A versatile musical talent, groomed in Indian classical music, Sheikh Sadi Khan has had a career in an unlikely arena — film. Having been born into a family teeming with famous classical musicians, at one point in his career he had to veer into commercial composing. Karoby Shihab meets the maestro to know about his life story and his take on the current state of music.
Sheikh Sadi Khan was born into a family with a long-standing musical tradition. Now a director and composer in his own right, Sheikh Sadi was born in March 3, 1950 to the classical musician Ustad Ayet Ali Khan and Begum Ador Khan in Shibpur of Brahmanbaria. He is the fourth among seven children of his parents.
Sheikh Sadi Khan grew up in Cumilla town as his father bought a home and moved there permanently.
He started his schooling from Comilla Victoria Collegiate School. At the same time, he started his musical training at a very young age under the aegis of his father Ustad Ayet Ali Khan.
His other brothers Ustad Abed Hossain Khan, Ustad Bahadur Hossain Khan, Mobarak Hossain Khan, Tansen Khan and Botophen Khan chose music as their profession. But the sisters — Ambia Begum, Momota Ahmed and Yasmin Khan — did not enter the arena.
Later, Sheikh Sadi took lessons as a violinist from his brother Ustad Bahadur Hossain Khan.
He was a very restless child. Most of the time his father used to travel to places for attending and performing in programmes and he ran a music school in Brahmanbaria as well. So Ustad Ayet Ali Khan could not give enough time to attend to the affairs at home.
‘As my father wasn’t at home all the time, I had enough time for being naughty. My mother tried to keep me within her grip but I did not pay much heed to what she had to say or her attempt to impose discipline on me. Now I regret for being so unruly and disobedient to her,’ Sheikh Sadi said harking back to his childhood days.
He was a good sports person too — football, cricket and badminton were his favourite sports.
‘Other football teams used to hire me to play for them. Besides I had a cricket team named Lichutola Boys Club. I was a skilled bowler,’ remembered the music veteran.
At one point in his life, he even became interested to join the army as he was fascinated by the disciplined and systematic life. He sat for the examination too but failed as he was underweight at that time.
After class nine, Sheikh Sadi Khan moved to Dhaka and got himself admitted to Dhanmondi Government Boys’ High School and completed SSC from there.
Later he completed higher secondary level in music from Government Music College of Dhaka. He obtained bachelor of music from the same institute.
Later in 1963 he went to India, with his brother Bahadur Hossain Khan who used to live in Calcutta, now Kolkata. He completed professional training on violin there and came back to Bangladesh in 1965.
‘At that time my goal was to be a music composer as music was in my blood. I was impressed by the pure classical form of music,’ said the music maestro.
After coming back Sheikh Sadi Khan went to Chittagong, now Chattogram, to perform in Pakistan Radio. The officials were impressed by his composition and offered him a job. He joined as a regular staff. He was very young at that age, did not understand much about his responsibilities as an employee. Once or twice in a month, he started playing as a professional violinist.
Later he signed a contract as an accompaniment musician.
Dwelling on the challenge he faced earlier in his professional life Sheikh Sadi said, ‘I had training in classical music, but I was asked to play for commercial music. This made me clueless at first. I went through a huge struggle to cope with it.’
After working there for two years, he came back in Dhaka again and joined Pakistan Television as a violin player. While working for the television industry he developed the desire of becoming a music composer.
‘At that time my father died and our family’s financial condition was not well. Music was my only source of earning. Though I was a trained classical violinist, I realised I could earn better in the commercial sector. So I started concentrating on commercial music,’ Sheikh Sadi shared.
His journey began with classical music and he later swerved into commercial music for livelihood. Though, initially the music maestro felt like a fish out of water, he soon started proving his worth in the industry.
At this point of time, two groups of instrumentalists — Alauddin Little Orchestra and Dhaka Orchestra — were famous for their works in the country. Alauddin Little Orchestra was named after Sheikh Sadi Khan’s uncle Alauddin Khan where young Sadi started playing violin.
He started playing violin regularly for films too. ‘Hiramon’ was his first film.
He had a chance to record four of his composed songs from His Master’s Voice. Singer Shawkat Hayat Khan rendered ‘Mon jane na chay shey ki je’ and ‘Ei pothe jabo koto dur’ written by Dr Muniruzzaman while Moushumi Kabir rendered ‘Keno dako’ and ‘Jani na keno je mon’ respectively written by Mohan Lal Das and Kausar Ahmed Chowdhury.
In 1971, during the liberation war, Sheikh Sadi Khan went to India and joined Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra and worked with other musicians to give motivation to the freedom fighters.
After the independence, he came back to Bangladesh. A few months later, he left the job at the television and joined the commercial service of Bangladesh Betar as a violin player and composer.
He got the chance to play with eminent singers and composers during this time as they used to visit the radio station for recording.
It is during this time that his composition skill was flourishing. His dream of becoming a composer came true, as many eminent music directors and composers were impressed by his talent.
‘After the liberation war, I have worked with Khandaker Nurul Alam, Satya Saha, Subal Das, Samar Das, Abdul Ahad, Kajal Rashid and all other renowned music giants of the music industry’, recalled Sheikh Sadi Khan.
