Music of Bangladesh

Overview of Music of Bangladesh

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Bangladesh is traditionally very rich in its musical heritage. From the ancient times, music documented the lives of the people and was widely patronized by the rulers.
Bangla music in ancient times was mostly linked to prayer. Due to the immense influence of Hindu mythology, most folk songs are related to some sort of praise of the gods and their creation. Songs were associated with particular groups of people, such as fishermen, cart-drivers, hermits and so on. Most songs were based on classical themes.
Modernisation of Bangla music occurred at different times and most of these modernisation processes happened independently of western influence. Most notable of these changes were:

  • Popularity of folk music of Sufi genres: introduction of non-Hindu notions and philosophy in music
  • Works of Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Laureate poet: introduction of variations of classical music to music
  • Works of Kazi Nazrul Islam: introduction of complicated musical composition and use of music as a revolutionary tool
  • Modernisation of folk music: bringing folk music into mainstream
    • Fusion work: fusion of traditional music with electronic instruments and Western work to revitalise and re-popularise Bangla music in a society increasingly overwhelmed by the West

  • Rabindranath Tagore wrote thousands of songs that are cherished even today. A famous writer of Bengal whose music was very popular in Bangladesh is Kazi Nazrul Islam. Lalon Fokir is a popular Bangladeshi mystic poet, famous for his spiritual tunes.

    Bangla classical, like classical music in the rest of the Indian sub-continent, is based on modes called ragas (rag, in Bangla). All traditional Bangla music was based on classical music or on its variations.
    Some of the most talented classical musicians of the sub-continent come from Bangladesh including Ustad Allauddin Khan.

    Rabindra sangeet:
    Rabindra sangeet is one of the best-known genres of Bangla music outside Bengal. The main origin of Rabindra sangeet is from the works of Nobel laureate poet, novelist and play writer, Rabindranath Tagore. (Rabindra sangeet literally means music of Rabindra).
    Rabindra sangeet itself is broadly classified into few sub-genres:
    1. puja porjai (prayer songs)
    2. prem porjai (love songs) [some argue prem porjai is actually a part of puja porjai]
    3. bichitra porjai (variety songs)
    4. swadesh porjai (patriotic songs)
    5. (seasonal songs)

    All categories are tied by a common theme of philosophy and love. Tagore also composed most of the songs himself. Hence, a common compositional similarity is visible. All songs are based on minor variations of Sub-continental musical modes or ragas. On the other hand some songs are fundamental creation of Tagore. Also he has composed some songs based on European music. He learned about western music while living in England for about 1 year 5 months during his first visit in the year of 1878 at the age of 17. After return from England he composed a music drama "Balmikiprotiva". After grand success of this he composed another musical drama "Kalmrigoya" in few years. Both of these contain songs based on western music. We don't see any western based songs after the age of 33. Rabindranath went to England second time in 1882. However, he only stayed there a month or two. At this time he showed less interest in western music. From 1882 until 1885 he only composed 3 songs with flavour of European music. Tagore used ragaas while composing these songs as such anyone can identify them as rabindra sangeet.
    Rabindra sangeet forms an integral part of almost any Bengali cultural festival and is seen as one of the most important parts of Bengali cultural heritage. These songs have also been used in several movies, both in Bengali and non-Bengali cinema. The national anthems of both Bangladesh and India are Rabindra sangeets; these are "Amar Shonar Bangla" (Oh My Precious Bengal, the melody is based on a folk tune by Gogon Harkara) and "Jana Gana Mana" (Ruler of the Minds of All People, written in an older form of Bangla, closer to Sanskrit, that can be readily re-interpreted in almost all Indian languages) respectively.
    In Bangladesh, until recently, Rabindra sangeet has practically been synonymous with two names: Rezwana Chowdhury Banya and Sadi Mohammad.

