By Pradipta Tapadar
Kolkata, Dec 19 (IANS) They string folk and 'baul' melodies to Western instruments, turn to time-tested Tagore, churn out quirky, nonsensical lyrics and, of course, do hard rock! Bengali music bands are blazing a trail, creating an enviable fan following in India and abroad.
Tune into Bengali television channels, school and college fests, fairs and cultural carnivals, and chances are, they'll be there, making music.
Once a mere pastime for a small section of urban youth, Bangla music bands have sprung up rapidly over the past decade in West Bengal - with over 100 of them across the state, particularly in Kolkata and its suburbs.
Rabyduti Sharma, a young fan, said: "They have succeeded in attracting us. Youth had moved away from Bengali music in the 1990s, except the old melodies of Hemanta Kumar, Kishore and Manna Dey."
So in a way, the Bengali bands have filled a void for culturally inclined Bengalis and gone beyond as well.
They have a dedicated fan following in the 15-35 age group. They unleash music from a wide array of instruments, both Western and Indian, and very often engage in banter with the audience and ask them to sing along - in hallowed rock music tradition.
It all began in the 1970s with Mohiner Ghoraguli, a rock band formed by Gautam Chattopadhyay, a Jadavpur University student. Its music was a combination of influences like 'baul' songs of the wandering minstrels of Bengal, folk and, of course, rock.
Although the band gained immense popularity, it failed commercially and disintegrated in 1981. It was revived for a brief period in the 1990s and Chattopadhyay, who died in 1999, is still regarded as a Bengali rock icon.
Today bands like Lakkhichhara, Cactus, Fossils, Bhoomi and Chandrabindoo are carrying forward the musical legacy of Mohiner Ghoraguli since the late 1990s and have a huge fan following. Many band members, dressed in cool casuals that range from denims to kurtas, are now stars in their own right.
"We were inspired by Mohiner Ghoraguli. Actually, Gautam Chattopadhyay himself
formed our band and christened it Lakkhichhara. We specifically do hard rock numbers. We started playing at a time when rock bands were considered to be the root cause of cultural degradation," said Debaditya, front man of the group.
"I love Bangla band music as their songs touch my heart. Most songs relate to youth and their issues. We can relate to these songs," said Bikash Roy, a second year college student.
In the late 1990s, when Bengali music was going through a lean patch commercially, it was these bands which infused fresh blood into the industry.
"I started my band in 1992. Our first album was recorded in 1999. We started out of
sheer love and passion for music and the rock culture. When we started, we didn't expect that we would be so popular some day," Siddhartha, lead singer of Cactus, told IANS.
Cactus is heavily influenced by blues music and psychedelic rock and inspired by the western bands like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden.
With popular numbers like "Buddho Heshechhen", "Brishti", "Icchamati" and "Rajar Raja", it has carved its own space in the Bengal music industry. Cactus has performed in many states and also toured the US in 2006.
Another band, Bhoomi, with its aim of reviving Bengali folk music, also injects the right dose of Western melodies and instrumentation in its songs. The group recently came out with an album of Rabindranath Tagore's songs.
"It was love for folk music and bhatiali songs (sung by boatmen) that prompted me and my friends to form the band," band member Soumitro told IANS.
These groups have influenced many aspiring young singers to form their own bands, but very few of them have been able to sustain themselves in the long run.
The ones who have made it big blame the absence of next generation Bangla bands on lack of dedication and shortage of sponsors. "I think the contents of songs are not so good. That's why they are not popular. Most of them take up rock music just for a style statement," said Debaditya.
Said Soumitro: "There is lack of dedication among the young singers. That is why they are not achieving success."
But for now, people are happy with the established bands and say they rock!
(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at [email protected])