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'The shared mindset is missing now, due to the advent of technology'

  • Published at 04:04 pm August 3rd, 2019
Bangladeshi band Black's current line-up
From left, Charlz Amit Francis, Farhan Tanveer, Rubayet Chowdhury, and Khademul Jahan is the current line-up of Black | Facebook

Black is a Bangladeshi rock band formed in 1998, and ruled the country's rock scene for a decade after their formation. Some of their past members have left the band to find their own place in the nation's music history. Yet, Black is still continuing with new members, and may release an album by the end of this year. In an exclusive interview with Md Razu Ahmed, founding member Mushfeque Jahan tells us how the band's name came to be, and the philosophy behind their music

What is the story behind the naming of the band Black?

The journey of Black began before our university life started; right after our Intermediate exams. We were three friends- Tony, Jon, and I- and we were all studying at different colleges, however, the music was one factor that kept us together. In our first line-up, our band's guitarist was another friend Asif.

When we were at the cusp of forming the band, the first thing we were thinking about was what will be our name. We had a small practice pad in my home at the time. That is where the four of us sat down to decide the name. During those days we would listen to many bands, and we would also cover them. They were mainly Western bands such as Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. While discussing our influences, someone said that those bands like Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple named themselves by mentioning a colour in their name. So why not we also have a colour in the name of our band. Then we discussed at length which colour will we use. Finally all of us agreed on the colour black. It was Asif who suggested it. In the name Black there was a phonetic power. This is how the name of the band came to be around 1998-99.

What was the top priority for Black while composing music? What is Black's philosophy?

The current age of Black is around 20 years. When we started we were in our early twenties, therefore we would listen to a lot of things. Each of us had different taste in music. I used to play the sitar, and I learned tabla when I was younger. Tony used to play in various folk, and instrumental bands. Jon and the rest of the members used to listen to different styles and genres of music.

However, with regards to philosophy, style, genre or the direction we wanted to take with the band, we used to always consult Zubair Hossain Imon bhai. He was our lyricist, and also had a room in which we all used to sit, and chat for long hours about our band. As soon as our class would end, we used to go there. In a manner of speaking, Black started in that room. He used to encourage us. He was a poet, philosopher, a man of Literature, and our guide mentor. It is with him we shared a common ideology, and with him we explored different genres, and gradually we discovered the philosophy of the band.

It was not just us who used to frequent that place, but there were different kinds of people coming and going. They used to share their experiences, and we would share ours. This is how we noticed a vast change in our lyrics. What Emon bhai does, is what we used to refer to as, alternative lyric writing. There is no correct grammar or rhyme scheme for that. The lyrics are really small, which would mostly sound like a summary. Our own personal human experiences came to light through these lyrics.

Initially the music flowed from our instruments from looking at the lyrics. We would develop the body of the song while depending on the lyrics. We had our own practice pad. We used to compose initially with the guitar, and then we would develop the entire song in our practice pad. That was the natural process.

However, gradually with time, we came out of that mindset, and a different sound was being created by us. You can say that it was not at all planned. It just came to be with time.

The time when we started music, our contemporaries all had the same propensity about music. If we were to name a few of our seniors, there was Cryptic Fate, and our contemporary was Artcell. There were many underground bands at the time, which were coming to limelight. We were lucky to have gotten in the limelight at a time, when each band had some unique aspect about them. When we make music now, we try to retain that flavour. We were raised in the same philosophy as the one we use to live our lives; which is the same as the one featured in our lyrics. 

In the beginning Black focused on the lyrics, and then they would compose the music. Now that has been reversed. In some songs the lyrics comes first, and in others the music comes first. However, lyrics mostly get the emphasis.

You have performed at shows in various places? Will you share a fun experience from one of your shows?

When four to five people does music together, or any other activity, and if all of them have the same mindset, then fun happens almost automatically. To be honest, a sad experience turns into a fun experience. When our shows would be held at locations very far from our homes, then the journey used to be very long. In spite of the toll on our bodies, after reaching the show we would never miss it. 

Once we went to perform in Gazipur. Tony had severe shoulder cramps. Playing the drums is quite a taxing physical activity. Playing any instrument is taxing, however, when it comes to drums, one has to use all four limbs of their body. Tony's neck was stiff, yet we took him along for the show. When we watched the video later on, it was a really funny sight. When a drummer plays his instrument with a very straight and stiff neck, it is quite funny. 

