Banned Songs Play Again

Like most of the work by legendary composer Salil Chowdhury the haunting melody Aaja re pardesi from Madhumati has often been resurrected on radio and reality shows.

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published:February 27, 2012 3:01 am

Rare protest songs composed by the legendary Salil Chowdhury,which were banned during India’s freedom struggle,have now been released in the form of an album

Like most of the work by legendary composer Salil Chowdhury — full of a strange-yet-beautiful felicity in matching orchestration with emotions — the haunting melody Aaja re pardesi from Madhumati has often been resurrected on radio and reality shows. But not many would remember Sainik tule nau hathiyar — a Bengali song written and composed by Chowdhury during the All India Tripartite Land Reform Movement,urging the farmers to pick up their weapons to reclaim their land. Or even Aayre o aayre and many other politically sensitive tracks composed by him during the Bengal famine of 1943 and Indian Naval Mutiny. Besides many unforgettable melodies such as O sajna,barkha bahar ayi and Majhi re,Chowdhury composed a large number of protest songs after joining Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA) — the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India — some of which were banned during the Independence movement. Although these songs are well remembered by the IPTA comrades,they were never recorded.

Now,16 years after Chowdhury’s death,his friend and admirer Gautam Choudhury,a 72-year-old IT consultant from Netherlands,has released Songs of Consciousness,an album comprising 12 of those protest songs. The album,says Gautam,has come out after 10 years of research,struggle and work. “Politically,these songs were quite sensitive. Just like Salilda’s political plays,these songs were performed in villages,at protest meetings and demonstrations. No recordings were made in those days since most of these songs were banned and the record companies under the British Government were not allowed to record these songs,” adds Gautam,who recorded these songs on his portable tape recorder as he interviewed people and requested them to sing those songs for him.

Over the years,he managed to collect over 25 such songs. “I had to be extra careful in authenticating the melody and lyrics — which meant several visits to different people,” says Gautam,who recently gave away the tracks to the newly created ‘Salil Archive’ at the Jorasanko residence of Rabindranath Tagore for anybody who wishes to study or refer to them.

But there were a host of problems that Gautam faced before he could record the album,apart from investing his own money. “These songs were in raw form — people sang without musical accompaniments or in some cases,only with a harmonium. I had to be careful in writing the lyrics and making sure that the melody was consistent,” adds Gautam,who then went looking for an arranger who understood Chowdhury’s style of music and also the right singers. “It all took months,but finally we completed it,” says Gautam about the album that has tracks sung by Sayantani Majumder and some other students from Rabindra Bharati.

The powerful songs that were composed by the self-taught musician in the ’40s,their strong lyrics are in stark contrast to the commercial and more orchestrated tracks composed by him in and after ’50s. “The songs Salilda composed in his youth were completely motivated by his political and social commitment. Once he entered the commercial world in early ’50s,his music became varied due to rich orchestration,” says Gautam.

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