When music feeds a city’s soul, it must be Kolkata.
Park street, to be more precise.
For where else would Linkin Park, Nirvana, Hoobastank, Maroon5 or Pink Floyd blend with Usha Uthup, Louiz Banks, Nondon Bagchi, Bertie D’Silva, Sidhu Ray, Rishi Chanda, Neel Adhikari… the list goes on.
Dubai-based Bengali music ensemble Park Street Band (PSB) has been at the forefront of reviving that Bengali band nostalgia right here (and also in India!) in the past couple of years. Their signature event Park Street Brunch sees groups of Bongs (and non-Bengalis, non-Indians as well) swaying to some sensational music and favourite food every season.
The fourth edition of PSB in Dubai earlier this month saw nostalgia reloaded with an even bigger version of those Bengali band classics – think Nilanjana, Holud Pakhi, Baranday Roddur to Tumi Ele Na – and more during a six-hour concert.
While the vibrant culture and sheer diversity of the music scene in Dubai is by itself a perfect ode to the Year of Tolerance in the UAE, what specifically triggered the need for a Bengali band here?
“The feeling of wanting to create something for the community here in Dubai and the UAE has been silently brewing for many years,” Ishan SenSarma, band member of PSB, told Gulf News during a chat at our office. “Individually we have known of this potential but collectively we didn’t know what to do about it. We were asked to sing Bengali songs at many house parties in Dubai… The knowledge that the love exists, the demand exists and the nostalgia exists was there. We were doing English and Hindi music with other bands. Eventually there came a time when we realized the energy should go mainstream – and it’s been a couple of very good years since,” he said.
Watch what team PSB said during their visit to Gulf News earlier this month:
The PSB4 concert itself was unique in that it transported you back to an intensely personal era when Dylan, Knopfler and Jibanando Das mingled with memories of Someplace Else and Nazrul Mancha. The happiness, the heartbreak and the memories of Kolkata in the 1980s and 90s.
While the phenomenon of “music nostalgia” has been scientifically proven and is allegedly associated with our premotor and parietal cortex and such other neurological accidents beyond the comprehension of us mortals, I am certain Bengali band music opens the floodgates of the heart rather than the brain!
That’s precisely what happened with an interactive version of Prithibita Naki Choto Hote Hote at PSB4.
And just when the crowd thought that they were on Cloud Nine, Rishi Chanda happened!
With several chart toppers under his belt and several upcoming big banner releases, Chanda is a legend of Bengali music. And once upon a not too distant time, he was the face of Bangla band Parash Pathor, and thereafter moved over to the Kolkata-based rock band Hip Pocket. The magic of his melodies and unbelievable chords during the PSB concert mingled with some manic music to create true euphoria. The icing on the cake was his jamming with fellow Parash Pathor bandmate and drummer Chirodeep Lahiri – it was truly yesterday once more.
Watch Rishi Chanda on the lead guitar with the rest of team PSB on this version of Ashay Ashay Boshe Achi (aka Telephone by Mohiner Ghoraguli):
While the repertoire that PSB brings to music connoisseur’s table is vast, what were their key musical influences while growing up?
For Ishan, the germinal impulse for joining the Bengali band-wagon came after listening to the band Cactus, and fellow band member Mitin Chakraborty agreed. “Cactus, with Baji-da [Sibaji Paul] drumming have left their mark on Bengali music. I was also heavily influenced by a wide variety of other music such as African and soul,” Mitin said.
For Cmith Sarkar, it was Neil Diamond and other legends who served as his call to music, but the journey was a bit different for fellow band member Rohit Gupta. “Inspiration is what you hear and see when growing up. My family was very musically inclined with the likes of [legendary musician and composer] Dhananjay Bhattacharya to [Contemporary Bangla singer] Nachiketa… The influence of bands like Parashpathor, Chandrabindu and Fossils came later,” he said.
Listen to Team PSB’s tribute to Bengali music, sung extempore at the Gulf News office:
So does Bengali rock and music in general have a future in a world where most millennial expats are struggling to speak in their native language?
“Music in Bengali has always got a future – but it depends on how we portray it. It’s not pop, rock or the specific genre that matters, but how we reach out to the mass audience… Bengali music will never die – we have kept Tagore and Kishore Kumar alive still,” said Rohit.
According to Mitin, the future of bands through Bengali music is the key, while Ishan was very optimistic about the road ahead.
“In the past there was a clear demarcation between film and band music. We all know that there’s more money in films – but today somehow those two parts are meeting. So Bengali band music has a future, but more importantly they have a future commercially, since film directors and music directors are hiring bands today to write music for films,” Ishan said.
With so much of adoration and hope for the future, I wondered (as any self-righteous Bong would!) what intrinsically makes Kolkata’s connection with music so special?
Here is what team PSB said:
While PSB is a five man musical journey, it already feels like they have traversed a million miles together, making their dreams merge with the weight of our musical expectations.
Grooving to the beat of Park Street nostalgia on a lazy Friday afternoon with legends such as Rishi Chanda and Chirodeep Lahiri hanging around in the crowd, was a dream-come-true for many PSB fans.
Here’s to an encore soon!