Words by Amardeep Dhillon
Joyful celebration of everything Bengali
This promising debut from a young, London-based band opens thrillingly with the electric-guitar-heavy ‘Akashta Kanpchhilo Kyan’ (Why Did the Sky Shudder?), a defiant Baul number that cites the call to prayer’s inherent melody: this is music firmly within Islamic tradition. Sohini Alam proceeds to demonstrate her impressive versatility as a singer, taking us on a tour of Bengali music: from playful folk songs and forms such as rabindra and nazrul sangeet (Alam’s speciality) to film songs from Bengal’s golden age of cinema and, of course, more of the mystical Baul poetry.
Permeating these genres is an overwhelming consciousness of Bengali identity – this is not just Bengali music but music actively affirming a love of Bengal. It comes through as much from the anthems to the land as it does in the protest songs that inspired and now commemorate those who fought for Bangladeshi independence. One rousing example is Khiyo’s breakthrough YouTube hit, a cover of ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ (My Golden Bengal), Bangladesh’s national anthem. Innovative composers and musicians Oliver Weeks and Ben Heartland build on the energy of the protest music by adding rock elements and skilfully enhancing the folk songs. An album of covers, Khiyo’s self-titled debut is nevertheless a refreshing, original collection and is a fitting testament of Bengali identity.