Renowned West Bengal singer Somlata Acharyya Chowdhury and her band, Somlata and The Aces, recently visited Bangladesh to perform at a concert at the Bangbandhu International Conference Center in Dhaka. In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Faruque Ratul, Somlata talks about her band's ‘soundscape,’ and why classic Bangla fusion songs are gaining so much popularity
You have performed in Bangladesh before. What changes do you see here this time?
I am seeing more flyovers in Dhaka this time. Since my first visit, I have been saying that I find a great similarity between Dhaka and Kolkata. When I first came to Dhaka, everything seemed very familiar. I did not feel like a stranger in this city. I felt a strange connection with this city. There have not been any changes to that feeling. I received very good hospitality then, and this time it is no different.
Can you tell us what musical training you had growing up?
I only learned North Indian classical music. The other songs I perform are from the love that I have for those songs. I perform them of my own volition and love of performing. However, the only music I studied was North Indian classical music. My guru was Pandit Biresh Roy. Whatever singing ability I have today, I have because of him.
What has been the crowd response so far, in the events at which your band performs? Do you perform many covers of classics?
We usually perform our own songs. We do cover few songs. Since I was trained in classical music we keep some semi-classical songs. When I sang Rabindra Sangeet in films, in that particular (rock) arrangement, everybody responded very well, especially the young generation. So we keep those songs in the set list. We keep the Rabindra Sangeet songs from our albums and mostly perform our own songs, and keep some covers.
We definitely try to create our band's own distinct soundscape. I think every band should have a signature style. We try to maintain that.
How would you describe the soundscape of Somlata and The Aces? Also tell us about the inspiration behind the lyrics.
It is a very contemporary sound, which is tilted towards a bit of soft rock and pop. We cannot credit ourselves for the lyrics. We, in the entire band, think we are not that great when it comes to writing lyrics. So we seek help from people outside the band, to write the lyrics. There are many young and great talents in our industry when it comes to lyrics. We take the contribution of lyrics from them. Sometimes we seek help in writing lyrics from our industry friends. Lyrics are the only thing for which we seek help from others.
What themes do you present to listeners in your songs?
We usually rehearse songs from a set list of our concerts. However, sometimes we jam randomly, during breaks in our rehearsals. Sometimes we find new tunes and material for composition in those random moments of jamming. We never plan for those songs. We actually started really late as a band, and we are very young, in terms of composition. We do not yet have the experience of planning for themes we will present in a song, and making them accordingly.
Whatever originals we have released so far, were created from a good feeling or from a good moment we were having, during our jams. Then we let our lyric writers hear the tune we composed and get feedback from them about what they feel, and what else can be done. From that feedback we observe where the genre or the theme of the song is heading; we see if the song is about love, or sadness, or joy. From their feedback, we decide what we will do with the song. We work that way.
The new "contemporary" presentation you do covering classic songs is very well received by the people of our generation. Why do you think it is so?
I do not know the exact reason but I think with time, trends change, people's mentality changes. The composition of music has also changed. We do not make music the way it was made 20 to 25 years ago. In order to be on par with the times and contemporary sound, we try presenting the covers in that way. Through that we get as close as we can to the expectations of the audience.
So I am not be able to give a specific reason for that, but I will say, just as time and people change, music is also changing. Our covers are a reflection of that change.
What is your own take on the "fusion" of electrical instruments with classical music?
Fusion is not a very new trend at this time, or at least, not the kind of fusion we do. Indian classical music is a more contemporary version. When I was in primary school, maybe grade four or five or six, my love for music started with listening to a fusion piece.
The music arrangement of fusion songs may seem very "in" right now, but the concept of fusion is very old. We did not think so much before about fusion with classic songs. We did it because my training is in classical music, which is why I love classical music. I wanted to do more classical music, which I did not have the opportunity to do as a playback singer for films.
So the idea was to engage in fusion with my own independent work in music, or with my band. The "contemporary" arrangement of our fusion songs is done, focusing on the distinct soundscape of our band. To put it simply, we are fusing one of my beloved genres with the signature sound we have in the band.
Do you have any message for your fans in Bangladesh?
When I first came here, I remember how much love I received. I became so popular here that it was well beyond my expectations. The love I received on this trip is the same as my first time. I am very happy and grateful for this. I hope this love stays with Bangla music and our songs forever. And we want Bangla songs to get even more popular across the world, irrespective of whether it emanates from West Bengal or Bangladesh. I do not want to divide the Bangla language in that way. Rather I want to popularize it as a whole, in any available way. I do not want that for myself only, but for every artiste from both regions where Bangla is spoken. Music and language should win.
Which song, in your set list, is your favourite? Which song of yours is most popular in Bangladesh? Will you be performing it?
We definitely want to give a tribute to Ayub Bachchu. He is a very famous person, not just in Bangladesh, but also West Bengal. He was one of our most favourite Bangla artistes from Bangladesh. We will try our best to cover at least half of his iconic song "Hashte dekho, gaite dekho."
Then there is Rudra Mohammad Shahidullah's "Amar bhitor bahire ontore ontore." We perform this in Bangladesh whenever we come. Not just in Bangladesh, but whenever and wherever we perform, we present it with positive vibes. Every age-old song has a particular quality, created by the original artiste himself or herself. We do not strive to surpass that quality. Rudra's song is more of a sad song, or written from a sad feeling. However, we present it in a positive way, in the particular format that we have. It has been tremendously well accepted by Bangalis all over the world, especially the youth of Kolkata. I think we have not done a show yet where we have not received a request for our cover of "Amar bhitor bahire ontore ontore." We will definitely perform this song today.