Joan Baez: Singing heroine of 1971 left out of Shommyanona list

Afsan Chowdhury
Published : 10 April 2012, 12:52 PM
Updated : 10 April 2012, 12:52 PM

'Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh'

The song of Joan Baez written and sung in 1971 is the most famous one sung about our country internationally. Baez wrote it after hearing of the Dhaka killings in March 1971. It was part of the 1971 Bangladesh concert organised by George Harrison and Pandit Ravi Shankar and became the anthem of the pro-Bangladeshi activists all over the Western world. Anyone who knows about the role of activists would say that she deserves official recognition particularly after Bangladesh instituted the Shommyanona awards for our foreign friends.

But Joan Baez has been left out from the list due to oversight. We certainly hope that the error will be corrected and she will figure in a fresh list very soon.

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Joan Baez was born on January 9, 1941 as Joan Chandos Báez. She has been performing for over 50 years now and is considered one of the leading folk singers in USA's music history. She is also a songwriter and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice.

Baez began her career performing in Boston and Cambridge area haunts of young people and achieved great success with her music albums later. Soon she paired up with the legendary Bob Dylan and by the late '60s and became the voice of that generation.

Many of the sensibilities of this generation were rooted in the protest against the US establishment which young people blamed for getting involved in the Vietnam War. Idealists, liberals and young people were opposed to the war which they saw as an expression of the US they didn't believe in. It was also a time of social change when students all over America but more so in the campuses rejected traditional values of their parents which they blamed for the mess in the Vietnam and the general sense of misery in their country.  They were against the war not only because it clashed with their 'new age' values but also because it was their "parents war."

Both Bob Dylan and Joan Baez — they were once a couple too — reflected the spirit of that age, the one they called the New Age. It was a time for protests, drugs, uninhibited lifestyles, interest in matters Eastern like Buddhism, meditation, etc. and rejection of materialism. It was when this movement was still very high that the Bangladesh war began. And Joan Baez sang for Bangladesh (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JM_Tq5LGgc).

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The wordings of the song are particularly poignant even if they are not necessarily accurate. They swelled public opinion in favour of the Bangladesh movement and drew in many supporters who saw it as the great liberal cause of the '70s. Unlike the Vietnam War in which the US itself was involved, the Bangladesh war was a conflict of another's but in which the US government was supporting the attacker.

Nixon, the US President became the most hated person of the liberals and the young students, the combination that led the pro-Bangladesh movement. Dominated largely by the Democrat Party which was then in the opposition, it also helped the party organise itself to topple Nixon from power. Viewed as pro-war, Nixon's support of Pakistan helped deepen the negative image many had of him as a war-friendly person.

* * *

Joan Baez had a very successful career and went on to become one of the great forces of the music scene. Essentially a folk singer, she branched out into many directions and for the last 55 years has performed and publicly releasing over 30 albums. Fluent in Spanish as well as in English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages. She has sung many hit songs including her song on her supposed relationship with Dylan called "Diamond and Rust".

Her marriage to fellow activist David Harris who was in jail for his anti-war activism ended and she has not remarried. She has said that she is meant to be a single woman and despite many affairs including with Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, she is single. She has a son Gabriel Harris who is also a musician often touring with her. She is deeply interested in Buddhism and continues to sing and remains an activist.

* * *

The Shommyanona award for the international friends of the 1971 war is a major achievement of this government and everyone is proud of this step. Many people have been awarded and both Pandit Ravi Shankar and George Harrison, the two great organisers of the Bangladesh concert have been honoured with the same. While in some cases the award seems too general — the entire people of India or the entire armed forces of India — some specific names are missing. It would be great if Joan Baez and others like her are honoured who did so much for our cause in 1971.

* * *

SONG OF BANGLADESH

-Joan Baez.

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh

The story of Bangladesh

Is an ancient one again made fresh

By blind men who carry out commands

Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands

Which is to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Once again we stand aside

And watch the families crucified

See a teenage mother's vacant eyes

As she watches her feeble baby try

To fight the monsoon rains and the cholera flies

And the students at the university

Asleep at night quite peacefully

The soldiers came and shot them in their beds

And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread

And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Did you read about the army officer's plea

For donor's blood? It was given willingly

By boys who took the needles in their veins

And from their bodies every drop of blood was drained

No time to comprehend and there was little pain

And so the story of Bangladesh

Is an ancient one again made fresh

By all who carry out commands

Which flow out of the laws upon which nations stand

Which say to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh

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Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher