Nostalgic homecoming for legendary anti-establishment B’deshi musician


Mac during a concert in London

B’deshi rockstar with Asomiya roots arrives in city next week

Coming to one’s ancestral land is always a special occasion. But for this rockstar, it is a homecoming of a different kind. Nostalgia mixed with a plethora of mixed emotions is what has engulfed legendary anti-establishment Bangladeshi rockstar, poet, writer and philosopher Maqsoodul Haque (Mac) ever since he got ready to visit Guwahati. His family on his father’s side hailed from Gorajan and mother from Borholla (both near Jorhat) before his family migrated to the then East Pakistan in 1952. Maqsood was born in Naryanganj, near Dhaka in 1957.

“I can hardly contain my excitement Aiyushman. 16 years is way too long a time to be coming back home. Looking forward to seeing you all,” he messages me late yesterday night. His excitement is understandable. And why not, the atmosphere, urgency, emotion and socio-political change reflected in his music all along has over the years engulfed both Assam and Bangladesh in more ways than one. It certainly would be a homecoming of a different kind for him.

Mac’s band, Maqsood o’ Dhaka or dHAKA, is today ranked as the most phenomenal and unconventional jazz-rock fusion band to have ever come out of Bangladesh, a country which is known to have produced some of the most respected musicians in the rock circuit. The band, which has all along been at loggerheads with the Bangladeshi establishment, is credited for bringing in a fresh wave of music in the Bangladeshi industry.

Mac’s musical career however can be traced back to the late 1970’s. A pioneer in progressive Bangladesh music and a well-known figure among fans in the country’s rock fraternity, Mac performed as the lead vocalist for then mainstream band FeedBack for almost 20 years, before he finally left it in 1996. The same year dHAKA, the first ever band from South Asia to fuse jazz and rock with ethnic music from Bangladesh, was formed based on the philosophy provided by Mac’s lyrics and music.

Mac Haque. Pix credit – Arif Hafez

A man who introduced genres like funk, reggae and Jazz to traditional Bengali music, Mac’s ethnic repertoire includes more than just Baul music. It has traces of philosophies of varied cultures, including Vaishnavite culture as reflected in the song, Bolai Dador Gumcha – a blend of Fakiri, Murshidi and Kirton. This is possibly the only Baul song to have an Assamese reference.

For Mac, it has been a journey marked by constant personal evolution and change. His first band, Feedback, would in the initial stages render western pop, rock and reggae cover tunes to suit the B’deshi crowd’s fixation on dance numbers. As the frontman, he soon established himself as a prominent vocalist and a flamboyant performer, covering over 500 songs from different genres of pop/rock to funk/reggae and on to blues and jazz. Though he was absent from the band’s first album, the second, Ullash (Euphoria), which went on to become a smash hit when it was released in 1987. The album contained smash hits like Chithi (Letter), Chokh and Majhee (Boatman – with strong Assamese folk music intonations) – all penned, tuned and sung by Maqsood. For trivia’s sake, Chithi is the first reggae tune in the Bengali language. The album Mela (the Fair) Feedback’s second album in 1990 was a monster hit and was described as a seminal masterpiece by the BBC for it captures the essence of youthful vigour during Pohela Boisakh, the Bengali New Year. The title track Melai Jairey  written, composed and sung by Maqsood propelled him to national limelight, and the Bengalee Pohela Boishakh celebrations in the last 22 years is today considered incomplete without the song.

JOAR a compilation of FeedBack hits was released by HMV/EMI in India and 1992 and is the only Bangladeshi band to have been recorded by an international label. dHAKA, on the other hand, has always dwelt more on protest against the issues and tensions prevalent in Bangladeshi society today, that too in a hitherto unknown free-flowing way. dHAKA’s first album was Prapto Boyoshker Nishiddho (Banned for Adults) a thumping rejection of the establishment and status quo.

I would like to reproduce the wordings of London-based writer Ahsanul Akbar and BBC Bengali Bureau Chief Sabir Mustafa who once wrote, “Nishiddho boast several songs that are, in essence, protest numbers. It is hard not to attribute much of the kinetic brilliance of this music to the inherent issues and tensions that are prevalent in today’s Bangladesh. The most salient examples are Parwardigar (Creator), attacking ‘religious extremists; Giti Micchil: Gonotontro (Musical Procession: Democracy), a procession of the dispossessed and the marginalized youth and Abar Juddhay Jatay Hobey (Got to Go to War Again), about the struggle to establish freedom of speech and expression.”

As Ahsanul and Sabir noted, the music Maqsood wanted to pursue had to be a vehicle for him to give vent to his strongly held apolitical views and allow him to raise socio-political awareness of the youth. “Maqsood O dHAKA’s repertoire is a tour de force in which every song uncoils with a passionate voice often delivering maverick messages, facilitated by lightning lyrics, mellifluous melody and more. Clearly, the infernal force of personality of the band front man has much to do with their appeal,” noted the writers.

In this present stage of history, Mac’s visit to Assam would certainly make him ponder on new issues and maybe fuel his imagination for more creative outpourings. He will be performing during the 2nd Guwahati International Music Festival in the city and also delivering a seminar-talk on Bauliana music and philosophy. I look forward to meeting the man himself.

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Posted on November 16, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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