AMI Theke Amra – An interview
On 24th December, an exclusive interview was held with the performers for ‘Ami Theke Amra’ – Durnibar Saha, Saurav Moni and Subhadeep Guha, at AMI Arts Festival 2023. The interview reveals the singers’ views on Bengali music, reality shows and more.
KCC: Tell us something about your collaboration for the performance of AMI THEKE AMRA.
Subhadeep Guha: The idea was very simple. When the announcement for AMI Arts Festival took place, I made the AMI anthem for KCC along with Anirban Bhattacharya. During that time I had an idea, why can’t the theme transform from “ami” (Me) to “amra” (Us)?
It is not a fusion, but three different genres trying to come together and coexist. It’s three artists coming together and standing side by side. It’s an experiment and we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Saurav Moni: I was very excited. When I first heard about the artists who are going to be in the panel, I was very happy. The audience usually has no idea about what’s going to be sung next in these kind of collaborative performances.
Durnibar: I got a call from Baban Da (Subhadeep Guha) regarding this whole plan and I was super excited about it. I’m a newcomer who has just started working. I sing a couple of the legendary songs and a few of my songs and I try to incorporate that – how those can mix with the present time and thought and with the new song we are trying to produce, this was the attempt.
KCC: How does a stage/platform on any reality show play an important role in the life of an amateur artist?
Durnibar: For me the situation was very different. I wasn’t an amateur artist. I wasn’t even an artist. I came from a background which is corporate and I was a photographer. I came to this platform (reality show) and then my journey began. I don’t know how it affects people in general, but what I’ve seen in a regular scenario is that people who are trying to make their name, they get into reality shows and they try to be more professional and presentable. But after all, these reality shows are a production. The artists there are products and hence we have to treat it from a very buyer and seller perspective. This is not a platform where artists are made. Artists have their own path. This is a business, a structure, a system. So you go through this system and learn a few things. It neither directly nor indirectly affects any artist. This affects the psychology.
Surav Moni: I was faced with a similar question in Delhi, and a lot of prominent artists were present. We sat discussing at night about various reality shows which were taking place. The fame, the applause of these upcoming stars, why do they get lost after a while? I completely agree with Durnibar that these reality shows are a business. An artist has to grow on his own.
KCC: Reality shows are a raging trend right now with merits and demerits. What are your takes on this?
Subhadeep Guha: I am far removed from this concept. I’ve seen a lot of my friends go into this and I’m happy for them.
Saurav Moni: Different people have different preferences when it comes to different versions of the same song sung by various artists. Individual people vote according to their individual preferences, but it’s sad as the results are not always in their favor.
Durnibar: This is helping a lot of people earn a lot of money. It’s a factory.
KCC: (To Subhadeep Guha) How have your experiences as a professor of music influenced your music/ creations?
Subhadeep Guha: I teach theatre music applications at NSD. Rather than teaching, I share my experiences with the students. I get to learn a lot from them as well. This has obviously helped my music too. When you try to teach someone something, you delve deep. You first understand it yourself and then only you can talk and have a discourse. This has helped me to understand the music of the world. It has also helped me to understand the relationship of music with humans in general.
KCC: According to you, in the international forum, where does the Bengali music industry stand now?
Saurav Moni: I have been to many international festivals. I don’t think it is correct to call it Bengali music as there are many forms. I, for instance, am working in an unexplored area. When a landscape shapes music, it becomes about exploring that landscape through music and telling the story. It can be the story of Amazon, of Mississippi or the river Volga. The thing which is neglected in our country is our traditional music and culture. The reason being that we’ve always tried to look at music from a colonial perspective. Recording studios have never been set up in villages, when we record a folk artist, we play a clip before him and then record it. The folk artist is not used to this. He can sing better in his own atmosphere. There are many existing variations and they are important when it comes to world music. There are variations in our traditional music which is till now, about 98% unexplored. There is still time to introduce to the world these unexplored forums of music.
Durnibar: When it comes to commercial success or Bengali music being represented in the biggest platforms, we are nowhere like Bollywood. But if we consider the richness of the music, nobody can beat us there. We are proud Bengalis and we’ll persist.
Subhadeep Guha: I am always for art. If we do not judge art economically or commercially, then Bengali music is in a good position. But it has more areas to reach. There are many concerts where Bengali audiences are not present, and we need to reach those areas and propagate our music and culture.
Saurav Moni: Out of all the festivals I’ve attended, 98% of the audience are not Bengalis or Indians. The more this happens, Bengali music will be able to reach more people. We need to uphold our own music. Bengali music is mystic. The variations of music within India itself is fascinating.
Durnibar: Bengali is among the top 10 highest spoken languages in the world. If all Bengalis start listening to Bengali music, then we’ll also be at the top.
KCC: (To Saurav Moni) The Boatmen Band –‘Majhi Mallah’ was formed, embodying ‘mystic river’ as a theme. Tell us something about this.
Saurav Moni: If we look at Bengal as a geopolitical area, the landscape is shaping the music. There are three major genres of music when it comes to Bengal – Northern Bengal is “Bhawaiya”, the western part is “Jhumur”, and the rest is river delta. Our songs are mystic and symbolic. This ‘Boatman journey’ – from North to South Bengal – is a metaphor of life. Like our lives, all rivers disappear into the sea – but our journey remains. The river current determines the tempo of the song.
KCC: (To Subhadeep Guha) What was your inspiration behind the AMI Anthem?
Subhadeep Guha: The variety present in Bengal, the various culturally rich regions served as the inspiration. ‘AMI’ stands for ‘Me’ in Bangla. Anirban Bhattacharya and I created this Anthem, which celebrates the cultural diversity of Bengal. Riddhi Sen created the video for this Anthem which was an extremely integral part. The song and video were created hand in hand.
KCC: According to you, what can be done to engage the next generation in the classical/ folk music tradition?
Subhadeep Guha: I do not belong to any tradition. I’m the bridge in the middle. I created a project called Arshi Nagar, and this made me question my identity. “Loko gaan” (Song of the People) comes from life experiences. We’ve learned a lot in the 4 year hiatus when Arshi Nagar decided to not perform at any events. The truth and the connection has to be very clear.
Saurav Moni: I think being curious and asking questions is important. Bengal is a culturally rich area and the propagation of its rich heritage is crucial. The upcoming singers need to ask questions as songs come from life experiences.
Durnibar: I treat songs visually. What I see, I try to express that. I have my own way of looking at music. I can ‘question’ everyone. The most important thing is the inquisitiveness of looking at things and figuring out how I perceive that. As long as this tradition of asking questions and curiosity is alive, art will also remain alive.