Hero Alom’s aspirations ... and our prejudices

None of us is perfect when it comes to freeing our innocent desires by falling back on music

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 28 July 2022, 09:14 PM
Updated : 28 July 2022, 09:43 PM

Ashraful Hossen Alom, better known as Hero Alom, is a young man who is clearly one of our own. Those of us who come from humble backgrounds, from the rural interior, identify with him all the way. Like many of us, he is in love with music. Again, like many of us, he may not get the tune right, he may get the lyrics all mixed up. Like many of us, his voice may not suit the songs he sings, the melodies being from the Tagore treasury of our collective national heritage. And elsewhere.

None of us is perfect when it comes to freeing our innocent desires by falling back on music. But should that absence of perfection be a reason for others to mock our singing, for the state to order us into silence by forcing out of us written undertakings that we will not sing anymore?

Hero Alom’s ‘crime’ is that his rendition of Tagore songs went against the principles of the Bard’s lyrics. Should that be considered a criminal act? Debabrata Biswas was long ago the victim of prejudice from Rabindra perfectionists and paid a price for it.

And yet Debabrata’s Tagore songs are the charming landscape of music we go back to all the while. Post-modern Tagore artistes bring into Rabindrasangeet an interplay of traditional Bengali and modern western musical instruments. Do we get offended?

No, Hero Alom is not Debabrata. The point is something else. If Hero Alom’s songs have upset people, insofar as Tagore’s legacy is concerned, there are a couple of things which need to be clarified here. First, copyright related to Rabindrasangeet is not an issue anymore after all these decades. Second, if Tagore defenders are snobbish enough to take umbrage at Hero Alom’s music, they simply do not have to listen to him.

Across our villages, thousands of young men and young women sing songs --- Tagore, Nazrul, Lalon, Hason Raja and modern --- arising out of the simplicity of their souls. Among them are those who sing badly. Should we send the police, therefore, to warn them that they cannot and must not sing?

Any talk of distortion of original music must not ignore the fact that even as we speak, there are artistes --- and they are celebrities --- who sing the songs of Old Masters such as Mahmudunnabi and Anwaruddin Khan and Mehdi Hasan --- who feel not an iota of guilt as they give their own spin to those songs. We do not appreciate that spin or maybe some of us do. But we do not ask that action be taken against such vocalists.

Or think of how Tagore has been handled of late in the Hindi-speaking world. A very significant number of his songs have been rendered into Hindi from Bengali, a development which has upset many among us. But should that be a reason for us to demand that the Indian authorities take the translators and the singers to court?

In an Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bhaduri movie decades ago, the tune of Tagore’s "Jodi tare nai chini go shey ki" was cheerfully lifted and transferred to "Tere mere milan ki ye raina". That was not a crime, was it?

The title music of the movie Come September has happily been commandeered in songs in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. No one thought of prosecuting or serving a warning on those ‘guilty’ of the act.

Yes, of course when manifest wrong is committed --- as when Ayub Khan’s military regime decreed a ban on Tagore music in the 1960s --- people rise up in righteous protest.

We in Bangladesh did that because we had absolutely little desire to see our cultural heritage undermined and because we made it clear to the authorities that they could not place barriers to our songs, whether we listened to those songs or sang them in our moments of joy.

Clamping a ban on Hero Alom’s songs gives us the uncomfortable feeling of class consciousness coming into the picture. There is that whiff of an uppity attitude to life adopted by those who have been upset by his songs. There are many of us who sing among friends and family and in the shower.

Many among those many sing terribly. Should it then be decreed that they must not sing anymore, that they must provide a written undertaking that their future will be one of a desert where the melody is absent? When a Bengali wishes to sing a gojol rather than a ghazal, mispronouncing the words in the song, do we shout him down?

And how do we deal with those new singers who appear on the various television channels, regale us with songs dating back to the 1960s and 1970s and yet will not give credit to the original singers, pretending that these songs are their own?

I have been told by at least two of our reputed singers that they have seen these new music enthusiasts singing their songs on television and yet saying nothing at all about those who sang them long before they did. That is a sin, if not exactly a crime. How do we deal with such cases?

Hero Alom has not damaged our social fabric. He has not undermined the state. He is not a subversive element. His love of music, a love we appreciate, has had him go into Tagore, into other songs and put them out in the public domain.

You can feel the spirit in him, the spontaneity he brings into the music. That he is in love with Tagore, indeed with the overall repertoire of Bengali music, is the truth we do not ignore.

Finally, how a person sings, when he sings and what he does with and to those songs are matters he holds dear in the heart beating in him. Hero Alom has been doing that. Why must he be silenced for being himself?

Hero Alom may not be our icon of melody. But when you observe him --- his appearance, his face, his eyes, the colour of his skin, his attire --- you know he is part of the pastoral background from where you and I and so many others (including the arriviste out there) have sprung.

The heart, as Blaise Pascal would say, has its reasons, which reason does not know. In Hero Alom’s heartthrob all the reasons behind his musical ambitions. What then gives us the right to compel him to squeeze the music out of his heart?

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher