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The BBC's David Chazan reports
"This kind of youth culture could be a powerful force for change"
 real 28k

Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 13:44 GMT
Bangladesh singer rocks traditionalists
Rock group
Rock music will make Tagore more accessible, some say
By David Chazan in Dhaka

A rock singer in Bangladesh has created controversy by setting the works of the Nobel prize-winning poet and songwriter, Rabindranath Tagore, to what he calls jazz fusion music.

Tagore is considered the national poet of both Bangladesh and India, and is held in near-religious reverence by many Bangladeshis.

The generation I play music for have grown up with the same kind of Tagore music as my grandfathers heard

Rock singer Mac
The rock singer, Maqsoodul Haque or Mac, says he wants to make Tagore more accessible to young people, but traditionalists accuse him of vulgarising Bengali culture, saying he should be banned from performing Tagore to modern music.

Troubled private life

Mac has long been labelled one of rock's bad boys, and his private life has been troubled.

Mac: Labelled one of rock's bad boys
But this is what the controversy is all about.

"The generation I play music for hardly has any time for Tagore music," he says.

"They've grown up with the same kind of Tagore music that my grandfathers heard."

"An artist has the right to interpret his dream, and my dream was that in the year 2010 Tagore music will be heard in this format."

Conservative reaction

There were calls for Mac to be banned from performing on state-run television.

He had never expected such an extreme reaction, even in a conservative society.

Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore: Revered by all
But not everyone agrees.

Some of those learning to sing Tagore the traditional way said they had no objection to more modern interpretations.

They said it was a question of personal taste.

But traditionalists like Wahidul Haque believe there is only one way to perform Tagore.

"Whatever the author has fashioned, the performer must render that and only that," he says.

Tackling issues

You might expect rock fans would support Mac. But not all do.

Singing group
Singing Tagore the traditional way
"I don't think it being tampered or mixed up with rock music will do any justice to it," one fan told me.

But another fan said that young people had little time for poetry and setting Tagore's words to rock music would bring his words closer to them.

Some rock stars see themselves as inheriting the great tradition of the Bengali baul singers, ascetic travelling mystics who were never afraid to challenge convention.

And a lot of the songs deal with social, environmental and economic problems.

Rock musisicians say this kind of youth culture could be a powerful force for change.

And their music touches the urban youth, those most likely to shape the future of Bangladesh.

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23 Aug 99 |  South Asia
Bangladesh angry over Time report
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