ECDPA ® - The Oldest Bengali Association In North America since 1970

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Bengali Musicians, Singers

Rabindranath Tagore as Musician –
Parallel to bishnupur gharana , baul, bhatiali, rabindra sangeet is most esteemed Bengali music genre. Rabindranath’s early training in music was deeply influenced by the Bishnupur gharana. He grew up listening, learning and absorbing the dhrupad and khayal traditions from stalwarts like Bishnu Chakraborty, Jadu Bhatta, Radhika Goswami, Srikantha Singha. His elder brother, Jyotirindranath used to experiment with the traditional dhrupad and khayal compositions and encouraged young Rabi to compose verses to match such raga-based melodies. This was how ‘Rabindrasangeet’ took its early form. Tagore’s early compositions thus were ‘shuddh’, true to the raga and tala systems of dhrupad, dhamar, tappa and sadra. Much like dhrupad, the verses and mood of his songs during this phase were solemn and often dealt with prayer and devotion.

It inevitably evolved into a more complex phase where Rabindranath introduced novelty and improvisations, still within the structure of traditional Hindustani music. The variety and diversity in his poetry compelled him to break away from the norms. This was a phase of intense creativity and experimentation where vast combinations of ragas and talas evolved to create a suitable medium for the varied moods and emotions. His creation transcended beyond mere imitation.

Let us take the example of Raga Malhar. In his songs devoted to monsoon and rainy season, he extensively used various types of Malhars, namely, Desh-Malhar, Nat-Malhar, Surath-Malhar, Mian-Malhar, Megh-Malhar, Gaud-Malhar, Surdasi Malhar etc. But that was not sufficient, he created over fifty different variations of Malhar alone. Each one of these is unique and distinct in its mood and expression. And he did not stop there, he employed other ragas like Yaman, Kedar, Piloo, Baroyan to express the varied moods of rainy season. Critics have characterized this phase as, “opposition within the constitution” in his process of creativity.

Rabindrasangeet was yet a more complex experiment. Rabindranath loved to spend considerable time in the countryside in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), on his favorite boat on River Padma. Here he found a new source and inspiration for his music. The Bhatiyali songs, the songs by boatmen, the Baul compositions, the Kirtans, the folk tunes – their simplicity and depth moved him. He assimilated these folk songs in his music and gave these a new meaning. This is where he stands out as a musical genius and can claim to be the first and greatest composer of modern India. In this phase, Hindustani music had dissolved with ease into Bhatiyali and Baul songs; but in effect, it was neither, it had become his very own music, Rabindrasangeet.

Traditional Hindustani khayal music gives supreme importance to melody, lyrics play a secondary role. It is rather evident in case of instrumental music where melody is the sole medium of expression. Rabindranath’s music bridged this gap. His music reached perfection in combining ‘sur’ (melody) and ‘katha’ (poetry) into an inseparable new entity, which became ‘sangeet’ (music). There is no better way to conclude than quote, Prof. Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay, “… Rabindranath has made the abstract nature of Hindustani music system concrete, has humanized the melodic content, but took extreme care not to lower it from art to mere artifice.

Debabrata Biswas [1911 – 1980]
Debabrata Biswas, also known as George Biswas most revered and most popular Rabindra Sangeet singer ever. Even more than three decades after his death he is the top selling artist in his category. God gifted unbelievable bass voice was of course there, but what was absolutely incomparable was the unique treatment he meted to his renditions. Skilled modulation was just one part of it; the main aspect was his extraordinary ability to interpret Tagore’s poetry—the dexterity to go deep to the core of it, which makes him truly unparalleled. As a result each of his songs took a visible, concrete, tangible shape—as if the artiste himself was experiencing the situation, and interpreting it for his enthralled audience.His first record was published in 1933, when he was only 22. An MA in Economics in 1933, Debabrata became an employee of Hindusthan Insurance Company in the same year—from where he retired in 1970.

But what is really amazing is while Debabrata had only about a hundred recorded songs to his credit while he was alive, at least six hundred new songs from the personal collections of some of his innumerable admirers have later been released, and his popularity, after so many years, is not the least diminished. Not only did Debabrata have an exceptionally deep baritone voice (which was simultaneously melodious), he was an artist—perhaps the only artist who could intellectually penetrate so deep into the heart of Tagore’s songs. Besides, he drew superb sketches and cartoons, wrote two books (Bratyo Janer Ruddhwa Sangeet and Antorango Cheen) both were published in 1978 and the royalty of which he donated for some great cause. He also lend his voice in a few films like Komol Gaandhar,Chhenra Taar and Bhuli Nai.

Hemanta Mukherjee [1920-1989]
Hemanta Mukherjee – Aka Hemant Kumar one of all-time great Bengali-Hindi composer and singer of India. He is most known for his Bollywood songs from the 1950’s and 1960’s. In his career, he recorded approximately 2000 songs. Hemant Kumar’s interest in music began early. He sang his first song in All India Radio in 1933. He was only 13 at the time.

In 1940s Hemant Mukherjee Joined IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) It also produced some interesting work; especially notable was his collaboration with Salil Chowdhury. In 1948 he sang an epic 6 min. song (We must not forget that in those days this occupied both sides of a 78 recording). This song was entitled Ganyer Badhu. It is said that when this song was released, Salil was not present because he was hiding from police. The success of this song paved the way for a number of other collaborations with Salil Chowdhury in the future.

It was SD Burman who gave him his break for the film “Jaal” (1952). The song from this film Yeh Raat, Yeh Chaandni Phir Kahan, became a big hit, and cemented his position as a major playback singer.Hemant began to work as a music director. He composed the music for several films, but it “Nagin” (1954) that catapulted him into national recognition as a music director. Even today the “hook” from the song, Man Doley Mera Tan Doley has become an icon that is permanently associated with snake charmers in the Indian mind. After the success of “Nagin” he went on to be the music director for numerous films including “Jagriti” (1954), “Bees Saal Baad” (1962), and “Khamoshi” (1969). In the 1950’s, Hemant Kumaar had a varied artistic life. In Bengal he was known as a major exponent of Rabindra Sangeet. In Bombay he now had two occupations. He was known by many as a successful playback singer, and to others he was a music director. However that was not enough for him; he also ventured in as a film producer. He established a film company by the name of Hemata-Bela whose first production was the Bengali “Neel Akshar Neechay” (1959). This film company was later renamed as Geetanjali Productions; under this banner, films such as “Bees Saal Baad”, and “Khamoshi”, were released.

Salil Chowdhuri [1923- 1995]
Salil Chowdhuri was an Indian music composer, a music director, musician, writer, and poet, who worked in Hindi, Bengali, and the south Indian film industries. He was most active from the 1950’s through the 1960’s. His strength was in the fact that he mastered numerous different genre. He was accomplished on the flute, esraj, violin, and piano; he was also a master lyricist and writer. He was also a poet and a playwright

His musical ability was widely recognize and acknowledged in the Indian film industrySalil Chowdhury moved to Bombay in 1953 to adapt his Bengali story “Rikshawalla” for Hindi; thus began his work in the Hindi film industry. This Hindi remake was entitled “Do Bigha Zameen”. The success of this movie ushered in a slew of other Hindi films. One of the most notable was Madhumati (1958).

During the 50s; and 60s, Salil Chowdhury was kept very busy. In 1957 he and Ruma Ganguly, established the Bombay Youth Choir. This drew heavily upon Western concepts of harmony. Often he was the music director for films. He also composed background music for the documentaries which were coming out of the Films Division.

Manna Dey [1919 − 2013]

Prabodh Chandra Dey known by his stage name Manna Dey is undoubtedly one of the best singers that India has. This versatile singer has sung numerous songs and shared the limelight with some legends like Mohammed Rafi, Talat Mehmood, Mukesh, and Kishore Kumar. Manna De showed his singing talent in early days of school when he used to beat tables and sing to entertain his classmates. He then started to receive proper training in music from his uncle Krishna Chandra Dey and also from Ustad Dabir Khan. Manna De worked as an assistant music director under his uncle and then under S.D. Burman in the year 1942. After assisting many music directors, he eventually started to work independently. Manna Dey’s career as a playback singer started with the movie Tamanna in the year 1943. His uncle, Krishna Chandra Dey composed the musical score and he paired up with the well-known Suraiya to sing this wonderful duet. The entire nation loved this song and Manna Dey became a household name.

