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Songs of change from Bangladesh

Bangladeshi musician, designer and voice for change, the thirty-something Anusheh Anadil transcends boundaries and causes with grit and positivity. She talks to Fiona Fernandez about this journey, her empowered countrywomen, and why she doesn’t fancy Bollywood

Q. You have traversed Folk and Rock music in your sound; how would you define it, or would you call it seamless? Share with our readers about your musical journey.
A. I don’t know if it is Folk Rock, or Alternative Folk, or just simply my way of expressing music. I grew up in the hustle-bustle of Dhaka. Not by the river, in a serene village. A dotara and a flute could express that emotion beautifully but when I sing with just those instruments it seems hypocritical. Dhaka has traffic jams and mobile phones and sounds that can be expressed well with an electric guitar. It seemed appropriate to put it all together because I am an amalgamation of all that — Classical training as a child, then revolting to head-banging, and to Metal, calming down and embracing the 1960s music, finding the bauls of Bengal while looking for my identity and roots, and finally, writing my songs to express myself.


Anusheh Anadil (third from right) performs with her band at a recent music event

Q. How were you first introduced to music? What were the factors that were around in Bangladesh that prompted you to take up music?
A. I grew up in a cultural family. I learnt singing as a child but don’t really remember enjoying it. I was always a rebel and a sceptic who questioned everything. I found freedom in music when I came across Bengal’s bauls and fakirs. They were not obsessed with perfection. They were looking for something more. They were talking about their bodies and its alchemical properties. I felt as if
I had found home.


(Top) Anusheh Anadil with a Baul singer, (middle) at a gig, (above) with her creation

Q. You are known to have pioneered for the freedom of artists in your country; tell us more.
A. I don’t know about that. I think women in Bangladesh have always been very free, especially in the villages. Singers like Kangalini Sufia and Momtaz were singing pala songs all night in village sadhu sangas before I even thought of having a band. People think I was doing something special because I was doing that in the city as a band and that was something different for that time. It’s ironic how they weren’t used to having a girl lead a band in the city, while in the villages women were doing that for generations.

Q. You have performed in India and have collaborated with many Indian artists. Most artists maintain that countries and nationalities never matter at all on stage, or in a recording studio. Your thoughts.
A. Music is about feeling. In this space there are no borders, no languages, no religions, no sexes, no separation. Here, all is one.

Q. Tell us about your band, Bahok?
A. I became popular with my band, Bangla. We have chosen to take different routes and mine has led me to my new band, Bahok. Bahok means carrier. We carry the message of oneness. Our band consists of five members — me, Palki Ahmad, a beautiful acoustic guitar player and singer, Baul Shofi Mondol, one of the most powerful fakiri singers and a dotara player, Seth Panduranga Blumberg, my boyfriend and our Blues guitar player from America and lastly, Nozrul Islam with the Bangla Dhol, Bangladesh’s funkiest dhol player .


Jatra’s artworks and designs reflect Bangladesh’s rich cultural diversity

Q. Have you performed in Mumbai? Have you ever been approached to create music for Hindi films?
A. I have performed in Mumbai more than I have performed anywhere else in India. But not at a concert, or a studio, or anywhere you would expect. For a year, in 2002, I stayed at Dr Yusuf Merchant’s Drug Abuse Information Rehab and Research Centre. I sang almost every day for the rest of the crew. It helped all of us to heal.

About Bollywood, well, I am not really a fan. I sang in a film called Bhoomi by Abhik Mukhapadhyay, because it had a strong story about Indian politics. The music was by the band, Indian Ocean, who are my friends. But the movie got stuck at the censor board. Recently, I was asked by Soumik Sen to sing in a movie called Gulaab Gang, but declined after I heard the tracks; it sounded typically glamourous. Now, I hear that they never even took permission from the real Gulabi Gang before making a movie about them; I feel that it’s always a good idea to follow your instinct.

Q. What would you look to do with your music in the coming years?
A. I like going with the flow. I am not really a planner. I am not sure where the wind will lead me. I am going to stay open and be free.

Q. You are a performer, a voice for freedom of expression, and a mother. You also empower sex workers and the differently abled at your crafts shops. How does it all fall into place?
A. We are all capable of being that, and much more. I get immense joy from each of these aspects of myself. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it.

About Jatra

Anusheh Anadil’s Jatra translates the vibrant people and culture of Bangladesh in art, fashion and lifestyle products. Since 2000, Jatra has promoted and popularised Bangladeshi hand woven clothing and hand made products. Jatra has two very popular outlets in Dhaka. The designs offer a unique synthesis of folk arts and a synergy that reflects the dynamism and creativity of Bangladesh’s young artists and their indigenous culture. Jatra employs sex workers and the differently abled in their stores.

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