Born into a family where music was the air he breathed while growing up, Sujit Mustafa received training in classical music and, after years working in the scope of a professional, he is now a household name. Karoby Shihab talks to the singer to chart his life — from childhood to fatherhood and finally to the educator he became with the desire to spread Nazrul’s ideals.
Sujit Mustafa was born in 1962 in Pabna. His father was songwriter and composer late Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal and mother was Halima Mustafa. He is the third child of a total of five.
There is confusion about his birth date. ‘February 15 is my original birth date. But in the certificate it was mistakenly written as February 12.’ explains Sujit Mustafa.
Sujit Mustafa started his schooling in Pabna Police Line School. At a very young age, his father Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal left Bangladesh to obtain his PhD degree from SOAS University of London. After one and an half year his mother Halima Mustafa went to London along with her two kids and left Mustafa Kamal and his two elder sisters in Bangladesh.
Sujit Mustafa says, ‘Primarily, I developed my attraction towards music from a very early age listening to movie songs from a nearby cinema hall in Pabna which went by the name Bani cinema hall. They used mike while playing the songs and we could listen from our home.’
After his father and mother left, his uncle, lyricist late Abul Hayat Muhammad Kamal took the responsibility of little Sujit Mustafa. He stayed with them for two years.
Both his uncle and aunt worked in Rajshahi Radio. Sometimes he used to visit the radio station and became fascinated by the environment.
‘The environment of radio seemed so heavenly to me. Neat and organised, centrally air conditioned studios and sound and other equipment drew my attention at that tender age,’ recalls Sujit Mustafa.
Though he didn’t have much idea about music at that age, he enjoyed songs of different tastes.
Sujit Mustafa recalls that he was a very naughty kid when he was living with his uncle. He was allowed admission in class two in Lakshmipur, Rajshai.
‘We were a group of four friends. Interesting part is that I still have contact with them. Two of them died already. I also found others from my class after many years,’ says Sujit Mustafa while recalling his friends.
His father came back after finishing his PhD. Then they started living in Rajshahi in 1970. Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal joined in Rajshahi University as a teacher and Sujit Mustafa started his schooling again in Rajshahi University School.
In 1972, a freedom fighter named Nurul Islam started two cultural organisations in Rajshahi University. One is for kids named Shurjo Shishu and another for grownups named Kisholoy. Sujit Mustafa was an active member of Shurjo Shishu. He used to take part in dramas and sing songs.
His first play was Daakghar written by Rabindranath Tagore. He played Amol’s role in that drama.
‘Different drama groups used to take me in their play as a child artist. They offered me cakes, patties and other food items as my payment.’ Sujit Mustafa breaks into a laughter, remembering all this.
In the same year, he started singing for Rajshahi radio. Anup Kumer Das was his first trainer.
He studied in Rajshahi University School till class seven.
‘That was the best moments from my childhood. I had many friends and the university campus was too beautiful and organised. We kids used to know each and every teachers and their families. The bonding we had was so precious,’ says Sujit Mustafa.
Later the family had to move to Chattagram. And, in Sujit Mustafa’s word, he had a hard time getting along in a new place.
In Chattagram he, along with few other kids, used to learn music from Ustad Mihir Lana. That was the time he started to get training in pure classical music.
Like other teens, Sujit Mustafa had a strong liking to band music. At that time band music was at a threshold. Singers like Firoz Shahi, Ferdous Wahid were the emerging stars of this cultural trajectory.
‘I remember that band groups Spandan and Ugly Phase performed in Chattagram. Like most young girls and boys, I was attracted towards band culture seeing the singers performing with eye-catchy instruments and sound system. I wanted to be like them,’ confesses Sujit Mustafa.
Later his trainer Mihir Lala introduced him with the beauty of pure classical music. Even his mother used to inspire him to listen to music of West Bengal. But Sujit Mustafa was not interested at all.
Still, when his friends once informed him about a radio programme that played Bengali songs of West Bengal, he became curious.
‘That was the first day I listened to ‘Jodi kagoje likho naam’, ‘Ekta gaan likho amar janno’, ‘Ami etoje tomay bhalobeshechi’ and few other beautiful songs and my perception totally changed. That was the turning point,’ recalls the singer.
During his school and college life, he took part in a number of singing competitions and won prizes repeatedly.
Besides being a marvellous singer, he was very good at extracurricular activities as well. He was well known in his school for his performance in debate and various sports. He won a lot of prizes for high jump, long jump, race and other school sports.
Sujit Mustafa mentioned about an auto-rickshaw accident when he was a student of intermediate first year. He was asked to take complete bed rest for one and an half months. At that time, he got recording spools loaded with pure Indian classical music of renowned singer, including Ustad Amir Khan, AT Kannur, Omkar Nath Tagor and few others. He had to listen to them, as he had nothing else to do.
‘I was bound to listen to those songs. One day we did not play the spools and surprisingly I felt that something was missing. Then I understood that in my subconscious mind I started liking those genres of the music.’ recalls Sujit Mustafa.
He later completed his intermediate study form Chattagram University College.
At the end of 1978, Sujit’s father Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal was transferred to Dhaka University.
In 1979, Sujit Mustafa got admitted to the department of sociology at Dhaka University and at the same time he continued to receive music training.
