September 6, 2009

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I first heard Sohini in Boston at an AMRA KOJON concert for Pahela Baishakh. I don’t remember the exact name of the song she sung, but I will never forget the raw passion of her voice. Her voice transplanted me to rural Bengal, to the baul folk songs, to the boat races on the mighty Padma. It awoke emotions and a feeling of being close to the land. I hope when you hear her songs today, you will also embark on your own emotional journey. Sohini – thank you for sharing your music and thoughts with us!    – Labiba   /  creativeBangladesh


ON MUSIC – Sohini Alam 

I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, mainly because my mother, Hiron Alam, was an accomplished vocalist and music teacher.  We used to sit together at home in London, while she taught me how to let my voice go as far and loud as it would. Sometimes, my recollections of those times are sweet. At other times, I remember how weary I was of her patience in holding one note down on the harmonium while waiting for me to get it pitch perfect. 

Back then, I itched to get out of music lessons. I used to slink out of classical lessons at every opportunity. Even after my mother died and my aunts took over my musical training in Bangladesh, I slipped away as often as I could get away with it. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the sessions with my family when my grandfather, aunts, uncle and cousins would gather to make music together. My maternal grandfather was the reason any of us did any music at all. I used to listen to him playing the harmonium and singing ragas, and he was superb. All his children were musically blessed, but the youngest of my aunts was able to venture furthest into music as a career. 

From childhood, I learned all kinds of songs, but my family being all about Nazrul Sangeet, I learned the most about that particular kind of music. I used to accompany my aunts to the Nazrul Institute, and we learned from the amazing Shudhin Das and Sohrab Hossain. At the time, I didn’t really grasp how fortunate I was just to be there. Of course, I only got to go because the two legends were teaching already well-known artistes in the genre. My aunts were two such artistes, and I was their “chaperone”. 

When my aunt, Jannat Ara, passed away, I lost my second music teacher. She had specialised exclusively in Nazrul Sangeet, and she taught me many of the ghazals and classical Nazrul songs that I sing to this day. My youngest aunt, Ferdous Ara, kept teaching me despite my resistance. Training was made easier because we all lived in the same house for as long as I lived in Bangladesh. I was lucky to have had more than the usual dose of musical training despite my efforts to sabotage it all, simply because of birth and circumstance. I don’t take it lightly any more. 

My musical inspiration comes from many places. In addition to the Bengali music at home, I grew up listening to The Beatles, Elvis and Hemanta on my father’s record player. Then came U2 and Queen on TV in the UK. After I moved to Bangladesh, my cousin, Ahir Alam, introduced me to the Doors. Then came Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam and so many more exceptional bands. I remember being entranced by the extraordinary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at an age when my friends had no idea who he was and did not understand my fascination with Qawwali music. That changed when the video for the Afreen Afreen remix came out. Suddenly, everyone was asking if I’d heard of him. 

Lyrics & music: SALIL CHOWDHURY
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As a child, I was never given a microphone when performing on stage because I was so loud. The older I got, the more I realised that my vocals were nothing like the generally accepted high-pitched South Asian style. There is a tendency to give women songs that are “meant” for women. It is a difficult attitude to change in the Indian subcontinent, but change is certainly taking place. 

I spent a long time away from music while I pursued my Bachelors and Masters degrees in the US. The only music I did then was during annual International Student programmes. After graduation, I moved to Boston and began singing with a group called Amra Kojon, led by the incomparable Mohitosh Talukder Taposh. With AK and Taps, I started singing again, and after moving back to London, I continued to sing with Drishtipat Creative. I checked out the Bangladeshi music scene in London and did a few shows on TV before deciding that I needed to work with a group of musicians on a regular basis to create the kind of sound I hear in my head when I sing certain songs. 

Lyrics & music: KAZI NAZRUL ISLAM
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Eventually, I met some truly gifted people, and as a result, I ended up singing with three different bands. Kishon Khan’s project, Lokkhi Terra, combines Afro-Cuban music with Bengali songs and features some fine musicians on instruments like trombone, piano and congas. AfterArt, with Sajib Azad is an electro-acoustic project while Khiyo is a purely acoustic band. Khiyo features the outstanding Oliver Weeks and Ben Hillyard of Moushumi Bhowmick’s band, Parapar, as well as a sarod player I cannot rate highly enough: Soumik Datta. 

I have incredible friends who come to my gigs and support my music. I have a family that gave me support and training that I did not want but needed. I know that now. I’m in full-time work mainly because I love my job. I manage a centre that assists disadvantaged youth, and my staff is brilliant. My day-job also means that I have the freedom to work only on musical projects that appeal to me. While this means that making music takes more time than usual, when the work is finally done, I think I can happily say that the wait was worth it.

Cover of a song from an old Bangla movie starring Uttam Kumar and Mala Sinha and sung by Geeta Dutt.
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To hear more songs from SOHINI ALAM and her bands, please visit the following:

Also, for more information on the band KHIYO, please visit their facebook fanpage at

image: #1, 4, & 5 – Arif Hafiz. #2 – SOHINI ALAM, family album. #3 – Alice Forbess.
graphic design & layout: Labiba Ali for creativeBangladesh.



11 Responses to “”

  1. Maher Khan Says:

    One of the most talented singers I’ve ever come across! I’ve possibly been around her all my life but only learnt about her skill recently! I’m just sad I didn’t know this before, but its a good thing. I needed to grow up before I could perform with The Sohini, and my my, what an experience it was! Amazing!!

    PS: Hey! I look good, for a change 😀

    • Sohini Alam Says:

      What do you mean you look good for a change, Maher? You almost always look good. And you didn’t know about my music because you were too little to be concerning yourself with boro apa-der gaan-bajna.

      Performing with you was brilliant. We have to do it again soon. Especially now that I get props just for sharing a stage with such a highly regarded guitar player! 🙂

  2. poetemaudit Says:

    Soulful/Passionate/Awe Inspiring. Music that one can easily relate to.

  3. Nadia Says:

    I got your link from Nitu’s facebook page. You have a wonderful voice: so full of life and melody. Keep it up!

  4. Anila Chowdhury Says:

    Ami tomar shobchee boro fan…. ufff ki durdanto gaw tumi. You’ve the vocal, the passion and most importantly the substance I see most of our generation musicians lack. I wish I could hear you again and again…. but apatoto wait kora chara upai nai 😦
    Wish you all the best Sohini dear.

  5. Sohini Alam Says:

    Thank you both very much!

  6. Muneera Says:

    you are always brilliant!

  7. Sohini Alam Says:

    Thank you, Anila and Mun Apa. Amar gaal gorom hoyey gesey (no, really).

  8. Rohini Says:

    I’ve been visiting this page again and again and listening to your music. It’s soulful and absolutely brilliant, and you know I’m always your biggest critic.
    Love you and miss you so very much!

  9. Ehab Says:

    Nice music but bad recording on the first song ?

  10. Sohini Alam Says:

    These are all unmastered demos, Ehab.

    Love you too, Rohi. 🙂

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