He could very easily sing the great hits of legends like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh but no one could sing the songs Manna Dey sang in his unique technical style. The great Mohammed Rafi once commented that though people listen to his songs, he himself hears only Manna Dey’s songs. This was perhaps one of the best accolades a singer could receive from another talented singer. Manna Dey is undoubtedly the best trained singer of the industry.

Manna Dey teamed up with great singers like Bhimsen Joshi and belted out a legendary song known as “Ketaki Gulab Juhi”. With Kishore Kumar he sang a completely different genre of songs like “Yeh Dosti” (Sholay) and “Ek Chatur Naar” (Padosan). Both these songs were immensely liked and appreciated by one and all. Manna Dey infused the melody of classical music in the frame of pop music. In the Bengali film industry, he worked with noted musicians like the legendary Hemant Kumar. He established himself in mainstream Bengali music after his legendary duet song with Lata Mangeshkar known as “Ke Prothom Kachhe Esechi”. He is counted among the legends of playback singers. It is his versatility that made him a hit with classical as well as mainstream Hindi music.

Kishore Kumar [1929 — 1987]
Kishore Kumar, original name Abhas Kumar Ganguly , Indian actor, playback singer, composer, and director known for his comic roles in Indian films of the 1950s and for his expressive and versatile singing voice, which, in the course of a career that spanned nearly four decades, he lent to many of India’s top screen actors. In his early years of on-screen celebrity, Kumar appeared principally in slapstick comedies, which revealed his flair both for humorous roles and for singing. In Bimal Roy’s Naukri (1954) and in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directorial debut, Musafir (1957), he played an unemployed young man desperately seeking a job to support his family. Kumar reached his peak as a comic actor with the film New Delhi (1956), in which he played a North Indian Punjabi pretending to be a South Indian Tamil so that he would be able rent a room in New Delhi, and in the self-produced film Chalti ka naam gaadi (1958; “That Which Runs Is a Car”).

In the late 1940s Kishore Kumar collaborated with the leading actor Dev Anand by serving as his playback singer—the voice for his songs. For the next two decades Kumar sang primarily for Anand, and the partnership between the versatile crooner and the romantic film star created a musical gold mine in films such as Munimji (1955), Funtoosh (1956), Nau do gyarah (1957), and Jewel Thief (1967). A new high point in Kumar’s career came in 1969: the film Aradhana catapulted Rajesh Khanna to superstardom, and Kumar, who had lent his voice to Khanna, became the leading playback singer of the Hindi film industry. Kumar retained that position until he died. Kumar’s rise to the top of India’s pool of playback singers was an extraordinary feat. Unlike his colleagues in the profession, most of whom were trained in Indian classical music, Kumar had no formal music training whatsoever. Nevertheless, he was a skilled imitator, interpreter, and innovator.

Ravi Shankar [1920–2012]
Ravi Shankar was an Indian musician and composer best known for popularizing the sitar and Indian classical music in Western culture. Shankar grew up studying music and toured as a member of his brother Uday shankar’s dance troupe. After serving as director of All-India Radio, he began to tour India and the United States, winning three Grammy Awards and collaborating with many notable American musicians, including George Harrison and Philip Glass.

He worked for the Indian People’s Theater Association, composing music for ballets until 1946. He went on to become music director of the New Delhi radio station All India Radio, a position he held until 1956. During his time at AIR, Shankar composed pieces for orchestra that mixed sitar and other Indian instruments with classical Western instrumentation.

In 1954, Shankar gave a recital in the Soviet Union. In 1956, he debuted in the United States and Western Europe. Also helping his star rise was the score he wrote for famous Indian film director Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy. The first of these films, Pather Panchali, won the Grand Prix—now known as the Golden Palm or Palme d’Or—at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. The prize is been awarded to the best film of the festival.