He took part in various competitions arranged by DUCSU and won the heart of the people on campus and beyond.
Sujit Mustafa started his advanced training for classical music at Chhayanaut. This time, Anjali Roy, Sohrab Hossain, Mithun Dey and few other prominent professional trainers were his teachers — they taught him during his five-year certificate course. He was involved with Ustad Akter Sadmani’s academy as well. Later he joined a three-year pure classical music course at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
‘Interestingly when I was a student of third year at Chhayanaut, I used to take music classes for the second year students,’ recalls Sujit Mustafa.
After completing honors and master’s degree from Dhaka University, Sujit Mustafa went to India for farther musical training.
At the end of 1986, Sujit Mustafa joined Shanti Niketan in Kalkata. Later he moved to Shriram Bharatia Kala Kendra in Delhi.
‘Shriram Kala Kendra had no option for transferring credits from another central institute. But I was so desperate to get into there. I discussed with the officials of the kendra. I was basically the first student for whom Shriram Bharatia Kala Kendra incorporated the provision of accepting credit transfer for the first time. For that I had to take an acceptance letter from Pandit Amarnath and no objection certificate from Shanti Niketan,’ Sujit Mustafa describes his educational excursion from Wet Bengal to Delhi.
He had some golden moments look back on there, he says. He enjoyed there numerous musical shows of eminent singers of the subcontinent.
‘I got the chance to get closer to the musicians of that time. Shriram Bharatia Kala Kendra stood for certain cultural values. Now we have Youtube, and other sites to listen to music, but enjoying a live programme is a surreal experience,’ he says.
It was in Shriram Bharatia Kala Kendra Sujit Mustafa found the love of his life.
Munmun Ahmed, a prominent dance artist of Bangladesh, and Sujit Mustafa, two people from two different disciplines, came closer and got married, Sujit Mustafa brightens up sharing the story.
‘We met in the cultural event at the SAF games. I was there for singing and Munmun was there for dancing. But we did not get to talk to each other right away. Later we met again in a dinner party, she sat right next to me and was serving me food. Even then we did not have chance to interact much,’ recalls the singer.
Later when the he started his singing training in Shriram Bharatia Kala Kendra, Mummun Ahmed and few other dance students got admitted to the same institute. There Sujit and Munmun started knowing each other and developed what some may describe as special feeling. They got married in 1993.
In 1996, their only daughter Aporajita Mustafa was born. ‘She has become a trained dance like her mother Munmun Ahmed. Aporatija Mustafa won the price in the Kathak competition at national level for three times,’ says the proud father.
‘I try to be a friend to my daughter. She has access to me when she need to share anything with me. I think parents should be like this,’ said Sujit Mustafa describing the relation between father and daughter.
Sujit Mustafa was honored with various awards at different times, including Nazrul Academy Award in 2017.
The song ‘Amar swapan kinte pare’ by Jatileswar Mukhopadhyay is one of Sujit Mustafa’s favourites. He also mentioned Rabindra sangeet. He enjoys listening to the iconic singers including Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Subir Nandi and others. He likes to appreciate any song that is good.
‘Doesn’t matter whether it is a Bengali song or English, doesn’t matter which genre it belongs to, I enjoy all kinds of quality music,’ adds Sujit Mustafa.
He has presented songs in different classical and semi classical genres, Nazrul sangeet and modern Bangla songs to music industry. But he is well known specially for Nazrul sangeet. He said the philosophy of the poet attracted him towards Nazrul sangeet.
Nowadays Sujit Mustafa is working on preserving the songs of the national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. He feels it is his privilege to introduce the philosophy of the poet to the new generation.
He is the editor of a monthly magazine on Kazi Nazrul Islam. However, due to financial crisis he could not continue publishing the periodical.
Though he never preferred to work at any typical job, he was involved with the foundation of Santa Mariam University of Creative Technology and joined as head of administration but he did not continue. Later he was a visiting faculty of University of Development Alternative. He was a professional trainer in Nazrul Academy for a certain period of time.
‘We should introduce the pure form of music to the new generation. To develop and enrich the taste, media can play a master role. Besides making profit, mass media should work to enlighten and educate people in various aspects including culture. Another alarming thing is the misuse of technology. People are adapting such things, which they should not,’ Sujit Mustafa observes.
He requested parents to impose some obligatory cultural practices so that children could grow up in sensitivity to their time and context from a tender age. This is how their subconscious mind will adopt to the cultural achievements of the country.
The singer is planning to involve school students with Nazrul sangeet in an innovative way.
There will be a mobile app based competition on twelve selective songs of Nazrul. Price money will be offered for the winner. Sujit Mustafa thinks that through this competition school-going boys will become curious about Nazrul sangeet more.
Institutes like Chhayanaut, Nazrul Instute and others should come forward to preserve the groundbreaking works of Nazrul, which is his songs.
‘Presenting the songs in a different way mixing with instruments can be appreciated but it has to be done with care. The originality of the songs should not be spoiled,’ believes Sujit Mustafa.
At the end of the discussion Sujit Mustafa thanked his audience. He said the love he got form the people and from his students, will always motivate him in his life.
Photos by Abdullah Apu
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Interview