(Re) Making Music

Tarun Goswami

Purists often frown at the ongoing trend of “remake” and “remix” of original popular songs but its exponents are even tinkering with Rabindrasangeet. The public has not been particularly aghast. In this edition of Calcutta Chronicle, we delve into the pros and cons of this reigning trend.

Well known American folk artist and music composer, Pete Seeger once toured the city in early 1990s and performed at Kala Mandir and Nazrul Mancha. Later, before a packed media conference at Kala Mandir Seeger told newsmen that experimentation was mandatory for the survival of music itself. He also spoke in favour of using contemporary instruments to make music livelier.

Seeger said, for instance, Paul Robson had only used a violin when he sung “We shall overcome” for the first time. Over the years, the accompaniment has undergone several changes and now guitar, key board and drums are used besides violin which has added colour to the song. In order to elucidate his point Seeger first sang the song “We shall overcome”, with only violin and then with other instruments. His grandson, Mike, a professional whistler and renowned guitarist whistled the prelude of the song while strumming the guitar and it was a lifetime experience listening to the performance.

In every age, such experiments only serve to enliven music. But “remixing” and “remake” have often generated controversy although of late the music fraternity has lost its conservative approach. In 1970s, the Music Board of Visva Bharati had imposed a ban on Debabrata Biswas for using Western instruments in Rabindra Sangeet. While singing numbers like “Akash bhara surya tara” or Godhuli gagane meghe dhekechilo tara” he made use of piano, piano accordion and mandolin to make the songs livelier. In late 1948 when Hemanta Mukherjee sung Salil Chowdhury’s famous composition, “Kono ek gayer bodhu” heavy use of string instruments and piano accordion was made, initiating a new trend.

But now we find not only innovation in musical accompaniment but in words and tune as well. Young music composer, Neel Dutta introduced innovations in Rabindrasangeet,  “Pagla hawa badal dine” for the film, “Bong Connection”. Nachiketa did the same in case of “Jodi tor dak shune”. This is not only true for Rabindrasangeet only but also for Bengali Adhunik songs. Rupankar has made several changes in prelude and interlude music of the song “Tomar o patho pane chai”, composed by Himangshu Dutta and sung by Shyamal Mitra. “Line Lagao, line lagao” by Aparesh Lahiri was also “improvised” upon by Nachiketa.

Remixing and remake of popular songs became a trend after there was a sharp fall in quality of original songs in Bengali in mid 1980s. There was a sudden void after Hemanta Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee and Pratima Banerjee stopped singing publicly due to old age while the death of Shyamal Mitra, Manabendra Mukherjee and Tarun Banerjee robbed the music world of their golden voice. Bombay too beckoned and Salil Chowdhury and Arati Mukherjee settled there. Deaths of eminent composers like Sudhin Dasgupta and Prabir Majumdar as well as lyricists of the stature of Gouriprassana Majumdar and Pranab Roy also led to dip in the quality of music produced.

It was in this backdrop Indranil Sen’s super duper hit musical album, “Durer Balaka” was released. A remake album, for Sen had sung songs of Akhilbandhu Ghosh, was lapped up by the public although he had to face flak from a section of music lovers. But at the end the album did good business and established Indranil Sen as a singer. There was another positive side; many youngsters who were not aware of the original songs and had even lost interest in Bengali songs started listening to these golden oldies. As a matter of fact Indranil Sen’s “Durer Balaka” (which came in several parts) and Kabir Suman’s album “Tomake Chai” had firmly put Bengali music back on tracks.

Celebrated music teacher and accomplished pianist, Mr Tapas Ghosh feels that the trend of remix and remake have enriched music. These experiments have inspired youngsters to take lessons in various musical instruments, particularly western ones. Little kids barely four take lessons in key board and many of them can play the full song following notations. “Many of these kids are quite serious about their lessons and feel disappointed when they are unable to attend classes due to exams. Even qualified professionals are taking up music as a vocation,” said Ghosh.

Veteran singer, Dwijen Mukherjee is however concerned about the falling standards of lyrics. “True the new musicians are brilliant but unless the lyrics are better, these compositions will not survive the challenges of time.” With CDs being produced in bunches, composers hardly get time to work on their compositions. Earlier a busy singer would cut four to six discs annually and music directors like SD Burman, OP Nayar and Salil Chowdhury would rehearse the songs for two-three months before recording.

Despite the mixed reaction one must admit remix and remake of original songs have helped the Bengali music to sustain itself during the bad patch.