By Jaydee Cozzi, MA in Music
This year marks 50 years since the birth of Bangladesh, a country born out of a struggle for independence. As part of the Annual Bloomsbury Festival and the SOAS Concert Series, we were able to celebrate these 50 years with wonderfully talented musicians.
“Through the songs Bajpaie retells the stories surrounding Bengali people’s independence, reminding us of the painful elements surrounding Bangladesh’s journey to independence.”
The night opens with a warm and intimate video call with Sahara Bajpaie and some friends in India. Students at SOAS may recognise Sahana Bajpaie as the Bengali Language and Literature teacher, but she is also an award-winning musician, trained in Rabindrasangeet and Bengali Baul songs in Santinketan. Alongside her talented friends, Bajpaie beautifully performs 1971 Independence Movement songs from the Hindustani records archive. Through the songs Bajpaie retells the stories surrounding Bengali people’s independence, reminding us of the painful elements surrounding Bangladesh’s journey to independence. One song that struck me most was a recreation of Bangla folk lament, which speaks about one woman out of the thousands that suffered at the hands of the army during the war of Independence.
The evening then continued with the wonderful band Khiyo, an English fusion band of Bengali and British descent formed in London in 2007. The group has three main members: Sohini Alam on vocals, Ben Heartland on bass and Oliver Weeks on piano and guitar. Their name derived from a Bengali letter, the ‘Khiyo’ (Bengali: ক্ষ). The Khiyo is a unique letter – it is a combination of two letters, however it has an identity of its own. The name reflects the dynamic of the band: a group of members drawing from different musical backgrounds, merging ideas into a single, distinguishable sound.
Khiyo’s repertoire featured recreations of Hindustani songs across Bengal, original songs, and a sneak preview to a few of their unreleased songs. The songs were rhythmically gripping and filled with groove, however each told very different stories and painted different moods. Throughout the evening, Khiyo, like Bajpie, were kind enough to summarise the song lyrics for non-Bengali speakers through vivid descriptions and stories. (For those who are interested in the lyrics, their first album has an English translation available.) Some songs celebrated the love for the Bengali language and the land, while some were dedicated to the sari and the lunghi. Other songs spoke of strong emotions such as envy and the desire to find something greater than yourself, and some songs took us down sad themes such as bloodshed and missing loved ones.
While the night shed light on the pain felt by Bangladesh through powerfully emotive songs, it was also filled with joy and smiles throughout. People stood beating on tables in encouragement, others swayed, and some quietly tapped along. What stood out the most throughout the evening was the pure love that filled the room.
(Keep an eye out for Kihyo and Sahana Bajipie’s next albums coming soon!)
Photo Caption: Poster advertising the concert (Credit: SOAS Concert Series via Facebook).