Other Offerings: Songs by Sarmila Bose
Another Subcontinent is proud to present our first audio presentation, Other Offerings: Songs by Sarmila Bose. This will be the featured presentation on Another Subcontinent till March 21, 2005 and will then be archived in the audio section of the site.
About Sarmila Bose
Sarmila Bose grew up in a musical household in Calcutta. She trained in the music of Rabindranath Tagore at Gitabitan and with the legendary exponent of Tagore's music, Suchitra Mitra. She also trained in the music of Atulprasad Sen, Dwijendralal Roy and Rajanikanta Sen under another luminary, Krishna Chattopadhyay.
Political economist by day, Sarmila is currently visiting faculty in Asian studies and international affairs at George Washington University. She did her A.B. at Bryn Mawr College and her MPA and PhD in Political Economy and Government at Harvard University. For the last few years she has been based in India as assistant editor and senior writer for the
Indian media group Ananda Bazar Patrika.
Sarmila has been singing to critical acclaim in Calcutta for many years. In recent concerts she has woven into her presentation of Bengali songs an intriguing selection of Sanskrit hymn, American gospel and Urdu and Farsi devotional pieces. Recently she also sang songs by Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam for the feature film 'Abar Aranye' by one of India's most noted directors, Goutam Ghose.
Listen to the Songs
Click on the song titles to stream them to your computer. The songs are presented at 128kbps and are in .mp3 format. While they are called via .ram files they can be played via whichever program you have set as your default .mp3 player. If you have difficulties playing the files please let us know via the "contact" link on the left--please be sure to be very detailed about the problems/errors you are encountering.
Audio quality reflects both the original recordings of live performances and the compression to .mp3 format. More songs may be added later based on bandwidth considerations and member demand.
A Conversation with Sarmila Bose
Q. Tell us a little about your beginnings and early influences.
A. I grew up in a musical household in Calcutta. My earliest tutor and abiding influence is my maternal grandfather Charu Chandra Chowdhuri, originally of Mymensingh, East Bengal, who introduced me to Hindustani classical music and a wide range of Bengali music. My mother trained as a classical singer and sitarist.
I trained in the music of Rabindranath Tagore at Gitabitan, Calcutta, for nine years, receiving the 'Gitabharati' degree ranking first in vocal music. My examiner was the legendary exponent of Tagore's music, Suchitra Mitra, under whom I continued my training. Since childhood I also trained in the music of Atulprasad Sen, Dwijendralal Roy and Rajanikanta Sen under the renowned exponent of those genres, Krishna Chattopadhyay.
Q. When did you first perform?
A. I first performed on stage and radio as a child. I started presenting solo recitals in Calcutta from 1978.
Q. Are there musical styles you particularly like and think influence you? Are there singers, poets or musicians you admire and draw from?
A. I am generally acknowledged to have my own distinctive style and also to being pretty unique in my ability to execute the distinctive styles of different Bengali composers and musical techniques effectively.
The singers of Bengali music I like are mostly from an earlier era - Dilip Kumar Roy, Chhabi Bandopadhyay, Dhirendra Mitra, for example. Or K. L. Saigal, Kanan Devi, Sachin Dev Burman. Among contemporary singers I like Iffat Ara Khan of Bangladesh very much. Of ghazal singers I particularly like Farida Khanum, and admire Iqbal Bano.
Q. How about non-musical influences? Has where you lived influenced your work?
A. My music is entirely influenced by my growing up in Calcutta. While in college in the US I used to attend an annual gospel concert by an African-American group from Philadelphia and liked gospel very much. I also like some kinds of jazz music. My recent 'fusion' of different kinds of music is influenced by my living in India again in the last few years.
Q. Do you have a specific approach of your own that you try to stick to, or take your music towards?
A. For public performances, until recently I stuck to singing the Bengali music I've trained in, while giving it my own style and interpretation. In private I sang a wider range of music.
Q. How about fusion? Can you talk a little about your reasons for doing it and also technical issues?
A. I started to 'do it' because it came naturally - as I sang, one song reminded me of another, musically, philosophically - so that I could move from one to the other, and back, and the combination did something for me. I started to include such combinations in my public performances, however, since 2002, as a reaction to the growing intolerance I observed in India, and the obscuring of the syncretic traditions of music.
Q. Are there places you particularly like to perform at? Memorable past performaces? Plans for future performances?
A. I have mostly performed in Calcutta, though I've done a few performances in the US. Audiences who know the language and are familiar with the Bengali composers I sing seem to be particularly moved by my music, though some have said they didn't understand a word but were still transported somewhere by it! I like to sing solo recitals to audiences of music-lovers. Of traditional Bengali recitals, one called 'hridayaharana' was specially memorable; a recent unique 'kirtan' concert was great; and working with Goutam Ghose for his film 'Abar Aranye' was a fascinating new experience! Plans include more of my revival of the 'kirtan' genre, and a recital combining Bengali music with the works of Faiz.
Discuss Sarmila's songs and ask follow-up questions here.
Sarmila has received glowing reviews for her work; some excerpts below:
'Hari, Allah and Mahalia Jackson': "memorable on all counts...Bose has mastered this genre (kirtan)...in between came some pleasant surprises in the form of a Mahalia Jackson gospel song... sung in true kirtan spirit... Later on, Bose interjected snatches from a popular Sufi number into a traditional kirtan; Hari was juxtaposed with Allah. A mystic union of faiths was achieved without deviating from the basic tenets of Bhakti tradition." (The Telegraph, 21 March 2003)
"Sarmila Bose sings with passion and involvement... Tagore's 'tumi jeona ekhoni' was intensely involving... that quintessential 'biraha' song, Atulprasad's 'aar kato kaal' was heart-breaking in its longing and pain." (The Statesman, 7 February 2003)
"Sarmila's recitals must not only be heard, but also 'seen'." (Desh, February 2003, translated from Bengali)
"Amazing power and discipline of voice... every song seemed to flower anew in her luminous and gifted rendition.... filled one's heart... Sarmila swept us away with the power and inspiration of her 'kirtan' -based songs." (Pratidin, 5 January 2001, translated from Bengali)
Conversation with Sarmila Bose conducted by Poorvi Vora; image on front page of the site: close-up of inlay work at the Diwan-i-Am in the Delhi Red Fort (photograph by Arnab Chakladar).