Always Ahead

Interview with Suman Chattpadhyay aka Kabir Suman

Amrita Bazar Patrika on 18th June 1995.

How do you define modern Bengali song ?

It is very difficult to define modern Bengali songs.In English there are two words.One is modern & other is contemporary.Now the concept of modern is a vast concept.A modern song is one which mirrors the current moods.Suppose an incident moves you to write a song,it is apt to be a modern song.It may or may not last long.That is not very important.It is sad that for long time Bengali modern song dealt with only one pet theme : Romantic love.The language of a modern Bengali song should be the everyday languageof the common people.Archaic usageshould be svoided while writing a modern Bengali song.

From this perspective do you think every Rabindrasangeet is a modern song ?

There are many songs of Tagore in which I find a disparity in the lyrics.Tagore used both “Sadhu” & “Chalit” form of verb in the same song.Although it was not a very uncommon practice in his time, I would have been happier if a man of Tagore genius would have avoided it.I respect all great poets & song writers but I do not spend days & night with them as I do with Tagore.Perhaps it is hard to believe but he is almost like a member of the house.If you live with someone you will obviously have some differences with him.It is very normal.My difference with Tagore are increasing with every passing day.It is not very justified to use both “Sadhu” & “Chalit” form of verb in the same song.For example “Bhangilo” & “Bhanglo.”Suppose I start a song or poem with sadhu form of adverb say “ tahake “ ( to hom )& go on to use it’s chalit form “take”,it will cause a logical person must discomfort.It kills all the charm of a poem.

Now you may ask me why have I recorded those songs of Rabindratha which have this disparity ? Well you might have some differences with your parents but that does not mean you will abandoned them.I have recorded those songs because I know they were symphonic.Although they do not have perfectly modern lyrics.Everybody has got the right to ask question if he or she is not satisfied with something.If Rabindranath had the right to ask questions then why not Suman Chattopadhyay ? Rabindranath himself questioned Madhusudan Dutta about his language.But I am the first to admit that Rabindrasangeet is essential to me & I do not find any overwhelming disparity in it.I find disparity in the lyrics of few songs.Take the example of “ he madhabi didha keno “ , the songs beginning is matchless, but when the same song I come across “theke”, it makes me upset.Take the case of “ ashibe fagun diye genu basanter gaan “ an excellent expression of emotion spoilt by the word “genu”.In my opinion this word should be removed.I also write song & you may think that I have used a few inappropriate words in my songs too which should be removed.You are entirely justified to think that way.It is good to raise your voice in dissent.Our lives run of the exchange of opinion.In m y latest Rabindrasangeet album “Pathik Ami “ ,I have included songs with disparity in the lyrics.I did it because I know they are good songs.I never say that a particular Rabindrasangeet should be rejected or is bad.I am just asking some logical questions.

After all it is the teaching of Rabindranath, the man who taught us to think, who reconstructed our language.

Rabindranath once write “ tomar pujar chole tomai bhule thaki” . We are no longer following Rabindranath .We are doing a sort of puja & forgetting him as soon as the puja is over.

What is the difference between the Americans & Germans from the view point of their musical culture ?

I spent a long time in Germany & US,and I tried my best ot follow & learn their music.

Both American & German music are of an extraordinarily highstandard.America is a land of application.They do not think much about the origin of any particular music.Germans are little orthodox compared to Americans.Like it or not America is the world leader in many fields.The Americans also lead the music world from time to tome.They are a very liberal lot.Their musical experiments are beyond compare.I am not disrespecting the Germans, but there is no denying the fact that they are somewhat orthodox.

Both these countries however have a rich musical heritage.

What according to you a jibanmukhi song ? Do you sing jibanmukhi songs ?

It sounds funny to me when someone asks me whether my songs are jibanmukhi or not.In 1993The Gramophone Company of India Limited ( HMV) released as album by Nachiketa Chakravarty & this very word jibanmukhi was first used there.I have no connection with this jibanmukhi.None of my albums carry this label.They are simply modern songs.A song is always a part of life.It can not be made of stuff foreign to life.

I think ti is simply a marketing brand name .I am not saying it negative or positive.I , in particular do not understand the mening of the word jibanmukhi.

