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Essay on Moheener Ghoraguli, the influential 70s Bengali music group from Kolkata.

Essay on Moheener Ghoraguli, the influential 70s Bengali music group from Kolkata.

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Published by BHARATH M.
an essay on the influential 70s Bengali music group from Kolkata, first published in Rave magazine.
by
Bharath Murthy
an essay on the influential 70s Bengali music group from Kolkata, first published in Rave magazine.
by
Bharath Murthy

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Published by: BHARATH M. on Oct 14, 2009
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08/06/2010

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Unidentified flying objects!
The unique life of Moheener Ghoraguli, the original Bangla rock group.By Bharath MurthyThose not tuned into the musical radar will not recognize that the hit song ‘BheegiBheegi’, composed by music director Pritam for the film ‘Gangster’, is a cover version of ‘Prithibi ta naki’, a song by the Bangla collective known as ‘Moheener Ghoraguli(Mohin’s Horses). Formed in 1976, and led by its charismatic frontman GautamChattopadhyay, Moheener Ghoraguli released three records before disbanding in 1981. Indoing so, they sparked off the musical movement known as Bangla rock, of which theywere the pioneers.I got my first taste of the unique flavour of their music when I came to Kolkata in 2001 tostudy film at the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute. There was a bluesy number going onin one of the rooms in the hostel. The lyrics were in Bengali and the only English word init was ‘telephone’. It was some kind of mix (I will not call it ‘fusion’) of Bengali folk and blues. The folk part of it, I later came to know, was Baul music (
 see box
). At a time whenIndian English rock musicians are still struggling to find an original voice, here was agroup that had already made modern rock music their own and sung their songs not inEnglish but in their own language Bengali.Phase I : 1976-1981The 70s were a heady time in Bengal, a time of revolutionary spirit sweeping the urbanyouth. The Naxalite movement, the call for armed struggle against the decrepit power structure, resulted in many bright youngsters losing their lives, leaving scars that Bengalis still yet to recover from. Gautam Chattopadhyay, outspoken B.Sc. student of Presidency College Kolkata during the height of the movement, witnessed all of it firsthand. A natural musician, he used to play saxophone with a bunch of Anglo Indians in a band called ‘The Urge’. The music scene at the time was concentrated on Park Street,where live bands played in pubs like Trinca’s and Moulin Rouge. Abraham Mazumdar,one of the members in the original line up, recalls the time. “We used to play Beatles,Crosby, Clapton etc. I played with Louis Banks for a while, and Usha Uthup was alsothere.” The band came together in 1976 during a three-month break that Gautam took dueto a leg injury. The name ‘Moheener Ghoraguli’ is taken from a line of poetry by modernBengali poet, Jibananda Das. Gautam wrote lyrics, sang, and played lead guitar. Theoriginal line up included Pradip Chattopadhyay (brother of Gautam), who played bass/flute, Bishu Chatterjee, another brother (drums), Tapesh Banerjee (vocals), TapasDas (rhythm guitar/vocals), Abraham Mazumdar (violin/piano) and Ranjan Ghosal(cousin), who arranged the music and drew album covers. The division was never strictand they would sometimes interchange instruments on stage.
 
Producing the music was never easy. A western band format featuring harmonized vocalsand witty urban lyrics talking about everyday life was probably too much to take for record companies like HMV, who never supported the band. They self-produced their first album ‘Sangbigno Pakhikul O Kolkata Bishayak’ (Ruffled Feathers and ThematicKolkata) in 1976. Gaurab Chatterjee, Gautam’s son and drummer of Bangla rock group‘Lakkhicharra’ tells me that they even had to borrow money from kabuliwalas apart from putting in their own savings. Soon they started performing in colleges all over Kolkataand soon had a fan following among urban middle-class educated youth. Two morerecords followed, “Ajaana Udonto Bostu ba Aw.Oo.Baw” (Unidentified Flying Object or U.F.O., 1977) and “Drishyomaan Moheener Ghoraguli” (Real Moheen’s Horses, 1978).Like the music itself, the efforts have a hand-crafted feel, with even the album coversdesigned by the members themselves. The releases met with a less-than-enthusiasticresponse generally even as they garnered a small group of dedicated fans. bauljazzThe International Jazz Festival held in Kolkata for three consecutive years from 1979deserves mention here for it was in this festival that the band played along with foreign jazz bands like the Swedish group ‘Rena Rama Quartet’ and the German group ‘Embryo’and produced a fusion of baul music and jazz. Their experimental approach ensured that
 
they would use the snake charmer’s ‘beanand the ‘dotara’ along with westerninstruments.Though they were appreciated by the elite audiences, the group really wanted to reach outto the vast ‘petit bourgeois’ culture, who were used to the kind of restrained ‘adhunik gaan’ (modern song) which was an updating of the tradition of Tagore and Nazrul Islam.However, they were traditional in their instrumentation and often used lofty metaphoricallyrics. The ‘ghoras’ (horses, as they called themselves) wanted to intervene in that musicculture and sing about contemporary themes, and give a voice to the experience of modernity and urban Bengali culture, which had seen a lot of political upheaval in theseventies. As Gautam had himself put it in one of his essays on their music, “theyconsidered the guitar as an imperial cultural symbol”. Their fusion experience with jazzled them to use the guitar to work upon folk music thereby creating not so much ‘fusion’, but a style of popular music that remained rooted while at the same time allowing rock music style chord progressions. Apart from western rock, they also incorporated Latinmusic in songs like ‘Kotho ki koraar achche baaki’ (How much more remains to bedone), among others. Also, they would tend to use raw and untrained voices. MinotiChaterjee, Gautam’s wife tells me that once he got Kartik, who was a production boy inthe recording studio, to sing in one of the songs.Phase II : 1995-99After the ‘ghoras’ disbanded in 1981, everyone went off to pursue their own careers.Abraham Mazumdar teaches western classical music. Gautam went on to make films anddid ethno musicological research. But none of the former members abandoned music. In the meanwhile there were otherslike ‘Nogor Philomel’, ‘Nagorik’ and solo performers like RanjanPrasad who continued working in the ‘urban folk’ idiom. In the90s, as the Indian economy opened up to global forces, a newgeneration of youth was on the scene, having grown up ontelevision. A new bunch of solo singer/songwriters emerged likeSuman Chattopadhyay, Anjan Dutta and Nachiketa who popularized a style now called ‘Jibonmukhi gaan(songs of everyday life), whose roots lie in the early experimentation of Moheener Ghoraguli. It was during this time that Gautam decidedto revive the group but with the new crop of young musicians. Gautam composed andwrote lyrics, which were performed by these new musicians who were part of thegrowing Bangla rock scene with bands like Krosswindz, Lakkhichaara, Fossils, Cactusand Bhoomi. In fact, the song ‘Prithibi ta naki’ was the first Bengali song sung byKrosswindz. Four albums were released, the first being ‘Aabaar Bochhor Kuri Pore (Again, After Twenty-odd Years) (1995). Minoti Chaterjee, Gautam’s wife remembersthe time. “We released the album at the Kolkata Book Fair, and each album would behand wrapped as a gift and presented to the buyer with love.” The new album was a bigsuccess, and after twenty years the band’s original efforts finally reached out to the ‘petit bourgeois’.‘Prithibi ta naki’ became a youth anthem from then on.

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