ABOUT WHERE RIVERS MEET
Zoe Rahman, May 2008
The idea for Where Rivers Meet came when I transferred some of my Dad’s old worn-out cassettes onto CD about five years ago when he was in hospital and needed something to listen to. It was the first time I’d really heard the Bengali music he’d been listening to in private for as long as I could remember (before that we’d only hear snippets of him singing it in the kitchen or on the way to school). I didn’t understand the lyrics but the music itself and the way the lyrics were delivered made a deep connection with me.
I realised that there was a whole world that I hadn’t explored that was part of me and my heritage. Being born and brought up in England (with an English mother and Bengali father) I’m very English culturally, so I felt that I needed to spend some time catching up on Bengali culture, music and language before it was too late and my Dad couldn’t share it with me.
I played one track, ‘Mucche Jaoa Dinguli’ at the London Jazz Festival later that year – with Idris on clarinet and Adriano Itauna on percussion (Dad said afterwards, with tears in his eyes, ‘now I know you can play’…. we’d only been playing for about thirty years before that!!). I recorded that track on my album ‘Melting Pot’, but I knew that I wanted to explore further. The opportunity came when I was asked by Kishon Khan, another London-based pianist with Bengali roots, to take part in the ‘Bangla-beat’ festival at the Southbank in 2006. My brother and I used it as an opportunity to work on some more Bengali material. We met more Bengalis that night than we’d ever met in the UK. There were some fantastic musicians involved in that event, such as the singer Armeen Musa, who we discovered later was the great-grand-daughter of a very famous Bengali singer, Abbasuddin (who our Dad remembers hearing sing in his village when he was a boy). She taught us a folk song that he made famous – ‘Amay bhashaili re’, which became the sixth track on our album. We also met the singer Arnob, who we ended up working with on two separate trips to Bangladesh, one in 2006 when we went over to do some initial recording for the album and again in 2007 on a British Council Tour.
The tracks that we’ve chosen here are mostly songs that our father loves and that we’ve discovered through him. A lot of the music was originally film music, we’ve subsequently discovered. Dad’s favourite singer, Hemant Kumar (Mukherjee) sang the originals of many of the tracks on this album – weirdly, Kuljit Bhamra, the percussionist on the album, actually played with Hemant many years ago, which connects him to our journey. However, some tracks were introduced to us by other people. I first went to Bangladesh (Dhaka) in 1986 and was taught the song ‘Abar elo je sondya’ (track 10) by some of my cousins.
I recorded my auntie Ayesha (a specialist in Tagore’s music) playing harmonium and singing ‘Tumi amay’ (the second track on the CD) during a visit to Dhaka in 2000, so we learnt it from this.
Then there is the last track ‘Purano sei’, which although it sounds a bit like Auld Lang Syne, is a very famous Tagore song. Idris and I played it on our last trip to Dhaka and the entire audience sang along, as they did with many of the other tracks.
All of the music on the CD was recorded in London, apart from Arnob’s vocals – he put them on afterwards from his studio in Dhaka. Our dad makes an appearance on track eight, reciting the lyrics of one of his favourite songs ‘Koto din dekhini tomai’, and the street sounds on ‘Purano Sei’ were recorded from the balcony of our auntie Aleya’s house in Dhaka – the streets of Dhaka are filled with the sounds and colours of cycle rickshaws, so we wanted to reflect this in the album and the artwork. Our designer saw a Bengali rickshaw for sale on the internet, so we bought it for the photo-shoot.
We asked William Radice to translate the lyrics for us as he’s always been someone that our Dad has had a huge respect for as a translator and poet. He also wrote a ‘teach yourself Bengali’ book which I’ve been trying to learn from for about sixteen years–it’s where I found the name for my record label!