    Nazrul Geeti
    Nazrul geeti, literally meaning "music of Nazrul", are the works of Kazi Nazrul Islam, national poet of Bangladesh and active revolutionary during Indian independence movement.
    Unlike Rabindra sangeets mentioned above, Nazrul geetis incorporate revolutionary notions as well as more spiritual and philosophical themes. Islam used his music as a major way of disseminating his revolutionary notions, mainly by the use of strong words and powerful, but catchy, tunes. Among the revolutionary songs, Karar Oi Louho Kopat (Prison-doors of Steel) is best known and has been used several movies - especially those made during the pre-independence period of Bangladesh.
    Islam also incorporated influences from Western India. He played an active role in carrying out a fusion between Western Indian ghazals and traditional Bengali classical music. (Ghazals are poems in Urdu presented with a semi-classical tune, popular in Western India.) Nazrul geetis that do not incorporate themes of protest essentially form what is now called Bangla ghazal. The music involves variation on ragas (modes) along with complicated timing based almost entirely on vocal work and complex structure.
    Due to Islam's revolutionary nature and lifestyle, Nazrul geeti was not mainstream for a very long time (and possibly still is not as commercially promoted as Rabindra sangeet). Bangladeshi singer and composer, Firoza Begum, played a very big role in popularising Nazrul geeti in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. Sohorab Hossain also played a crucial role in making Nazrul geeti mainstream.

    Bangla folk music has a long history. Several people contributed to what has become one of the most important musical influences in lives of Bengalis on both sides of the (West Bengal-Bangladesh) border. Among these are Lalon Fokir, Hason Raja and Ramesh Shill. Abbas Uddin was a key player in popularising folk music later on.
    Folk music can clearly be distinguished and classified into several sub-genres:
    1. Baul: mainly inspired by Lalon Fokir and his Sufi way of living and almost exclusively performed by hermits who have adopted such (Sufi) life style
    2. Bhandari: devotional music from the South (mainly Chittagong)
    3. Bhatiali: music of fishermen and boatman, almost always tied by a common raga (mode), sung solo
    4. Bhawaiya: song of bullock-cart drivers of the North (Rangpur)
    5. Gajir geet: tradition song from the North (Rangpur)
    6. Gombhira: song (originating in Chapai Nawabganj, in the North) performed with a particular distinctive rhythm and dance with two performers, always personifying a man and his grand father, discussing a topic to raise social awareness
    7. Hason Raja: devotional songs written by music composer Hason Raja (from Sylhet near Assam) that was recently repopularised as popular dance music
    8. Jaari: song that involves musical battle between two groups
    9. Jatra Pala: songs associated exclusively with plays (performed on-stage) that usually always involve historical themes presented in a very colourful way
    10. Kirtan: devotional song depicting love of Hindu god Krishno and his (best-known) wife, Radha
    11. Pala: songs from the haor (lake) area in Sylhet, Kishoregonj, and Netrokona usually performed on stage live by folk singers
    12. Kobi gaan: poems sung with simple music usually presented on stage as a musical battle between poets
    13. Lalon: best known of all folk songs and the most import sub-genre of Baul songs, almost entirely attribute to spiritual writer and composer, Lalon Fokir of Kustia (Western Bangladesh, near the border with West Bengal)
    14. Mursiya: Islamic songs of devotion of the Shi'ah groups based mainly on Western influences
    15. Shaari: song of boatmen sung in group to match the beat of the oar movement
    16. Upojatiyo: songs of the minor ethnic groups - worth noting, this is not really a classification since songs of these ethnic groups (of which there are at least 13 different groups) vary widely and have very distinct and intriguing characteristics
    17. Letto's song: songs from Mymensingh (North of Dhaka) that also allegedly influenced Nazrul geeti
    18. Wedding songs: sung all over Bangladesh but always tied by similar tunes and by, obviously, a common theme, marriage

    Of these several groups, Baul song is best known and was further enriched by works of Lalon.
    All folk songs are characterised by simple musical structure and words. Before advent of radio, stage performances of folk singers used to be possibly the only entertainment for the vast rural population of Bengal. After arrival of new communication and digital media, many of the folk songs were modernised and incorporated into modern songs (Adhunik songeet).

