Like other fusion-music lovers, Md. Imran, a music enthusiast youth from Dhaka, was waiting eagerly for the popular musical franchise Coke Studio’s Bangladeshi programme to start.
“The Coke Studio shows always came up with something new, something rule-breaking in the musical arena, and that’s why I was excited about its Bangladeshi version,” he said.
But people’s expectations regarding the programme fizzled out with the criticism it received for choosing the word ‘Bangla’ instead of ‘Bangladesh’ in its title.
According to the audience, the title should have highlighted the word Bangladesh instead of Bangla, as it’s supposed to represent the country’s musical diversity. They claimed this on social media, referring to the title and episodes of “Coke Studio Pakistan,” which debuted in 2008 and was Coca-Cola’s first attempt at branding over a fusion-music programme.
Coke Studio Bangla team, with the release of their first fusion arrangement, the indigenous number “Nasek Nasek”, managed to convince a portion of the audience that the programme won’t remain limited to Bengali language only and that the musical exclusivity and diversity of the country were not in threat.
However, Purna Tabassum, a BBA student who follows the Coke Studio Bangla (CSB) programmes on a regular basis, said that even the most gullible of the audiences couldn’t overlook the marketing tactic to draw in more Bengali audiences from the neighbouring regions through the social media channels.
She added, “It can’t be denied that the team later managed well to prove, there is nothing kept in the title, with another strategic attempt when it came to releasing the tracks — valuing the sentiments of the audience, with an indigenous number.”
Coke Studio Bangla songs: What they depict
Ekla Cholo Re: The call
CSB raised its curtain with a contemporary rendition of Tagore’s “Ekla Cholo Re” along with “Abar Hashimukh” by band Shironamhin. Shayan Chowdury Arnob’s promotional song stayed true to its essence and featured some legendary, established, and undiscovered artists. Parts of the Baul song “Ami Kothay Pabo Tare”, a musical influence of Tagore’s “Amar Shonar Bangla”, were heard in this song. The fusion of songs in the promo; the way it was arranged mixing classic, folk, and contemporary numbers; it truly hinted at the beginning of CSB’s journey and the vibe it would unroll throughout the season with each released song.
Nasek Nasek: Intro with inclusion
“Nasek Nasek”, the very first studio song of CSB, was a befitting reply to all the critics as it was a Hajong celebration song written and performed by Animes Roy, who belongs to the same community. Hajong is an indigenous community living in Bangladesh and northern parts of India.
The song was a fusion with the popular Bengali folk number “Dol Dol Doloni”, written by Abdul Latif and covered by Pantho Kanai.
The energetic stage performance of Animes helped to kick off “Coke Studio Bangla” studio sessions at a great pace on February 23, 2022.
According to Muhaiminul Islam, a linguistics graduate and music enthusiast, introducing the audience to a track of the linguistic minority during the month of International Mother Language Day to show respect and priority to every mother tongue was very well planned.
“It’s like an intro with inclusion for the audience,” he said.
Prarthona: Call for the devine
“Prarthona”, the second song of this season sung by popular folk singer Momtaz Begum and Mizan Rahman, the formal vocalist of band Warfaze, was released after “Nasek Nasek”. Starting with Girin Chakraborty’s “Allah Megh De”, a folk song deeply connected to Bangladeshi peasants, the track later embarks on a more spiritual journey through “Baba Maulana”, a hymn of the ‘Maizbhandari’ order, originally penned and tuned by Kobial Ramesh Shil.
Music enthusiast Sumiya Haque said that the use of Khartal, an Asian percussion, stringed up both the songs in a devotional manner. Besides, the chorus singers did a remarkable job giving the Sufi shrine hymn vibe.
“But I think “Prarthona” did receive a fair share of criticism for toning down Momtaz’s original vocal range. “And releasing it on Ramadan eve felt unnecessarily cautious to many of my friends,” she explained.
Bulbuli: The romance of songbird
In its third serve, CSB received a huge applause from the audience for its melodious rendition of national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s melancholic ghazal “Bagichay Bulbuli”, in the neat and powerful voice of singer Rituraj Baidya. The second part of the song “Dol Dol Dol Diyeche” sounded equally melodious in voice of Sanzida Mahmood Nandita.
Bulbuli managed to cross many borders across the globe with the use of instruments, verses, and ragas, combining European, Arabic, and Asian music styles in a meritorious composition that left listeners amazed.
However, Mohammad Ishtiak Hossain, a music enthusiast and journalist, said that he loves fusion but only until it sounds imposed.
