Mustafa Zaman Abbasi is a multifaceted talent. He is at once a musicologist, singer, litterateur, teacher, and more. For his contribution to music he has been honoured with several awards, including Ekushey Padak, Apex Foundation Award, Natyasobha Award, Bengal Centenary Award, Abbasuddin Gold Medal. For decades, he has been working for preserving and archiving songs with their original tunes and lyrics. Karoby Shihab from New Age has recently talked with the music maestro to peer into his glorious life.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi was born in a pristine village named Balarampur of Cooch Behar in West Bengal, India, on December 8, 1937. He was the youngest son of the couple Abbasuddin Ahmed and Lutfunnesa. He was given a nick name — Tulu.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi spent his early years in a beautiful village environment. While talking about his childhood, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi became nostalgic. Natural beauty had such a strong presence at Balarampur, his birthplace, the appeal of which still has not worn out.
His ancestors, including his father Abbasuddin Ahmed and his grandfather Zafar Ali Ahmed, were also born in the same village. In his book ‘Abbasuddin Manush O Shilpi’, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi dedicated almost a hundred pages to the beauty and the lives of his ancestral village.
‘I vividly remember the beauty of our village filled with vegetation. We could see the peaks of Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga from afar in the morning,’ Abbasi remembered.
As a child, Abbasi was very restless but obedient to his parents as well.
‘I used to swim in the river Kajiani with my friends. Climbing trees, fishing, playing in fields were my favourite activities. I loved rain a lot. I was good in sports as well. Though I was too naughty, I used to listen to my parents’ advices. I was good as a student too,’ said Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, harking back to his childhood days.
As the son of legendary folk singer and composer Abbasuddin Ahmed, Abbasi started feeling intense love for music when he was just a little boy. Besides, Balarampur was known for its bhawaiya songs and Abbasuddin Ahmed was famous there for his singing skill.
At that time, other noted singers and ustads used to visit their home and Abbasi had the chance to enjoy the convergences of the musical maestros at the comfort of their home.
One of the most celebrated singers of Bangladesh, Ferdausi Rahman is his sister. The 10th chief justice of Bangladesh Mustafa Kamal was their elder brother, who chose the profession of their grandfather Zafar Ali Khan. They had another brother named Mustafa Zamal who died at the age of six only.
Ferdausi and Abbasi both followed on their father’s footsteps and contributed substantially to the music scene of Bangladesh, enriching it through their unique singing styles and creative energy.
Abbasi started his schooling at Jenkins School of Cooch Behar. At one point in 1945, the family shifted to Kolkata. There Abbasi studied in Modern School in Park Circus.
Later during the partition of India in 1947, Abbasuddin Ahmed’s family moved to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
‘I was very young at that time. We came to Dhaka and started living in a small house. Later we shifted to Purana Paltan,’ said Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, the son who would also make a name singing the variety of rural genres of songs.
However, he was just a 10-year-old child at that time. He got admission in Saint Gregory School in Dhaka. Besides, his father Abbasuddin Ahmed took the children to professional trainers to teach the basics of music as well as classical genres.
Ustad Abdul Ghafoor Khan used to train the siblings.
Gagen Chakrabarty, Yousuf Khan Quraishi, Kader Jamiri, Nazakat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan and other noted giants of classical music trained Abbasi.
Additionally, Abbasi learnt classical and other forms of music for 12 years from ustad Munshi Raisuddin Khan.
‘My father was very serious about his children’s lessons in singing. He used to supervise when Ferdausi and I used to rehearse,’ said Mustafa Zaman Abbasi.
Young Abbasi studied at Dhaka College and National Defence College and later in the University of Dhaka. He was a student of history. As he was a bright student, he was a scholarship holder in his student life.
In 1956, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi became a listed singer of radio. On the other hand, Abbasi was active in cultural events at the university. He acted in few stage plays as well.
He had days of cultural activism behind him. In 1949, he acted in the radio drama Merchant of Venice directed by Abdul Matin. Besides, he used to perform in different programmes.
In 1957, Abbasi and Ferdausi went to Karachi as delegates from East Pakistan. There he recorded songs for the first time.
‘I recorded four songs: “O mon majhire kon Ghate bhhirabi nao”, “Bhalobeshe dili eto jala nithur kalare”, “O dhon mor kanaiyare and “Kothor khutor dotara”. Kanailal Shil played dotara while I recorded my songs,’ said Abbasi, talking about his first record.
After the release of his songs, he came under the spotlight and received huge appreciation from the listeners.
Over the next five decades Abbasi would sing song in radio and become the quintessential singer whose take on folk songs would leave a lasting impression on the public consciousness.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi’s horizon would soon begin to expand. He also started to work as a playback singer.
‘Aaseeya’ was the first film where Abbasi rendered his voice. He lent his voice to ‘Dewar kache megh meghali’. Later he worked in a few more films. He sang duet song with his sister Ferdausi Rahman in Subhash Dutta’s film ‘Shutarang’. The song ‘Chad baka jani’ became a super hit among the masses. He sang in seven of eight films he became engaged with.
Filmmaker Ehtesham wanted Mustafa Zaman Abbasi to act in one of his films but he refused. He concentrated on music — his area of expertise.
Abbasi has performed in over 25 countries and represented bhatiali, bichchhed songs, bhawaiya, Nazrul Geeti and others.
Besides, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi used to perform folk songs, including Bhatiali, Marfati, Murshidi, Bhawaiya, Jari, Shari and others from the beginning of Pakistan Television, now BTV.
He devoted his life to music. In 1964, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi invited around 10 baul singers from Kushtia including Khodabaksh Biswas, Jonab Ali Mallick, Jharu Shah and others.
