“Ami Banglar Gaan Gai”; the Indomitable Mahmuduzzaman Babu

“Ami Banglar Gaan Gai”;  the Indomitable Mahmuduzzaman Babu

During a program in Canberra attended by Soumitra Chatterjee, the legendary actor from Kolkata, I overheard a fellow Canberra-living Bangali, obviously from Kolkata, saying to Soumitra “Dada shunechhen, Pratul Babur Gantikey to Bangladeshira ekebarey Oder Jatiyo shongeet baniye phelechhey”. He was referring to sylvan-voiced poet song-writer from West-Bengal, Pratul Mukhopadhyaya , and his poem-song “Ami Banglar Gan Gai”. (click here to listen the song by Pratul Mukhopadhyaya). Shoumitro smiled enigmatically and benignly as he always does replying “Tate ki Hoyechey, e gantato shob Bangalir”.

The man responsible for taking Pratul’s already famous song to newer heights of popular appeal in Bangladesh and beyond is Mahmuduzzaman Babu, a completely new kind of singer who visited us recently in Australia. He was brought to Australia By Bangabandhu Parishad of Sydney led by Dr. Abdur Razzaque and his journey to Canberra was facilitated by Dr. Ezaz Al Mamun, and Kamal Uddin and Robin Guda of the Spondon group of Canberra. The venue was most graciously provided by the Bangladesh High Commission, Canberra.

Babu is unlike any other singer of his level of popularity. Often our famous singers, either male or female, wear their vanity like a badge of honour, trying to be as much of a Prima Donna as they can. Tabla players annoy them; they never find one worth their while; little noisy children are menace to them; they find the auditoriums unacceptable, their schedule too hectic; they seem strained, annoyed, too hard to please. When they sing of love, wisdom or inspiration, their personal annoyance lingers on their face, never transmitting to the audiences the lofty lyrics that come out of their mouth.

To meet Babu is to encounter a very different kind of singer. He belongs to the old of school of singers when music was more a belief than a career or vocation and to sing was to articulate a moral position musically, rather than being a fussy artist. He sings easily and naturally as though he is speaking, saying something important; his strong voice drowning all the chitchat, gossip or children-tantrums so naturally that one need not ask for it separately. Babu’s music with its moral fervour drowns out everything that is irrelevant to that music; clarifying the demands of his words. It is a music meant for very large audience and is designed to carry high moral messages.

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I have seen him perform in a large football field singing to youngsters mesmerised by his voice. When he speaks, it is clear he is more of a socio-political worker, a tamer version of a modern day Che with a voice that is part Srikanta and part Debabrata. The melodious nostalgia of Pratul translates and becomes a political theme song in Babu’s voice as naturally as the romantic finesse of Rabindra-Sangeet became strident belief-songs in the voice of Debabrata.

We were excited and proud to have Babu amongst us at the Bangladesh High Commission premises for a small “Ghorua” program; it would be good to have him back again, perhaps as part of a formal cultural group that we often have here in Canberra. Beyond his music Babu is an articulate and relentless worker on behalf of the common people of Bangladesh, and an ardent collector and preserver of our musical heritage in the form of an archive, a work that needs our enthusiastic support.

Mahmuduzzaman Babu came to Australia and conquered a space in our hearts that leave us with wanting more of him. We eagerly await his return.

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