Songs can never be divorced from life.Nearly 50 years ago,a man named Jashoda Dulal Mondal wrote the song “ Calcutta 1943 October “ about CRP,war, begger & price hike.What a smart approach !! It is a rare piece of work.A song potraying the hard relaitiesof life.Again I cite example from Tagore.He wrote songs on various topics – love , puja,natureto name a few.I do not find anything new in jibanmukhi culture.

This jibanmukhi movement is all about singing,writing & composing songs without any preparation.

What makes a complete singer ?

To be a complete singer it is not always essential to be both a writer & composer.Look at the west.Jim Reeves did not write any song.Paul Robinson’s famous numbers Trees,Just hearing for you,My curly headed baby etc were not written by him.In my youth there was a famous singernamed Pat Boon.His most famous song Welcome all new lovers was written by someone else. Francis did not write any song.The famous German opera singer Peter Alexzander or the folk singer Joan Beaz were famous not for there pen but for their voices. Elvis never write any song.

But the concept stared to change in the 60s during the time of folk revival in the US.It was the period of youth awakening not only in America but acorss the world.There was a folkish concept to write, compose & sing song. In our country by the term “folk’ people understand something related to rural life.According to them folk does not concern people in the city. What a stupid idea ! Americans do not relate folk with only village life. Their folk is nothing but a type of modern song which mirrors the life of people.These songs have simple tunes,simple lyrics & simple notes that the masses can sing easily.Song writing is an entirely different thing.Bob Dylan was never considered a singer but a song writer.No one has ever called him a singer.There is a wonderful word in German “ Liedermacher” .It means song maker.In France there was a peerless song maker Charles Aznavour who was a singer too.He has more than 2000 songs to his credit.

What are the advantages & disadvantages of performing alone ?

I enjoy a big advantage on stage because I sing & play alone.I do it because I know the instruments & their proper uses.So I do not have to depend on anyone.

On the other hand there is a disadvantage also.It is not always possible to perform hundred percent perfectly as I sing while playing an instrument.I ma not a multi track recording amchine.So I make mistakes & I can not rectify them immediately because at the same time I have to sing the song. There is a little bit of imperfection sometimes though not always.I learnt music & instrument for long time & by myself.However I try to put in my best & be a perfect as possible.

When I am alone on the stage I feel free & that creates an unique mood.It is obviously an advantage to perform solo.

Nowadays I often accompanied by two young guitarists. They are good players.When one of them plays the guiter ,I busy myself with the key board.It is an enjoyable experience.

Why do you include emotions like pain,agony & grief in your song ?

Pain, agony grief or any such emotions are all part of lives. You can not avoid them totally.I incorporate all these in my songs because I know they are all indispensable.In every area of art you will find them.In drama,in films in literature even in painting you will feel them.Even in Rabindrasangeet these emotions are expressed.They are part of reality & there is no escape.

Which is your best album ?

It is tough for me to say which album of mine gave me maximum satisfaction.I can only say 9 please do not misunderstand me,( I am not trying to plague my cassette ) that my next album which will be released in July probably si the best as far as the standard of recording goes.It’s title is “Baundule’.I have composed a sone on late Shakti Chattopadhaya.It is called “ Ghumou Baundule “ & I have included me in my album Baundule.

Believe me or not I am still a learner. When I did Tomake Chai I made too many errors.There are few somgs in Tomake Chai where I have gone beyond limit.In Tui Heshe uthlai I played table as a filler which was nothing but a mindless excess.

You know I got my break at the age of 43.I was born in 1949 & my first solo album was released in April 1992 .Alot of stuff was waiting for an expression, which accounts for my musical excess. But I corrected myself in m very next album , Boshe Ako 7 in Eche Holo I was more organized than in the one before that.

My own songs obviously give me great pleasure , I got maximum satisfaction from recording songs of Himangshu Dutta .i do not know why .It is probably my best vocal work.There was always a psychological reason behind this.When I was very young my mother used to sing his songs.What I love to sing most beside Dutta’s songs is Rabindrasangeet. Specially the song “Hridaye Chile Jege” .It simply amazes me.How could a man write with such a brevity ? It is hard to believe that this man was born in 1861.I really envy him.I did not get the same satisfaction from recording my own songs as I did from recording the album Tarai Tarai ( songs of Himangshu Dutta ) or Pathik Ami ( Rabindrasangeet album ) .