He worked as an assistant music director to Khandaker Nurul Alam and Azad Rahman in films. He was also involved with other composers and music directors. Later he decided to work independently.
Sheikh Sadi Khan started getting compliments for his work. As he started flourishing, he became more involved with composing music.
By 1980, he stopped playing for others and appeared as a music composer. He became the music director of the movie titled ‘Ekhoni Shomoy’ directed by Abdullah Al Mamun. In that movie he composed ‘Jibon mane jontrona’, ‘Ekta dolna jodi kachhe petam’ and ‘Ami Razzak hoilam na’ respectively rendered by Sabina Yasmin, Abida Sultana and Pranab Das. The songs became hits at that time.
Prominent actors Babita and Ujjal acted in the film.
After that he never had to look back. Later he composed music for a series of movies, including Kalmilata, Mohona, Mahanayak, Parinita, Ghani and others movies that did well at the box office and also became milestones in the film industry.
Countless hit songs composed by Sheikh Sadi Khan were rendered by many local and Indian singers, including Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, Kumar Shanu, Runa Laila, Abdul Jabbar, Apple Mahmud, Rafiqul Alam, Mitali Mukherjee, Ferdousi Rahman, Khorshed Alam, Khalid Hasan Milu, Dilruba Khan, Sabina Yasmin, Kanak Chanpa, Subir Nandi, Shakila Jafar and others.
He even composed songs for the singers of the new generation. He is working with new singers from the reality shows like Close Up 1, Shera Kontho and others.
Over five decades Sheikh Sadi Khan has been working for the industry. In his long successful career, he has received the National Film Award for Best Music Director in 2006 and 2010. He is the three-time winner of BACHSAS Best Music Composer Award. He has been honoured with Celebrating Life Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
His family life only lent momentum to his creative pursuit. In February 1973, he got married to Rowshon Ara Begum.
Rowshon Ara Begum used to be his neighbour. When his family was pressuring him to get married, Khan shared his interest about that particular lady. Rowshan Ara’s father was not ready to marry his daughter off to Sheikh Sadi, but later he gave in.
‘My wife was a great support to my career. Still now, she is giving me support. I am grateful to her,’ said Sheikh Sadi.
The couple has a son and a daughter.
Son Rawnak Ferdous Khan has a melodious voice. He has sung songs with renowned singers like Sabina Yasmin, Runa Laila, Kanak Chanpa and the others. But, he did not take singing as profession. Now he is living in London. Daughter Shagufta Zabin is working as the senior vice president of Premier Bank said the father.
A versatile talent, Sheikh Sadi Khan has worked simultaneously in radio, television and silver screen. Now the prominent composer and director is in his late sixties.
Once his compositions used to enrich the music of the film industry but in recent days, he has lessened his involvement. He explained the reason.
‘Now people from our generation have become aged. There is a visible gap between the new generation and us. Nowadays the youngsters don’t come to us anymore. I have almost stopped working for the film industry. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable or probably think that I will not be able to do justice to their work and style,’ says Khan.
He hastened to add, ‘People in the culture industry are more commercially-inclined in recent times. Most of them concentrate on quick benefits. I am not saying that they should not think about making money out of their production but should take care of the quality of the work too.’
Sheikh Sadi believes that the contemporary films don’t represent the tradition anymore. Makers nowadays adopt stories and styles from western and other cultures, which doesn’t match with our society.
‘We have lost the originality of Bengali culture. Adopting new things are not bad, but losing the soul is alarming for any culture,’ he said.
‘Not just films, the music industry has gone through a sea of change,’ he said.
In recent days, music is being created digitally on computers and keyboards, but digitally produced tunes can never match the quality of the music created using acoustic instruments. However, music nowadays cannot sustain in the minds of audiences for a long time he added.
Why is this happening? What does the eminent music composer think about it?
‘Digital music is artificially produced. These artificial sounds can never replace the sweet harmonies produced by acoustic instruments. Acoustic instruments have the power to soothe our eras but the digitally created sound can never even come close,’ observed Sheikh Sadi Khan.
Youngsters are not showing interest in learning to play the traditional musical instruments including sareng, madol, dhol, dotaara, khamak, sarinda and many others. The charm and sound of traditional acoustic instruments are disappearing fast from the music scene.
‘Nowadays anyone can be a singer. People are not intent on learning much. They pick up a few techniques and become a singer. This is not the way. In the previous years, strenuous preparations were made before recording and singing a single song, but now composing and singing songs have become a matter of few hours only,’ he explained.
However, he is hoping that the day will come when the condition will improve. He thinks the youngsters should seek suggestion from the veterans who are still alive.
Though Sheikh Sadi Khan is no longer a regular in the film industry, he has directed music for a number of playback songs in Harunur Rashid’s upcoming directorial venture Padmar Prem.
He composed the title song of the film ‘Bandhob’ directed by Sujon Barua. These two movies will be released soon.
Besides he is an honorable member of Bangladesh Film Censor Board and the vice president of Bangladesh Sangeet Parishad.
He is involved with Smritymoy Gaan Gulo where he and few other prominent veteran singers work on researching old Bengali songs. He is working on how to archive those songs. Alongside this, he is also working on different programmes at the moment named Prane Mone Ontore, Nobo Jagoron and few others for Bangladesh Television.
Photos by Abdullah Apu
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