Music has been an integral part of most cultures around the globe. To this day, music continues to change and evolve, as more people use it to make unique soundtracks to their everyday lives. As a Bengali, it has been an even bigger part of our culture. From Nazrul’s songs about war to Tagore’s love songs, Bangla is able to truly capture the heart’s language through melodies. Songs in one’s mother tongue best expresses feelings of the soul. As much as music plays a part in our culture, and ultimately in our upbringing, the place we grow up in also shapes us into who we are. I have found these two aspects to be intertwined as my love for Dhaka, or Bangladesh as a whole, comes from the music it inspires and the artists who write love letters to this city and this country through song.
Dhaka might be a small city compared to others, but years and years of wading through its hardships makes it seem much bigger than it is. For a lot of people, the noise and commotion might seem intimidating, but the minute you put your headphones on and press play, the city becomes entirely different. Many people find it impossible to travel through the bustling city without their headphones. Whether one is walking to beat the traffic on a hot day, or they are stuck in a rickshaw in the monsoon rain, Bengali artists will always have the perfect song to match the mood. It makes you feel like you are the main character, while the song is the background music to your story. As a Dhaka city dweller, Bengali music is wrapped around many aspects of my life, from as early as childhood years to now.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a music loving household. My early, pre-school years went by listening to what my parents and grandparents listened to on the radio as they read their morning paper. In those years, the harmonium and tablas were the key instruments of Bengali music. Closing your eyes and listening to the beating of the tabla would feel like it matches the beating of your heart. Even though the harmonium and tabla are simple instruments, the music they produce is transcendental. As my siblings and I grew older, we were forced to attend music classes on weekends. I recall how taxing those classes seemed, and how I wanted to play outside instead. But, in hindsight, that was the first time I fell in love with Bengali classical music, and music in general.
By the time I was able to form my own taste, artists like Tahsan, Mithila and Arnob emerged on the Bengali music scene. It was astounding to listen to the sounds these artists produced, and the emotions they portrayed in my mother tongue. As I embark on adulthood, I find myself going back to the artists of my childhood and formative years. However, it would not be fair to say that I listen to them only for the sake of nostalgia, but I have also come to realize the timelessness of their songs. As a child Sahana Bajpaie’s Rabindra Sangeet covers were only calming and melodious to me. But as an adult, I came to understand the meaning behind Tagore’s words, the feelings of love, loss and longing he beautifully portrays. The diversity of Bengali music stretches out to genres like metal and rock as well. Bengali bands, like Shunno and Warfaze, were there for the times I craved louder music.
In a growing city of tall buildings and busy roads, the younger generations often find themselves with nowhere to escape to. Before the pandemic, live music and concerts were an important part of Dhaka. Screaming along to Warfaze and Artcell in sweaty crowds, or comfortably listening to smaller concerts in music cafes were special occasions for the youth. Pop artist concerts were just as entertaining as the Noboborsho shows in Ramna Park. The smaller shows also allowed up and coming artists to showcase their music and gain a bigger following. Live concerts help the audience escape their reality for a little while. For the audience, it’s not just the music, but the collective energy given off from the crowd. For some, concerts even feel like a spiritual experience as they emerge from the venue feeling like a changed person.
A city as hectic as Dhaka, which is always consumed by a million different things, it is easy to forget the simpler things that make living here bearable. The city continues to inspire the lives of artists as more and more new bands and musicians start to emerge, such as Pieket, Dads in the Park and Level Five to name a few. The pandemic has allowed me to reflect on the joy I found from discovering an underground artist in a random show, or singing along to the recent rock hits with friends on campus without a care in the world. Music has become an essential part of living in Dhaka, and it would not be the same without the immense talent showcased by our artists, generation after generation.
Author: Tasnia Naureen