Ami Tareh Boli). Some songs simply note the beauty of a beloved’s skin and the darkness being part of the overall attraction. However, other songs make reference to negative social attitudes and perceptions of dark complexion.

In the following song, Tagore writes about his Krishnokoli (dark flower). Here, he describes a dark, beautiful young woman in a village field, who momentarily loses her inhibition when she glances at him. He says ‘The villagers call her dark, Ah! let that be, her black deer-like eyes I have seen’. The deer like eyes may be referring to her darting, anxious bewilderment as she observes  a stranger’s awe of her. In addition, the poet dismisses the opinions of the villagers, who describe her as ‘dark’. Dark in this context refers to her lack of beauty.  After all, black has historically been associated with more negative connotations than white. For example, black has been associated with dirt, death, evil, sorrow and melancholy whilst white has been associated with cleanliness and purity (Dalal, 2002).

This song is one of my favourites. The unspoken connection between the young woman and the stranger, both intrigued, both lost in their own thoughts is an example of a Bangladeshi poet’s ability to capture the innocence of young love, untainted by social prejudice. It highlights internalised racism through the villagers’ description of her as black and thereby unattractive. Internalised racism occurs when an individual or community accept their own racial inferiority (against white) and judge themselves and others accordingly. 

More recently, there have been enormous shifts in attitudes to beauty, particularly in the last two or three decades. Bollywood for  example have seen a rise in producing some hugely successful actors and actresses with dark skin tone (e.g. Priyanka Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan). However, it is interesting to note that Bangladeshi poets challenged internalised racism a very long time before the term ‘black is beautiful’ became a popular expression in the Western world as well as in South Asia. Despite this, it is unclear how much internalised racism remains embedded unconsciously within our psyches and in communities where access to education and critical thinking may be lacking.

It is important to emphasise that poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam were not just poets, but social reformers and intellectuals who left us with not only beautiful songs but a great deal to consider in our understanding and appraisal of ourselves and each other.

Please do send your comments, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Meanwhile, enjoy the song!

 

Reference:

Dalal, F (2002) Race, Colour and the Process of Racialization. New Perspectives from Group Analysis, Psychoanalysis and Sociology: Brunner-Routledge