Later Abbasi recorded around 300 songs of Lalon Shah with the original tune under the able supervision by Professor Muhammad Mansuruddin.
Before 1964, singers used to sing Lalon songs in marfati and murshidi tune. Mustafa Zaman Abbasi’s effort changed that. The fact that he preserved the original tunes left an impact on how Lalon songs are sung in the urban spaces. His initiative once again brought the real charm of Lalon back in vogue.
‘I have always wanted to form a folklore institute in Bangladesh. I felt the urge to preserve the actual tunes,’ said Abbasi, whose dream is yet to come true.
In the newly independent country, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi approached singing with renewed zest. Apart from performing, he directed programmes in BTV, namely ‘Bhora Nodir Bake’, ‘Loukik Bangla’, ‘Amar Thikana’ and others. ‘Bhora Nodir Bake’ was a tremendous hit since it struck a chord with the viewers. It used to air once every month.
BTV, meanwhile, has aired the Bengali meaning of azan recited by Abbasi.
To make a living, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi has worked in several work places in different positions. In 1961, he started his job life at a company named Zafar Ibrahim which was in Karachi. He worked there for six months. Later he joined in as assistant manager in Dhaka Hisense. He got promoted as general manager and left the job in 1972. Mustafa Zaman Abbasi went on to establish his own company named Trade Point Limited.
He has worked as a professor as well. In 2012, Abbasi joined the Independent University of Bangladesh and he formed Kazi Nazrul Islam and Abbasuddin Ahmed Research and Study Centre there.
There he taught students on culture and heritage without excluding the point of view of the masses.
‘I enjoyed teaching. Students used to love me as if I was their grandparent. I was more than a teacher to them. But I felt upset whenever I found that the young generation don’t know much about poetry or culture,’ said Abbasi, reflecting on his experience as a professor.
Abbasi held a few other important positions as well.
He was the member of Bangladesh Film Censor Board for four years. As a part of his duty he watched over three hundred films. He was the president of the Bangladesh National Committee of music which is taken care of by UNESCO. He held the position for 11 years.
He has been archiving thousands of songs as the director and collector of Folk Music Research Group.
He was the director general of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy for a certain period. Additionally, in 1977, he was the president of Rotary Club of Dhaka. He was the Rotary District Governor in 1991.
Apart from the long career, he always found time for writing books and columns.
For two decades Mustafa Zaman Abbasi has been writing books over diverse topics. He has written over 60 books till date.
‘I was inspired by my father. He has written his autobiography named “Amar Shilpi Jiboner Kotha”. The book has kept him alive till now. I thought I would follow on his footsteps. Besides, my father told me that if I ever start writing, I must write something on our prophet,’ Abbasi shared in a candid conversation.
Besides, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi’s mother Lutfunnesa wrote three books titled ‘Shesh Bikaler Alo’, ‘Kichu Phul Kichu Shmrity’ and ‘Shomoy Kotha Bole’.
Among his books ‘Muhammader Naam’, ‘Japan: Shurjo Utheche Jekhane’, ‘Puribo Ekaki’, Kaljanir Dheu’, Abbasuddiner Gaan’, ‘Imamer Shubho Drishty’ and more are significant.
Abbasi has translated the Holy Quran as well. Besides, he has written books on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi has written books to preserve songs and he brought out the accurate history of different forms of music in his books. For the connection between Abbasuddin Ahmed and Kazi Nazrul Islam, Abbasi has written several books on the national poet and he has put emphasis on Nazrul Geeti.
He has written fictions too. Of late he is working on a translation book named ‘Anando Rohossher Sondhane’.
‘I am working on a book by Ibn Arabi. I am going through a lot of research works as knowing the actual meaning of an Arabic word is tough enough. It will take a lot of time to be finish,’ said Abbasi about his future project.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi now lives in a house at Gulshan 2 with his wife Asma Abbasi. They got married on January 20, 1963. The couple has passed 57 years together. Asma Abbasi is an educationalist and a writer.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi has written a book on his wife named ‘Jibon Nodir Bake’.
What is the mantra of successful marriage life? Abbasi has a ready answer.
‘We are together for about six decades now. We met each other when we were university students. The time was different. Not like present time. Now people have technology in their hands and lots of options around. That is why they give up hope easily. It is like if they let someone go, somebody else will be there for them. This is the reason why the rate of divorce is increasing,’ he said.
Abbasi couple has two daughters Samira Abbasi and Sharmini Abbasi. Samira Abbasi is a researcher of folk songs, Nazrul Geeti and modern songs. Apart from researching, she is a singer as well. Now she lives in America. Younger daughter Sharmini Abbasi is a lawyer. She also practices music and like her parents also writes.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi is now in his 80s. He is still healthy and fit enough to move on his own.
‘I am very much grateful to almighty Allah. I am a devoted Muslim. My morning starts with the Fajr prayer. I try to go to mosque for performing my prayer more often,’ he said.
Does he has any suggestion or advice for the young generation?
‘I found that young people don’t read books anymore. It became worse after Humayun Ahmed died. I would request the parents to encourage their children to read books. Gaining knowledge makes a human mind more powerful,’ he observed.
‘I wonder why people don’t keep books at home. They have expensive furniture but no books. I think the collection of good books represents the intellectual height,’ Abbasi added.
‘Besides, the texts and contemporary books, youngsters should read books that are written on history and religion, Abbasi suggested. People should search for the meaning of life,’ he added.
Mustafa Zaman Abbasi ended the interview with a simple philosophy of life: ‘Neither wealth, nor the career can bring peace in life. Being satisfied and loving others can lead to purity.’
Photos by Sony Ramany
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