TWO VETERANS OF BANGLADESH’S MUSIC SCENE, BASSBABA SUMON OF AURTHOHIN AND ZOHAD OF NEMESIS, TALK TO ICE TODAY ABOUT THE CHANGING DYNAMICS OF THE INDUSTRY AND THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN CATALYSING IT.
The music scene in Bangladesh has undergone a drastic transformation in the last three decades. From a thriving underground music scene to millions of views on music videos on Youtube, a lot has changed. Technology and social media have played a huge role in this shift. It is now easier than ever to record songs and share one’s music with the rest of the world. Using their smartphones, musicians can interact with fans, and music lovers can stream songs from thousands of different bands and artists within seconds.
A man who needs no introduction, Saidus Salehin Khaled Sumon aka Bassbaba Sumon has been in the Bangladeshi music scene for three decades. Vocalist, bass player and producer of Aurthohin, Bassbaba is beloved by fans not only for his talent but also for his willpower and strength of character.
You were the first Bangladeshi musician to be featured in Bassplayer magazine. How did it feel to represent Bangladesh in such a prominent international publication?
It was a huge honour. When we were young, we used to look for books and magazines on guitar. There used to be a number of bookshops in Nilket where we used to go and look for issues of ‘Bass Player’ magazine. Sometimes, we would find a secondhand issue, and five of us would chip in to buy it. Years later, when world-renowned bass players were interviewed in that magazine, they would sometimes mention me thanks to our collaborations. I had never imagined that there would be a full-page interview of me in ‘Bass Player Magazine.’ My interview came out in the June issue, and this was a huge Eid gift for me. This was a huge achievement for me and my fellow Bangladeshi musicians.
Before returning to the industry, you were on a 3-year hiatus. How does it feel being back on the saddle? What is the most rewarding aspect of being a professional musician?
Firstly, I do not consider myself to be a professional musician. Music is my passion. I was very unwell for three and a half years. While I was recovering, my band members and I decided that we would do two farewell concerts and then end all our activities. However, when I looked through social media and felt the love from my fans, I was overwhelmed. Each and every day, there were messages saying “Sumon Bhai, come back, “Sumon Bhai, stay strong” or “Sumon Bhai, we are with you”. I told my band members that we had to do a comeback concert instead. I felt unconditional love from my fans, which is not something that can be bought, but has to be earned. When I was back on stage, I cried from the emotions.
I FELT UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FROM MY FANS, WHICH IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE BOUGHT, BUT HAS TO BE EARNED. WHEN I WAS BACK ON STAGE, I CRIED FROM THE EMOTIONS.
You’ve been around for more than two decades now. How has the music industry changed since you first started?
I started playing music when I was seven years old, and I first joined a mainstream band in 1990. The music scenario was totally different then. We made money from concerts that we did and albums we released. We had to hire studios, whereas everyone has their own studio at home now. In the past, we actually listened to music. When I was young, I bought a Miles album on cassette tape for Tk 35. When I took it home, I knew that for the next one hour, all I would do was listen to the album, no matter what. Now, listening to music is something we do on the side when we drive or scroll through our newsfeed. Also, now, even if I have a song ready, I can’t just release it because I have to make a music video, which is a very lengthy process.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra has been your companion for some time now. How does it aid you in your daily life?
My whole life is on my phone. I go to the office once a week, and the other days, I work from home. I can do everything on my phone: texting, emailing, meetings, etc. I have never used an android phone as smooth as the Samsung S22 Ultra. The phone’s S pen is very convenient for me. I write songs whenever they come into my head. All my life, I wrote lyrics using pen and paper, but now I write them on my phone. I am very happy with this phone and will continue using it until perhaps the S23 Ultra comes out.
Starting from the famous underground music era of Bangladesh to becoming one of the country’s famous musicians, Zohad Reza Chowdhury, vocalist of Nemesis, has come a long way. An incredibly gifted individual with a heart-throbbing presence, he truly embodies the image of a true rock star.
Even a decade ago, the Bangladeshi underground music scene was thriving. Do you agree with the notion that the hype around the underground music scene has waned down? If yes, why?
Yes, the hype has waned down a little bit, thanks to social media. Now, people heavily rely on getting famous on Facebook or Youtube. When I was younger, there were music scenes. When we started, Dhanmondi was thriving, particularly the Russian Cultural Center. My first show was at the Indian Cultural Center, where, in fact, Aurthohin was playing, and we were an opening band. I feel like the underground scene shifts its location from time to time. From Dhanmondi, it suddenly shifted to Gulshan, where there were these rock shows inside cafes, and after that, the scene moved to Uttara. An underground scene existed in a location for some time, and lots of people went every week to see the same bands. However, after social media exploded, it is so easy to just post a video that many bands no longer feel the need to perform at live shows. You have to take into account security regulations which make it very difficult to get all the necessary permissions for a show. I miss the underground scene, and I would do anything to go back. Every week, we had a show. We saw the crowd grow in front of our own eyes, from 25 people to 50, 100, 200 people and more.
Has social media changed the music scenario at all?
For sure. Nobody buys CDs anymore. Everything is now on Spotify, Youtube and Facebook. Before social media, only a handful of bands had albums coming out, and people would look forward to that. Now, you see 50 bands in half an hour when you scroll through your newsfeed. Because of this, a lot of good songs nowadays don’t get the attention they deserve. I’ve come across bands that have more subscribers than we do and have one or two million views on their songs but I’ve never heard of them. This might be due to my ignorance, or it might be because they’re so dependent on social media that they have no live music. It’s really bizarre and eye-opening.
WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE WORLD WAS GOING TO BE LIKE AFTER THE PANDEMIC, SO BEING ABLE TO DO WHAT WE DO WAS AMAZING.
How did it feel to be performing again in front of an enormous live audience after a 2-year break because of the pandemic?
It felt fantastic. We had no idea what the world was going to be like after the pandemic, so being able to do what we do was amazing. I felt the way I did when I performed the first time. I feel excited every time I go on stage, thinking about what the show will be like that day, how the crowd will react, and how the performance will be.
You’ve been using the new Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus for a while now. What’s your favourite feature?
I love the camera, it’s amazing. It makes me look so much better (laugh), just kidding! I take photos of everything now. I started taking pictures of my family, and I make them sit down and pose so that I can take a picture. These days, I even like taking pictures of food. There’s a separate ‘food’ setting in the camera which focuses on the food and makes it look awesome. With selfies, the camera automatically adjusts, which is very nice. We travel a lot, my wife and I, and we’re going to Switzerland soon. I’m really looking forward to taking pictures there.