The country's band music icon Ayub Bachhu has indignantly said recently he would sell off all his guitars. They have been his prized possessions for long. Given the popular singer's dedication to music and his fabulously large following, this disaffection appears quite perplexing. But the band music superstar has cited reasons for this incensed decision. According to media reports, he has become highly disillusioned at the apparent disinterest of the sponsors in organising a training course or workshop for youths on guitar playing to be conducted by him. Ayub Bachhu himself is a brilliant and widely-famed guitarist, besides being a singer. He has lately been showing his willingness to organise special guitar courses for aspiring guitarists. To his utter bafflement, the singer eventually found no patron to back him financially in the project.
Young people in Dhaka and the country's other cities once used to attend guitar lessons in droves. Scores of guitar players came out of these sessions to enrich music troupes and band groups. What the celebrated singer has not uttered explicitly is music in general does not have the appeal for the traditional organisers like it had in the past. A bitter truth remains there between the lines: patrons of music are on the wane in the country.
In a different context, this disillusionment of Ayub Bachhu would have been shared by Karunamoy Goswami, had he not left us on June 30 after a brief illness. Late Goswami was a dedicated musicologist, an expert in the songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam, and early Bangla compositions like Toppa. He also specialised in the Indian and Western classical music. The dedication of the musician to Bengali songs, and music in general, reminds one of another musical stalwart of the land --- Waheedul Haque (1933-2007). Karunamoy Goswami was younger than Haque. He was born in 1942, and pursued his early life and secondary education in Mymensingh. After completing education at Dhaka University, he joined teaching at the English Department of a college in Narayanganj. Before death, he was engaged in teaching as professor at a private university in Dhaka. While Goswami published a number of research-based publications on music, Waheedul Haque proved his excellence in discussing the subject and helping refine the music taste of the younger generations through informal lectures. Both dedicated their careers to the uplift of Bangla music. Their goal was common, the paths were different. The passion for promoting pure music and a music culture in order to fight evil has brought them on a par. Waheedul Haque was highly erudite with an uncompromising bent of mind. To hundreds of his music-loving admirers, he eventually emerged as a guide to music appreciation, as well as its practice. Moreover, his cultural activism had amply found expression in his organising capability. Thus perhaps as part of the dictates of the modern history of East Bengal, later Bangladesh, he found himself among the creators of a watershed event. It emerged as the founding of the school and musical platform Chhayanaut in Dhaka in 1961. This organisation played a great role in making people in the then East Pakistan aware of their distinct ethnical identity and cultural heritage. Waheedul Haque's musical as well as cultural acumen was exceptional. It made him finally appear as one of the vanguards of the cultural movement engaged in preparing Bengalees for their War of Liberation.
Compared to Waheedul Haque, Karunamoy Goswami was reflective. He loved to remain absorbed in academic exercises. By nature solitude-loving and preferring to remain distant from all kinds of cultural activism, he preferred to delve into the wonderful world of Bangla music and its evolution. Identifying the poetic and musical genius of Kazi Nazrul Islam at one point of his career became his supreme passion. However, the researcher-musicologist had demonstrated his equal interest in the music of the other parts of the world. He loved to compare the treasures of Bangla music with that of the other regions in South Asia, and found the music of this area exceptionally rich in terms of variety and compositional quality. Years before his sudden demise, Karunamoy Goswami embarked on a great scholarly project: compiling a multivolume encyclopaedia of world music. The task was arduous and demanded enormous labour and involvement; the musicologist remained undaunted and vowed to go ahead with the challenging job. Although the project appeared massive to many, given his love for music in its most inspiring form, it went naturally with Goswami. Despite his outward apathy towards cultural activism the man of music was, however, fully aware of the great influence music exerts on man. To him, music carries the endless power to heal. Like Waheedul Haque, he also believed in music's unearthly capability of cleansing the mind.
Waheedul Haque loved to be in crowds. Due to his affinity with journalism and organisational activities, he enjoyed the company of the like-minded people. True to his reflective nature, Karunamoy Goswami loved to be engrossed in his well-guarded privacy. It had paid him off in abundance. Had he been engaged in an active public life, it would have robbed him of the concentration that immensely helped him keep his passion for music-related studies alive. That the death of Karunamoy Goswami has created a great void in the realm of understanding and appreciation of music needs no elaboration. The musicologist has departed at a time when the country's music and music culture is passing through critical times. Owing to the painful absence of institutional and private-level efforts to promote music, the local world of music has long fallen on bad times. A broad overview finds the country's music caught in an anarchic situation. What alarms a lot of people is the declining interest in music in general. Ayub Bachhu's decision to sell off his favourite guitars has not been triggered by any rashness. It resulted from a long scathing observation. Like many others, he has observed that instrumental music no longer carries much appeal for the local music-loving people. Instead they go for glitzy stage performance presented by the Western pop vocalists. Apart from YouTube, these are available through music videos telecast on the ubiquitous TV dish channels.
The passion for music as nurtured by Waheedul Haque and Karunamoy Goswami had been centred on preserving the purity of all kinds of Bangla music. Goswami fought for saving the original notations of Nazrul's songs. Due to the poet's peripatetic and unconventional lifestyle, lots of his songs got lost and underwent distortions at the hands of the singers of his time. The situation turned worse after Nazrul fell incurably ill. Like many admirers of the poet as well as experts on the varied genres of his literary output, Goswami had put in the best of his untiring efforts to save the songs of the poet from deviant enthusiasm. Besides his writings and endeavours aimed at preserving the rich heritage of the songs of the Bengal region, it is his absorption in the genius of Nazrul which will carve out a place for him in the academic exercises on Bangla music. He has left his task unfinished for others to complete it. Due to the political debates around Tagore sparked by the then Pakistani rulers in the 1960s, Waheedul Haque had to fight on for seeing the great Bengalee poet enshrined in the Bengali socio-cultural landscape in his entirety. The 'Tagore movement' that Haque pioneered in the then East Pakistan had clear political undertones. Unlike the star-crossed Nazrul, Tagore enjoyed a smooth sailing in Bangladesh. The great Kolkata-based institutional backing for Tagore's massive creative output helped the poet regain his firm place in East Bengal, later Bangladesh. Waheedul Haque and his contemporaries played the role of catalysts here.
The beauty of human existence attains its fullness with the touch of music, among other art forms. Although three different causes have piqued Waheedul Haque, Karunamoy Goswami and the only living figure among them --- Ayub Bachhu, we find in them one thing in common: their unpretentious love for music.