Another funny instance happened when Jon was our vocalist. He was feeling a little sick, so he went to the doctor, while we went to perform at a show. He was to join us later. But then he told us over the phone that he will not be able to come. We were right in front of the audience at that moment. At that juncture, we asked people among the audience to sing for us. Two audience members performed as vocalists. It is an inexplicable experience, because we were a band who went without a vocalist to perform at a show, but we ended up finishing the event, by getting vocalists from amongst the audience. It is one of the most memorable experiences of our career. Luckily Elita Karim was with us at the time, and she performed two songs for us. A big thank you to that audience.

What is the worst experience of Black?

From between 2003 to 2005 we did the most number of shows. Almost every week we had one or two shows in either Dhaka or outside. For those times it was too much. We had one show on April 19, in 2005, in Chittagong. A few Indian artistes were also due to perform with us there. The show was supposed to take place at Chittagong's Niaz stadium. However, there were so many people, that due to the crowd we did not even get to get up on stage. Eventually we were not able to perform in that concert. Our sound engineer Momin bhai used to travel with us at that time. We were to return to Dhaka after one day, however, we returned the same day. Tony had an exam, and I had some work.

So we started for Dhaka in a microbus. During that journey, around dawn we had an accident. The microbus overturned at a place where the road was being renovated. Miraz was critically injured in that accident. The then drummer of Arbovirus, Tanim who was with us, also got very injured. 

Tony had to stay in the hospital for a whole month. Imran Ahmed Chowdhury Momin bhai passed away in that very accident. All the big albums of that period had been mixed, mastered, and recorded with his hands. Current sound engineers had all trained under him. 

His death was a big blow to us. We used to do so many tours back then outside of Dhaka, that we would never take any extra precautions for these journeys. It is important to talk to the driver during the ride, so that he does not become dizzy with sleep. Seatbelts must be worn at all times. We did not take these precautions. Hence, we had to face such a big accident. After that for one year, Black's activities were stalled. After that Aurthohin's Sumon bhai played bass with us. He supported us for one whole year. We are very grateful to him.

What kind of impact does current events have on your songs?

The style we follow at Black, we describe it as postmodern. There is no direct mention of an incident or a reflection of a philosophy in our music. We do not use any proper nouns. Some events of the world did affect us, but we never explicitly mentioned them in our lyrics. However, we kept their essence implicitly. Sometimes we mention just the gist of an experience in one of our songs. We are after all a part of society, so some influences will always remain intact. However, we try to make a timeless song, which is for all time, and all people.

How was the first recording experience of Black?

For every band the start is quite painful, and sometimes they have to struggle a lot. Until our second album I didn't even have my own guitar. I used to bring the guitar, and processor of Cryptic Fate's Farhan. Tony got his own drum set during our third album. We recorded our first song in 1999 at North Studio or something like that in Moghbazar. Another band had reserved the place for the entire shift, and also booked a drum set. They did not use the drum set for the  entire shift. That is when we used to get the opportunity to record songs. At that time we used to be funded by Imon bhai. As far as I remember, it took us 35 to 36 takes to record our first song. The song was later released in the Projonmo album, but it was the first recorded song for most of us in the band.

What is your view on the bands of the new generation? Are they being able to hold on to your legacy? What is your message for them?

We are actually very lucky, that when we started our music, we received a lot of help from our seniors. When we began doing a lot of shows, it is then that our communication with the seniors started properly. It was then, we were able to listen to their experiences. Their struggles were much different. Some of them had to manage single gadget after a lot of struggle. Some even had to struggle a lot while managing a single guitar. In our times, if one did not have something, then one of our friends might have it. In the case of seniors, sharing was much more easier.

In our times, the country did not have good instruments for music. However, for the last 15-20 years, instruments became quite easily available. What we needed then was a good guitar and a processor, which are widely available now. The times are quite challenging for the people who are playing now. Now there is YouTube. When we learned music, we learned it from one-to-one personal interaction. We used to share the ideology of our trainers. However that shared mindset is missing now, due to the advent of online technology. Back then we did not just discuss music, but we used to talk about everything from politics, art, culture, and religion. Now there are a lot of bands who are very skilful, and can play very well. What they can do now, we would probably need a lot more practice to achieve. However, when four to five people are trying to do something together, they must do it properly.

The ideology needs to be certain. I get surprised when I look at the work of some bands. Some of them have so much potential in music, but after their university is over, they join jobs. After joining a job they get busy with a family. After that the band does not continue anymore. Music needs to be prioritized equally. Family is important, but at the same time, those of us who are working with music, making time for it is also important.

When will we get the next album of Black? What is the plan behind it?  

We have already made eight to nine songs for an album. The first song has been released as a single in this Eid. We have begun the recording of the rest of the songs. Maybe by the end of this year we will be able to release a full length album.

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