Are you a flop film music director ?

Nowadays I am composing the music for many films like Mahasangram, Atmaja & Krishnachura ( double version ).The cassette of Mahasangram has already been released.
It is reportedly doing well.Indrani ( Indrani Sen ) is singing the song at every soiree.Let the film be released .I hope people will like it.

Will you allow anyone else to sing your song ?

If anyone wishes to sing my lyrics or tunes he may request me directly but I do not know whether it will be possible for me to compose music for him.Recently a group Concord Trio recorded two of my songs but I had not written or composed exclusively for them.Two of the songs written in 1986.A member of the group Madhumita Dutta was member of Nagarik .So she knows me & my music well.I have written & composed five new songs for Haimanti Shukla.Most probably they will be released in next Puja.

What is the story behind your songs being popular as Sumaner Gaan ?

The title of my first 3 albums Sumaner Gaan was not my brain child. There is history behind it.On May 5th 1991 I performed solo for the first time at Calcutta’s Sisir Mancha.Goutam Ghosh a well known music critic did a review of that program in a Bengali weekly where he used the term Sumaner Gaan. HMV used it for it’s simplicity.You can pronounce my name with minimum effort because it is very short & simple.Ravi Kichlu, Somnath Chatterjee & some executive of HMV selected it.But in Gaanwala my fourth album they changed it. And my new album Boundule will also follow this new promo.

Do you select the cover of your cassettee ?

I select the cover of my all cassettes.I selected a unique photograph for Eche Holo.It was taken by one Sushanta Benrjee & was in black & white.

I also selected cover of Boshe Ako but the cover of my first Rabindrasangeet album ‘ Tumi Sandhar Meghomala “ was not choice.I did not like it much.I do not know who selected it.The cover of Ganwala & Boundule were also my choice.

How long will people listen to your songs ?

I do not know how long people will listen to my songs. It is not possible for anyone to predict that.Is it possible for an author to say how long people will read his books ? It astonishes me to find this question of perpetuity being given so much of importance in Bengal. No other community in this universe takes it so seriously.I have travelled to so many countries nowhere have I found this foolish & stupid concept. Suppose a baby is learning to walk is it proper to debate when the baby will die ? I do not know why people especially Bengalis ask this question.

How do you think you will be remembered ?

I wish some people ( not all 0 would remember me as someone who had loved music ( not just Bengali music ), loved life, loved children,women & men & tried his hand in
music though he failed most of the time.

How do you feel when people label you as “man behind the revolution” ?

I am very insignificant person.I do not think I have brought a revolution in Bengali music world all by myself.I have never met Jashoda Dulal Mondal but his “Calcutta – 1943 October” forced me to think.How can I claim that I alone have done all this.We all have a heritage.Many peole have contributed to this revolution..Listerners give me more credit than I deserve.It makes me sad that no one till today has thanked the listeners. Who paid for all the fun ? The listeners.

HMV gave only one advertisement for Tomake Chai.There was no commercial publicity anywhere.Neither the television nor the radio played it.Then why & how did it become so popular ? Tomake Chai is still the highest selling Bengali cassette of all times.Every year I get a handsome cheque from HMV as royalty.Who are buying these cassettes ? Even when I was not this popular who used to frequent my shows at The Academy of Fine Arts,Rabindra Sadan or Birla Sabhaghar ? The this change of order is the culmination of the constant effort of the listeners. It is not just me.I had prepared a lot for those songs but my listeners are not.They are listening the songs without any mental preparation & accepting them.This is the keynote of this change.So they can rightfully claim maximum credit for this revolution.
Do you have any plans for form a music group ?

I have no plan to for many music group but I am ready to teach those who are interested in music.I do not know how I will start.I wish Bengali bands like Abhilasha, Chandrabindu & Cactus create something remarkable in the Bengali music world. Infact they are all doing very well.

Do you have anyone in your mind as your successor ?

