Eminent traditional folk song exponent Kiran Chandra Roy has dedicated his life to the worship of music so ardently that his identity as a musician stands out over his other identities.
To pursue his music career smoothly, Kiran set a rare example of leaving government job in 2013, three years before he would have retired from the job.
Kiran taught Bangla at Armanitola Government High School in Dhaka for 14 years. The well-reputed teacher had willingly refused to be promoted as the school’s administrator so that he could spend more time in music.
He says, ‘I was born in a village. My arrival in Dhaka as a complete stranger was only for exploring a music career. The offer of promotion led me to revise my career plan and eventually I found the right way. Now I find more time for music.’
Kiran loves to believe that his whole world is actually music-centric. He says, ‘If anyone would ask me about my profession, I would reply that I am a musician. Teaching profession was like a supporting career for me, although I did the job sincerely.’
Kiran was among the dedicated and responsible teachers in his school.
On September 27 of 1955, Kiran was born in a well-off Hindu family at Harirampur sub-district of Manikganj. His village home was located on the bank of the river Padma. The village was a commercial hub for different types of people and communities.
Given the freedom of socialising with the neighbouring communities by his agriculture-based family, Kiran learnt about various types of people’s lifestyle from his early life.
‘I was inspired to sing songs by boatmen of the Padma who used to sing traditional songs while rowing boats in the river. Accompanying the fishermen, often I caught hilsha fish. That life was so vibrating then,’ he recalls.
The village sheltered a mixture of different cultures of communities. Hence, his orientation with traditional Bengali culture was deep-rooted. Kiran recalls, ‘The scope of presenting songs in front of village folks helped me increase intimacy with the audience.’
With friendly gestures, Kiran would attract instrument players to form band wherever he used to sing.
Kiran’s solvent family once became divided over supporting his music enthusiasm. Although he received primary music lessons from his uncle Provat Kumar Roy, some of his six uncles were of the opinion that he should continue general study seriously.
His grandfather Prem Charan Roy, who used to love the young Kiran very much, was a great inspiration to him. Prem Charan was the prime decision maker of the family.
‘My grandfather advised me to take either music or general education as the first priority. He, however, was satisfied with my regular attendance in the primary school,’ Kiran says.
He completed his primary education from the Bhabanicharan Prathamik Bidyalay at his village.
‘The villagers, mostly farmers, went in festive mood during the time of harvest. I would present songs at courtyards of the farmer families who used to patronise cultural events that time. Often I did not return home for several days due to busy schedule. But family members would not worry finding my regular presence at my school,’ Kiran says.
He thinks that a musician must be punctual and dedicated like a worshipper. ‘An artiste insensible about the preconditions would not attain his goal,’ he observes.
Kiran believes that the limitless world of music is so vast that a musician needs to devote a whole life to explore it. As he considers a musician as creator, Kiran believes that a person can create something when he or she successfully translates their attainment of worshipping into the job.
‘There is no alternative to worshipping. A musician need not spend 24 hours in rehearsing songs. There are other important activities like spiritual, physical and intellectual exercises, which also constitute parts of worship.’ Kiran points out, adding that a piece of new music emerges after many creative efforts.
He thinks that writing folk song is not an easy task although the traditional folk songs apply mass communicative language.
With people’s oral presentation, the traditional folk songs travel through generation after generation like the river water or wind runs mile after mile. This is very common phenomenon in the other parts of the world, Kiran says.
Referring to the most among popular Bangla songs Bhalo Achi Bhalo Theko, Aakasher Thikanay Chithi Likho, which was written by famous poet Rudra Muahammad Shahidullah, Kiran says, ‘A simple song is recognised as traditional folk song when mass people accept it as the reflection of their emotion’.
Kiran improvised tune of the song. To present folk songs, Kiran has visited almost all localities of Bangladesh. He has also performed in many foreign cultural events. He finds that a simple success can make happy the marginalised people who lead a very simple life.
His song Arre O Poroshi Koyo Khobor Giya Amar Gay, Ei Goriber Kopal Firechhe, which have become popular among his fans, portray joys of a newly promoted Bangladeshi boatswain who was leading a poor life in his low-rank sailing job for long.
According to Kiran, village people desire less contrary to their money-mongering urban people who have appeared in an endless race towards a luxurious life.
He believes that rural mass have worthy knowledge to teach the urban people. The former schoolteacher thinks that proper education cannot be achieved only by reading textbooks and regular taking part in examination.
He says that rural mass, although considered less literate or illiterate, actually are self-educated.
