Shironamhin is a Bangladeshi band that had started off in the mid-90s. Over the years, they have successfully achieved immense popularity and mastered their preferred genre. They’ve come out with four albums and are now working on their fifth. The range of musical instruments used by them in all of their albums is diverse and extremely impressive as they have been self-sufficient all throughout.
Tell us about the inception of your band. How did you guys meet? And how did each one of you get into playing instruments?
Shironamhin was started in 1996. At first we used to perform with acoustic instruments; casually sing with a simple acoustic guitar while clapping or beating on table tops and this was the basic pattern of Shironamhin songs inside the BUET & Dhaka University campus area. We were music lovers, not ambitious as yet to practise music as a career. In the course of time, we started performing on the campus stage and gradually brought in some inevitable changes in the use of instruments (Plugged Guitar and Sarod along with the Drums). Fortunately we got enough encouragement from the audience and that motivated us to seriously think about releasing an album. The best part about our performances was we hardly did any covers. We earned some respect for the lyrics and tunes in a short timeframe and also for having the colour of magical realism. We had more than 50 songs and we compiled 10 out of them for our debut album “Jahaji” that was based on an urban struggle which makes one think of himself as a lonely soul sailing around the streets of the city in the quest of life.
Initially I formed the band with Jewel (guitarist) and Bulbul (vocal). In the course of time they couldn’t manage the band as their career. Tuhin (vocal) and I (Zia) were from the same university (BUET) & same discipline (architecture). Shafin was practising drums, eager enough to prove himself as a musician living in my locality. Diat (guitar) and Russel (keyboard) joined much later. They competed in a band hunt competition in which I was, co-incidentally, a judge. They caught my attention and I offered them to join Shironamhin.
All of us were dedicated music listeners and we were inspired to be musicians.
When you guys first started off, what kind of approach did you have and how has that changed? In what way?
We started our journey by performing at the TSC auditorium, Dhaka University. As I’ve said before, we’ve applied changes for the feel of a solid performance as we had to perform in front of more than fifty thousand people, at times and acoustic feedback might’ve ruined the sound quality, in that case. But we didn’t give up on our acoustic approach. Farhan played the Sarod in some of our live performances and albums (“Jahaji” and “Icche Ghuri”). After “Icche Ghuri” he left Bangladesh for higher studies and that made us think of different compositions. In the album “Bondho Janala” we have used the Silver Flute and Esraj in the compositions with the help of guest artists. Farhan played the Sarod in one song while sharing his thoughts with us through the internet and recorded his instrument in an Australian recording studio.
In our 4th album “Shironamhin: Rabindranath” which was a tribute to Tagore, we changed our approach completely and it is evident in our composition. 39 acoustic instruments were played in that album and were arranged from all over the globe. I think this practise of acoustic instruments encouraged us musicians to learn acoustic and classical instruments instead of using easy downloadable loops and cheap software based music.
We are working on our self-titled album currently and are trying to do everything on our own. Shafin and I have put in some effort in learning to play the Sarod. I had to learn to play the Violin & the Contrabass too. About changing our approach in musical pattern, yes, it has changed, a lot. I don’t know if it sounds better or worse now, the listeners might be better judges.
You guys have released 4 albums. For someone who does not know Bengali, it is difficult to comprehend the lyrics. Could you tell us about the themes or stories behind your songs?
Well, as Bangla is not spoken everywhere it must be difficult to comprehend the lyrics for those who don’t understand it. One might respond to the tune though. I think it’s a common problem, approaching someone who doesn’t know your language. But in music, I think everyone can communicate in some way as I can do it while listening to Latin or Italian music.
Well, it is difficult to express the themes and stories in short but we love to talk about urban life and draw the urban texture. I will explain some specific songs. First being “Cafeteria”. It is based on the moment that one enters his college campus cafeteria and feels two silent eyes among so much noise. My intention was to make the listeners relate to this song with their own cafeteria in their campus life. “Bondho janala” is based on the inner windows of the mind that can be controlled for the feel of life. “Laal Neel Golpo” is based on war movies and the characters in it. “Bus Stoppage” is based on a regular scenario around a bus stop in your very own locality; the newspaper stand, the billboards displaying contest winners, the hawkers, the corporate guy completely missing the enormous sky full of stars above his head while distressed with selling his dreams every now and then for the agony of life.