    Baul has been such a huge influence in Bangladeshi music that it deserves being called a genre on its own. However, although Baul geeti can be characterised by particular nature of music and presentation, in general, the genre is actually also defined by a definite cult. In order to understand Baul geeti, it is necessary to understand its creators.
    Baul is almost exclusively performed by Bauls (hermits) who are followers of Sufism in Bangladesh. (Note that traditionally bauls were Hindus; Sufism was started following the lifestyle of Lalon Shah.) In Bangladesh, in the early days of Bauls who claimed to be Muslims, with greater focus on love of the society and harmony with nature, baul geeti had to go through a major struggle of survival as did the Bauls themselves. Bauls were subjected to harsh teasing and isolation. However, with time, Islamists were forced by the general population to accept the Bauls and their spiritual music as part of the society.
    Current day Bauls in Bangladesh are Sufis. Most live simple lives on an absolute minimum, earned mainly from performing their music. Baul songs always incorporate simple words expressing songs with deeper meanings involving Creation, society, lifestyle and human emotions. The songs are performed with very little musical support to the main carrier, the vocal. Bauls, bohemian by nature and belief, leave on grand expeditions, writing and performing music on their entire trip to earn living and disseminate notion of love and spirituality.
    Ektara (literally, the one-string), Dotara (literally, the two-strings), ba(n)shi (flute made from bamboo shoot)) and cymbals are used in the presentation of Baul geeti. Although, in recent days, Baul geeti has lost popularity mainly due to disruption of the lifestyle of the bauls by urbanisation and westernisation, the songs have permanently altered Bangla music, especially in the form of Lalon geeti.
    Baul songs were hugely promoted by Fokir Alamgeer and Feroz Shahi in Bangladesh.

    Lalon geeti is the work of composer and philosopher, Lalon Shah (also known as Lalon Fokir). Most of his songs are extensions of Baul geeti. However, his songs are always more philosophical in nature, involving greater thought about abstract themes.
    Lalon geeti originated in Kushtia and has been popularised throughout the two Bengals (West Bengal and Bangladesh) by various artists. Among the proponents of Lalon geeti, Farida Parveen is particularly worth mentioning for her extensive work in modernising tunes.

    Adhunik songeet literally means "modern songs". Although, to outsiders, this may seem an extremely ambiguous way of nomenclature, it has particular motivations.
    Bangla music traditionally has been classified mainly by the region of origin and the creators of the musical genre, such as Nazrul geeti (written and composed by Kazi Nazrul Islam), ghombhira (unique to a specific area in Bangladesh), etc. However, this prevented the ability to classify any music that failed to fit into any of the classes.
    In the period just before Indian independence (Bengal, under British rule, was a part of one massive India that does not exactly correspond to the India of current day), several new minor musical groups emerged, mainly as playback songs for movies. These songs failed to fit into any particular genre, but seemed to be tied together by common theme of "music for the masses". Most of the music tended to be aimed at the mainstream audience - popular catchy tunes with simple words that were far moved from the classical ragas (modes). Hence, a miscellaneous category, Adhunik songeet, was created, since, at that time, this music was "modern".
    Although over time these so-called "modern" songs have become fairly old, they continue to be called by the same name. Interestingly, this group of song has grown faster than any other, since it is a miscellaneous category that can accommodate anything that fails to fit elsewhere. The common theme continues to exist. So, although the nomenclature itself might not be as insightful, the genre itself is still well-defined.
    Among the main contributors to Adhunik songeet were several singers from both West Bengal and Bangladesh. The list can never be completed, but some of the more prolific (and better known) ones from Bangladesh are:
    1. Runa Laila(also immensely popular Ghazal and play back singer in India and Pakistan)
    2. Shahnaz Rahmatullah
    3. Sabina Yasmin(possibly most prolific in terms of number of songs)
    4. Shakila Zafar: Sings adhunik and classical, semi-classical songs.
    5. Abdul Jabbar
    6. Syed Abdul Hadi
    7. Andrew Kishore
    8. Shubir Nondi
    9. Tapan Chowdhury

    For a very long time, Adhunik songeet played the same role that pop currently plays in the Western World. It was the easy-to-follow and simple song that was fit for people of all age and occupation. It continues to be the most important music among middle-class, white collar Bangladeshi families to this day.

    Modern music and western influence
    In the post-independence period, Adhunik songeet continued to attract large proportiones of music enthusiasts. However, with time, newer generations demanded more upbeat music. Starting late 80's, music involving political theme have started to gain popularity once again, in a similar fashion to growth of Nazrul geeti had gained popularity during the revolution against the British Monarch and the War of Independence of Bangladesh.

    Pop music:
    Pop music initially started with the so-called band music. And as the name suggests, the music was heavily influenced by Western Music. Some of the best known bands of the pop era were:
    1. L.R.B
    2. Nagor Baul
    3. Miles

    The early contributors to pop music also included the following singers:
    1. Azam Khan
    2. Amani Latiff
    3. Baby Naznin
    4. Happy Akhand
    5. Lucky Akhand

    It is worth noting that pop music of Bangladesh had an assorted history. