Home beckons Bangla rock’s Assamese icon- Bangladesh-born Maqsoodul Haque hopes to reconnect with ghor through album in native tongue
RITU PARNA DUTTA
Calcutta, Sept. 10: His blog describes him as a “usual guy with unusual interests” but that’s Maqsoodul Haque’s modesty speaking.
It’s actually difficult to say which aspect of Maqsoodul, aka Mac, conforms to the description “usual”. That he is an Assamese Bangladeshi, that he enjoys cult status as one of the pioneers of Bangla rock, jazz and fusion music, that he was jailed a few years ago for trying to “jazz-ify” Rabindranath Tagore’s music or that he is aiming to be the first Bangladeshi musician to release an album of Assamese songs.
A member of the little-known, close-knit community of “Bangladeshi Auhomias”, this 48-year-old man of many parts has long lived a life of adulation in his country, all the while pining for his roots. “I have a large, extended family back in Assam and it is as if I am away from home. But Bangladesh is also my home. If there’s a contradiction anywhere, I can’t see it,” he told The Telegraph in an email, coincidentally on the very day an Assam-based music producer contacted him to suggest that he record an album in Assamese.
Dhaka-based Mac’s imposing discography of Bangla music befits his reputation as a lyricist, composer and singer. His musical career began in 1976 with Feedback, then a little-known band that played cover versions of Western pop, rock and reggae at the erstwhile Hotel Intercontinental (now Dhaka Sheraton) in the Bangladesh capital. Feedback recorded its first Bangla album, Ullash (Euphoria), in 1987 and a series of hits followed.
Between 1990 and 1992, the band recorded Joar, a compilation of their best songs at the HMV/EMI studios of the Gramophone Company of India Ltd in Calcutta. “I travelled several times to the beautiful city and the album hit music shelves in India in January 1992. The late Salil Choudhury released the album. We did several gigs at Nicco Park, Calcutta Swimming Club, Kala Mandir and Jadavpur University,” Mac recalled. But it’s after a break of six years that Mac is coming up with an album, his 10th and one that reflects the artiste’s changing views on life and music. “My new album is titled mA’AREFOTER pOTAKA, containing 10 songs in the tradition of mA’AREFOT, which signifies the four stages or ways to search for God. It will have elements of kirtan, baul, fakiri and a few other forms from our rural heritage,” he said.
A risk analyst by profession, Mac’s antecedents are in Jorhat district of Upper Assam. His parents migrated to then East Pakistan along with scores of other Assamese Muslims post-Partition and, by all accounts, did very well for themselves. His uncle Ansari went on to become a pilot in the Pakistan Air Force and one of the country’s highly-decorated soldiers.
Assam has never been far from Mac’s heart, though visiting “Ai Matri (motherland)” hasn’t been as easy he would have liked it to be. “In the good old days, I never ever felt that Assam was some faraway land because we used to make it to ghorole (home) by train and my uncles or some other relatives would be around. That was until around 1965, when everything changed…”
Known for his radical views, which he expresses through columns in various publications and websites, Mac believes an Assamese album would be the best way to re-establish his links with Assam. “I want to be the Bob Marley of the Northeast! Is that an insane thought or is it too difficult to dream? I want to stop the war at home, I want the world to hear our side of the story, I want to let them know that we bleed as much as Iraq,” he said.
So will his planned Assamese album be a social and political commentary?
“I am happy to note that someone has actually offered to finance and market (in Assam) a full album of my Assamese songs that I have to produce. I naturally have set the precondition that I be able to traverse Assam while I am recording. Thinking of Jyotiprasad (Agarwala), Chaitanyadeb, Srimanta Sankaradev, zikirs of Ajaan Fakir and maybe even some tea garden songs and Buddhist hymns.”
For Mac, the greatest source of joy is his 21-year-old drummer son Dio’s shared love of music. “My wife passed away a few years ago. So now my son and I live our lives together and it’s a great pleasure because my son shares my love and passion for music. He has played in nine out of the 10 tracks in my new album.”