who is rocking Kolkata?

A Rock Fest in one form or another have become commonplace in Kolkata city cultural scene. From elaborate 12 hour long marathon Plug n Play concerts to Monsoon Madness – An Evening of Rock, we have seen it all in this city.

Rock fests to promote services, to push products, to add fillip to Fashion Shows.  Rock Fests to perk up Puja pandals, to liven up sarkari Gaan Mela (Government sponsored Music Festivals) or a book publishing event, we have had rock fests for a cause, to spread AIDS awareness, to raise funds for charity, for fostering Bangla on Banglabhasha Dibash. To lend glamour to a college social or to add dash of chic to an otherwise boring Alumni Association annual event in a school, rock fests have been used widely now, especially in the last five years 2004-2009.

From Anadabazar Patrika Group to Tara Bangla, to Radio for lunching a new FM channel, and early May there was a Boishakhi Rock Milan to usher in Bengali year circa 1411!

As for venues, they have been quite varied and wide ranging too. From Fort William, Saturday Club and Calcutta Club, the River Ganges, GD Birla Sabhaghar to neighbourhood makeshift bamboo platforms popularly called ‘maachas’ in places like Barasat, in the outskirts of the city to villages in North and South Bengal, engineering colleges to schools to corporates – rock has been everywhere.

How much is the demand for it?

Well, shows become sell-out within hours of publishing the ads. I mean by the time I have negotiated my way past the news headlines in my morning paper, located the ad and reached for the phone to call upthe outlet for tickets at 10 a.m. (which is when Kolkata is supposed to open shop), it is all gone! At least that is what they say. You would hear a rather curt and edgy voice firmly asserting, “Aar nei”.

Evidently, used to getting rocked in every sphere of their lives Kolkatans have taken to Rock as a natural course of events. With typical resistance to begin with, finally with great enthusiasm and fervour. Whatever Kolkatans decide to do, they usually do with lots of energy and passion. Hujugey Bangali loves to take it up and swing it when it suits them. So they have and the latest passion in town is Bangla Rock.

When Rock emerged as a significant musical force in the West in the fifties (roughly), it had a definite pattern, a very authentic social context. Eventually, artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Beatles established the genre as mainstream and classic.

Rock Music traditionally embodied the spirit of the times. It reflected all the changes language, technology and society underwent in the fifties and sixties’ America and Europe. It also became a medium of communicating force, strife, rebellion, boredom with status quo and standards and norms. It ushered in the great cultural revolution in the West, that changed everything about the Youth Culture: the way they lived, loved, dressed, entertained, or coped with disillusionment and crisis. It changed the language they spoke too.

So what is the scene in Kolkata? Who is rocking here? What about or what kind of Rock is it? To what extent is it the real thing, in terms of form, content, presentation, and attitude values and lifestyle projected?

“ You pick up an electric guitar and strum it loud enough, have psychedelic lights onstage, sport jeans and sneakers and a bandana on the head, beat the hell out of folks with racing, coursing sound of this gizmo called an octopad and you think you are rocking the world. Well, screaming your lungs outwith a guitar in your hands is not exactly Rocking. These kids seem to think that you can Rock if you are loud enough!” laments ace guitarist Amit Datta of Skinny Alley and obviously not quite happy with the scene.

“Rock”, he asserts, “is a way of life”.

Most musicians of his peer groupdo not believe there is much Rocking going on here. But then of the major crowd pullers like BHOOMI, CHANDRABINDOO, CACTUS and FOSSILS, only the last two claim to be doing Rock music.

So what have they done to claim the status of Rockers?

When confronted with the question Parikhit, the erstwhile manager of the band FOSSILS at first seemed bored with the question. And then in his typical staccato Bangla he fired: “Everything we do is different. Have you actually been to our shows? Ypu would have to come to our shows and see for yourself. Everything we do is so vitally, organically different from the established genre of Bengali Popular music. The presentation, lyrics, the sound, chord progression we choose to follow, the rhythm and even the language we use to communicate our feelings and ideas are all part of it”.

Fossils have introduced an element in the music that can be used to convey disgust, agony and angst of this generation in an idiom hitherto unheard of in Bangla Pop music and is totally of the times. Mors importantly from the sixteen year old to the thirty four year old Bengali technocrat can relate to it.

What Parikhit claims is corroborated by the industry. A young record company sales person re-iterates, “Their lyrics express a view point and feelings that a large section of the young people can relate to. They have felt it; they have seen it, as a result of which they have formed opinions, which the FOSSILS have managed to pick up somehow”.

The forty or fifty odd rupees you spend for a ticket to the shows is your ticket to another world in which the listeners and their favourite Bands revel in their moment of shared fantasies of romance and rebellion and loneliness and loss. This is perhaps what makes these shows exciting.

But is the Bangla they use in their lyrics innocent or easy to understand? Does the message get across to their target audience?

I get hold of Rupam Islam, the charming, rather fragile looking FOSSILS frontsman, lead singer and lyricist. This is what he said, “I have always spoken the truth about what I felt. I have consciously never attempted to be abstract. I suffered. The effort to come to terms with the realities of my own life, intense feelings of loneliness at a certain stage of my life when I had no friends at all, and I had wanted to scream. Instead, I wrote about it…As for my idea of Rock, I personally believe it is about suffering, pain, intense feelings”.

Consequently, some of his songs like “Ei Akla Ghar Amar Desh” (This lonely room is my Country) do come alive palpably being informed with the vitality of very intense and personal experiences. “Bishakto Manush” (The Poisonous Man), Nemesis or even Hashnuhana poignantly captures this generation’s fears and insecurities.

(to be contd)

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