Tell us about the influence of Ranbindra Sangeet on you. Does your most recent album release “Robindranath” signify any connection with Rabindra Sangeet?
We believe Rabindranath himself was a cultural institute for us. No Bengali can live without knowing him if he has a minimum sensibility for culture. Tuhin academically learned Rabindra Sangeet in his childhood and teen years. The album was a Rabindra Sangeet album and was a tribute to Tagore.
What/who has been a constant source of inspiration to go on making music for each one of you or even collectively, as a band?
Musicians always feel the passion in performing live and creating something new for the feel of music or art or society. Of course the crowd, the listeners, the fan base, the friends inspire us to go ahead and achieve new heights in music.
What’s the music scene like in Bangladesh? Was it difficult to make a name and place for yourselves in the music industry there?
Well, definitely the people from the sub-continent are born music lovers. We cannot make films without music; cannot even do a successful campaign or commercial without a jingle or tune. Bangladesh does not have a strong film industry like our neighbouring country India; that’s why our music industry does not depend on films; rather it has its own identity. Music albums, especially band albums run the industry in Bangladesh. Throughout the year, we have a large number of live concerts all over the country. But lately sharing, illegal copying, illegal downloading has almost ruined the backbone of the audio industry, for releasing albums. There is almost no proper preservation for rights of the artists, no control on downloading portals and no strong campaign on making people aware about piracy. That is why most of the musicians cannot take music as a solid profession for a living, which has a major impact on growing, upcoming musicians
We never thought of the difficulties while making a place for ourselves in the music scene or media. We always believed in our musical effort, work and in creating our own musical vocabulary. That is what we are still trying. I think anyone who tries this will find himself as a successful musician someday. The work done will take care of establishing oneself and not how hard one tries to catch the media spotlight.
As a band, you stick to Bengali in your lyrics. Any specific reason for that?
As a matter of fact, it is important to know where you are releasing your music. If we had thought about releasing an album globally we would have thought about writing in other languages; most probably English. Unfortunately, we didn’t work on releasing an album globally yet.
Which artists (musicians/writers/painters etc.) have influenced and made an impact on your music?
This might become a very long list which might ruin your feature. I will just mention the common influences I cannot ignore.
Music: Beethoven, Mozart, Zakir Hussain, Ravi Shankar, Chourasia, L. Subramaniam, Lalon songs, Pink Floyd, Dire straits, The Doors, Nirvana, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Metallica, Sepultura, System of a down etc.
Writers & poets: Sunil, Shirshendu, Helal Hafiz, Rafiq Azad, Suman Kabir, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Alan Po, Mark twain etc.
Painters: Da Vinci, Edward Monet, Salvador Dali, Michael Angelo, Rodin, Picasso, Le Corbusier etc.
Have you worked with other artists before?
Shironamhin has not worked with other artists in the true sense. Sometimes, we have shared work with other bands, like we worked with LRB & Renaissance (two other famous bands in Bangladesh) for a third generation song that was used for a campaign. Other than that, many well-known instrumentalists have worked with us as guests.
When and where was your first performance?
At TSC auditorium, Dhaka University, along with the dramatic performance of Podatik Nattyachakra in 1996.
Have you visited India before? If yes, what was your experience like? Any plans of visiting India soon and playing at a gig sometime?
Yes, Tuhin and I have visited many Indian states. We had a 43 day architectural study tour from our institute BUET. Apart from that we have visited India a couple of times with family but we have not made a band trip. Live performances and playing gigs in India depends entirely on offers from Indian organisers.
What are your views about Emaho Magazine?
It’s a neat, decent and informative magazine with gentle yet smart graphics. It has been quite worthy going through Emaho.
Thank you for letting us know about Emaho!
Interviewed by: Mythili Chandrasekhar
Images by: Shironamhin