‘Mystic bard Lalon Shai did not study in any educational institution. The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had no certificate from reputed college. Bangladesh’s national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam also had not attained any academic education worth the mention,’ he says, adding that people are now taught what these three creative personalities had written.
Kiran often becomes hopeless with the aggressive urbanisation that has grasped almost every corner of the world. He finds that rural Bangladesh is not spared from this rapid urbanisation, which he thinks, is not developed in a planned way.
He observes that neither agricultural nor industrial revolution has taken place in Bangladesh. There are few industries established with backward linkage while scopes in agriculture are being destroyed due to unplanned urbanisation.
‘Cultural activists would have been leading solvent life with honour if the agricultural or industrials sectors of the country were developed on a strong ground,’ he says, citing that cultural activism was once patronised by the rich farmers and businesses.
‘Nowadays, broadcasting media has taken the responsibility of patronising cultural activism. This can be called television channel-dependent cultural practices,’ Kiran sounds critical saying that the TV channels only serve commercial purposes where patronising cultural practices has become very secondary issue.
Kiran finds the tendency as a demerit of the country’s cultural heritage.
Citing that cultural activism is now carried out aimlessly, he worries about the fate of young singers who have become television stars following reality shows.
Kiran says that almost all the musicians are from rural or suburban areas of Bangladesh.
‘Newcomers are not exceptional. Some of them are very talented having sweet voice. The country would loss talented musicians in future if the young musicians are misguided by commercialisation. Maybe they would be wealthy persons someday, but will not sustain as musicians for long,’ he warns.
He thinks that seeds of love for music or other cultural activities should be sowed in people’s early life and this way the affection for the country’s cultural heritage will grow further through education later in their life.
‘A university student having no previous attachment with cultural atmosphere cannot suddenly understand the importance of cultural heritage,’ he says, regretting that the scope of educating children in the traditional cultural heritage has become badly damaged.
‘It can be said that we the people do not bother about the issue or have no time to work for popularising traditional culture accordingly among the young generation, This is unfortunate that such negligence badly hampers nation building.’ he laments.
He believes that Bangladesh is one of the epicentres of musical hubs. As a folk singer, he puts importance on patronisation of folk culture as he has accepted it as the roots of all improvised music.
He asks, ‘If the roots die due to shortage of nutrients, how can a tree survive?’
Learning music is absolutely an instructor-oriented activity. Hence, he emphasises giving due honour to the dedicated music instructors.
Studying music tutorial books or listening to long plays will not be enough to absorb actual lessons. An honest music instructor can impart the proper learning through some interactive understanding in long-time teacher-student relationship.
With due honour, Kiran recollects his instructor Khandaker Nurul Alam who was very famous musician in the country. Kiran took music lesson from Nurul for at least 14 years.
‘I am blessed to be under his instructorship. He considered doing music as a way of serving the humankind,’ Kiran says adding that Nurul had achieved double Masters’ degree from the University of Dhaka, but refused to involve in any official job.
Kiran continues that his honourable instructor was introvert and did not compromise with anything.
Kiran, though started his music career with radio in 1976, started taking formal music tutorials under Nurul Alam from 1988. Before he started his tutelage under Nurul, he had sung a number of playback songs under his direction.
‘When I conveyed my eagerness to learn music formally with him [Nurul], he initially became astonished,’ nostalgic Kiran says who used to call his instructor ‘Kaku’.
In 1973, Kiran first appeared in a music recording for the Khulna Radio as a tabla player. Three years later, he sang songs for Radio Bangladesh.
In 1977, Kiran first performed at Bangladesh Television.
‘1986 was the turning year of my life when I got married with Chandana Majumdar. The same year, I got scopes to present folk song at many big platforms that had brought me some popularity,’ he says.
Chandana Majumdar, from Kushtia, is another renowned folk singer in the country.
The music maestros are the proud parents of a daughter, Shatabdi Roy, who has also developed her music career.
Kiran received National Film Award for best playback singer in 1997 and the BACHSAS Best Singer Award in 1998.
In 2009, he achieved the 2nd place among 88 contestants in International Folk Festival held in China.
The roots-searching folk singer finds disturbing elements in the Bangla fusion music.
‘Fusion of Bangla folk music always has made confusion. I do not understand the appeal of such fusion music. If there is any necessity, why not musicians create new songs suitable for fusion,’ Kiran reacts, asking, ‘Do we need to carry out experiment with the years-old traditional folk songs? This is unnecessary.’
Mentioning that the country’s music industry is now without guardian, he continues asking, ‘Would Lalon or Shachin Dev Barmon tolerate fusion with their songs? Who has given them [fusion music composers] the permission?’
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Music