“Rituraj, Nandita sang so beautifully! But my objection here is with Syed Gousul Alam Shaon, not having any musical background, getting the opportunity to write a reply to the national poet’s creation. It seemed like a misuse of power as he works for the organisation that had brought the franchise to Bangladesh,” he added.
Bhober Pagol: The mandatory madness
After soothing Bulbuli, Shayan Chowdhury Arnob, curator and producer of the programme, decided to unleash the madness of Bengali music through Bhober Pagol. The song features “Pagol Chara Duniya Chole Na”, a song extracted from folk songs and made popular by the band Lalon, along with an original piece by powerful Bengali rap group Jalali Set. “Shobai Pagol” rap written by K.M. Mehedi Hasan Ansari, was a complementary description of the frenzy ride of human life.
The song was performed by Nigar Sultana Sumi, founder-vocalist of band Lalon and the vocalists of the group, Jalali Set . The young audience absolutely caught the arrangement thrown at them. With gorgeous heavy stage performance of Sumi and the relatable, mind-blowing, rap of Jalali Set derived from the streets and corners of the country, it proved to be a good inclusion for this season.
Chiltey Rodey: Melancholia of longing
The much awaited performance of Arnob came with “Chiltey Rodey”. A particular hidden gem of Bangladeshi folk music, ‘Bhawaiya’, was highlighted by Boga Taleb’s soulful voice with the song “O Ki Ekbar Ashiya” originally composed by the legendary folk Abbas Uddin Ahmed and penned by Abdul Karim
The two songs, being very different in essence — one serenely urban and the other so deeply rural — were entwined into a tale of longing that resides in every human heart with the brilliance of composition and arrangement.
The song is a melancholic depiction of longing in memory of those who are distanced by location yet whose hearts are so close to each other. The song is slow-paced, soothing, and Boga Taleb’s cry for his beloved, along with the shehnai molody, had tremendous power to awaken the pains of one’s heart.
Shob Lokey Koy: Two soul’s one mind
“Shob Lokey Koy” probably is one of the most brilliantly matched fusions of this season. It highlights the beliefs of two great mystic minds, Lalon Shai and Kabir Das, who never met each other yet spoke about a divine human love beyond class and cast. The verses are so alike in meaning that one might question if they were just written by the same man.
The “Shob Lokey Koy” part was sung by Kaniz Khandaker Mitu and “Kabira Kuan Ek Hai” was sung by Soumyadeep alias Murshidabadi from India. This one was also well planned to be released on the occasion of World Music Day.
But as an avid audience of this programme, Imran Khan thinks this might look good from a marketing point of view, but there should be a level of subtlety maintained as music that doesn’t feel heartfelt loses its impact.
Lilabali: A song for celebration
CSB season-I, in its continued effort to bring the best of folk music, gets another point for this rhythmic composition of the celebratory wedding song “Lilabali Lilabali” by poet and musician Radharaman Dutta.
The song starts with a chorus of female vocals teased by Bari Siddiqui’s “Bhober Deshe Thako Konna”, sang by another hidden gem, MD. Makhon Mia, who has a God-given rustic voice apt for folk songs.
Hawa: A modern attempt at love
“Dokhino Hawa” features Indian vocalist and playback singer Madhubanti Bagchi and the popular Bangladeshi singer, particularly for the romantic tracks, Tahsan.
Madhubanti’s remarkable voice in Meera Dev Burman’s “Shono Go Dokhino Hawa” sounds very retro with jazz bits used in the composition. Meanwhile, Tahsan sang the “Utture Hawa” part, written by Gousul Alam Shaon to complement and depict the windiness of emotions in a romantic relationship.
The song received many critical comments for the second part, as many said it was quite a mismatch. Apart from that, the mishap of mentioning SD Burman as the writer and composer at first instead of his wife Meera actually earned negative remarks for the organising team.
Coke Studio Bangla: Expectation vs Reality
As the first season is nearing its closure, it’s a perfect time to assess the show’s success in the eyes of the audience.
“Coke Studio Bangla was launched with many challenges and a very high benchmark set by its iconic predecessor, Coke Studio Pakistan,” said Nibir Ahmed, a university student from Dhaka.
It’s hard to refuse that the Bangladeshi audience got to hear such standard compositions and fusions of classic numbers after so long, he added.
For introducing some brilliant yet unrecognised singers, groups through this platform, Coke Studio Bangla should be applauded. They also followed a strategy in choosing the songs, singers, and release dates to convey strong messages to champion inclusivity and ethnicity, which is a good start.
As for music, it’s an exploratory art form, and hopefully the organisers will give the audience more spellbinding musical pieces next season. And overcoming the flaws, the music will transcend many borders.