Only time will tell who can step into my shoes after I am gone.So many boys 7 girls are singling well. Nachiketa is singing with tremendous gusto & aggression.I find something positive happening.You may not like all of his songs or all of mine but he is singing with taal & sur.It is very good sign.Some songs of Anjan Dutta & Mousumi Bhowmik are also peerless.

Frankly speaking I am not that old to single out my heir. I have no right to.

I am only a simple worker of music.

Suman Chattopadhay is one of the most popular singers in Bengal today,especially among the younger generation.

“SUMAN is Suman.Always ahead”says Avijit Sengupta,a young executive with a big corporate house.”I am simply enchanted with his rich voice and profound dedication to music,”adds Rina Basu,a middle –aged house wife in east Calcutta. Rohit Nandy,a class IX student of St,James school,admits that Suman”s Tomake Chai had cast a magic spell on him. “I am a great admirer of his.Whenever I get the chance ,I listen to his Rabindrasangeet album,”says Arup Neogi,a small entrepreneur of the city. Abantika Dutta,a student of Sociology in a South Calcutta college is a blind fan of Suman but she is of the opinionthat her hero should stop uttering”indecent words”on stage.According to her Tomake Chai is simply a gem. Anand Nandy,a classX student of St.Joseph”s school ,feels that Suman is no longer a great sensation.He thinks Boshe Anko is a better album than Tomake Chai.”No one but Suman moved me so much in last few years,”says Nibedita Roy ,a young house wife in south Calcutta.

Trina Moitra ,a class VII student of Loreto Convent ,does not find anything musical in Suman”s songs unlike Saugata Basu,a student of Goenka college ,who finds a true portrayal of life in Suman”s song.”He is matchless but he must be a little more polite on stage”says Nibir Goswami ,a young executive in a multinational.”Each and every album of Suman sell like hot cakes.I personally like him a lot”says Amit Sen,owner of Goldy Electronics ,an electronics showroom at Phool Bagan in East Calcutta.

“His Iche Holo left me spellbound,”says Subhasis Das a CA student in Salt Lake. Dipali Dere,a waitress,knows who Suman is because her master is a blind fan, but she herself is not very fond of his songs. Retired school teacher, Minati Sen is also not particularly fond of his songs. Raja Ghosh ,an unemployed Science graduate ,likes Suman for his lyrics and vocal power but feels bored with his music. Kollol Ghosh ,a young officer ,has little interest in Suman ,while Anamika Dasgupta ,a first year Anthropology student ,feels that Suman”s talent and dedication are unparalleled. “He is peerless”,she says with quite conviction. Joyjit Das of Scottish Church College, Nipa Kundu of Victoria College ,Dona Basu ,a school teacher in Lake Town,Sujoy Basu of St.Xavier”s College ,Saikat Das of N R S Medical College ,Sudip Singh of IET and Sanjib Sarkar of Bengal Engineering College agree enthusiastically with Anamika.

An intimate conversation with Suman Chattopadhaya now known as Kabir Suman who changed the trend of modern Bengali song for ever in 1992.This was published in Amrita Bazar Patrika on 18th June 1995.

He delivered a knack for melody & rhythm from a bvery tender age.A self acknowledged “ obsessive listeners” of music , Suman Chattopadhaya's appetite for music grew with the pop songs of Pat Boone,Nat King Cole,Elvis Presley & Jim Reeves & the traditional raagpradhan ,Adhunik,Rabindrasangeet,Najrulgeeti,Baul & Kirtaan gaan.After a self taught radio gramophone education,he also received training in Indian classical music for nearly 12 years.

When Suman returned home after a decade's exile he brought with him myriad impression of western music folk,rock,jaaz,country & blues.And not surprisingly Bob Dylan,Woody Guthrie,calypso & street music mingle with the music of Rabindranath & Nazrul in Sumaner gaan, imparting a distinct individualflavour.For him “ memory is not always of happiness but the charm of lost things still capture the mind”

Suman, the man who nostalgically yearns for the Calcutta of his youth, speaks to Somen Sengupta & Rahul Sarkar on the topic ranging from modern Bengali songs, the musical culture of US & Germany to the merits & demerits of solo performance.