Already an ambassador of Indian music to the Western world, Shankar embraced this role even more fully in the 1960s. That decade saw Shankar’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, as well as his set at Woodstock in 1969. Additionally, in 1965, George Harrison began studying sitar with Shankar, and even played the instrument on the Beatles’ track “Norwegian Wood.” From the 1970s to the early 21st century, Shankar’s fame, recognition and achievement continued to grow steadily. In 1982, his score for Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi earned him an Oscar nomination.

S D Burman [1906 – 1975]
Sachin Dev Burman was an Indian music composer. He was one of the most well-renowned Bollywood film music composers. S D Burman composed music for over 100 movies, including Hindi and Bengali films. Apart from being a versatile composer, he also sang songs in light semi classical and folk style of Bengal. He began a career in radio and as a singer. His first recording as a vocalist was a composition by Bengal’s revolutionary poet-musician Kazi Nazrul Islam, and with it he started an association that would last several years. Burman worked as a music director in Calcutta until 1944, when he shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai). There he quickly established himself as an innovative film composer with an exceptional sensitivity to the demands of the moving image. His music enhanced the power of the visuals, as, for example, did the song “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai” (Pyaasa), performed on-screen by Guru Dutt. Burman did most of his work for Dev Anand’s Navketan films (Taxi Driver, Funtoosh, Guide, Paying Guest, Jewel Thief, and Prem Pujari), Guru Dutt’s films (Baazi, Jaal, Kaagaz ke phool), and Bimal Roy’s productions (Devdas, Sujata, and Bandini).

Burman’s long and fruitful association with the multifaceted playback singer Kishore Kumar yielded countless musical hits. The songs in films such as Nau do gyarah, Munimji, and Prem Pujari were major triumphs for both composer and singer. Burman made an effortless transition to the modern era of film music with the hugely popular Aradhana, although his first successful experimentation with Western sounds had taken place in the late 1950s, in Chalti ka naam gaadi. The greatest achievement of the last years of his life was his score for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan, which was closely followed by his music for other Mukherjee films, notably Chupke chupke and Mili.

Among his many honours, Burman received the Sangeet Natak Akademi (National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama) award in 1958 and the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 1969 for his contribution to music.

R.D Burman
Rahul Dev Burman, better known as R.D. Burman, was a famous Bollywood music director during the 60’s through the early 90’s. He was known for introducing an upbeat, Western copied music that defined much of the music of the 1970’s. This style has influenced generations of music directors even to today .R.D. Burman was born in Calcutta on June 27th, 1939, in Calcutta. His father was the legendary music director S.D. Burman. His music education began very early on. Naturally there was the influence of growing up in his father’s home, with constant music surrounding him. Furthermore after the family moved from Calcutta to Bombay, he started to learn sarod from the famous Ali Akbar Khan. He also learned to play the harmonica. With such a musical environment, it is not surprising that he started to compose music very quickly. He was only nine years old when he composed his first song; this was Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa and his father used it in the film “Funtoosh” 1956).

His professional career began in 1958. He began assisting his father on films such as “Solva Saal” (1958), “Chalti Ka Naaam Gaadi” (1958), and “Kaagaz ka Phool” (1957). His first film as music director was Guru Dutt’s film “Raaz” (1959); unfortunately, this film was shelved in the middle of the project. His first released film as a music director was Mehmood’s “Chote Nawaab” (1961). From there his career was firmly launched. he worked as an assistant music director to his father; he assisted his father on such films as “Bandini” (1963), “Teen Deviyaan” (1965), “Guide” (1965), “Jewel Thief” (1967) and “Talash” (1969).

Tesri Manzil” marked a major milestone in his career. From this point on, he was well establish, and was able to be the music director for a number of major films. This brought him a number of successful films such as “Padosan” (1968) and “Waris” (1969). The dawn of the 70s saw, RD Burman become Bollywood’s most sought after music director. This was represented by such immortal hits as “Amar Prem” (1971), “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” (1971), “Seetha Aur Geeta” (1972), and “Sholay” (1975).

Infact, RD Burman was India’s most popular composer in 1970s. During this time, he teamed up with singers like Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and others to belt out some of the jazziest hits in the history of Bollywood music.

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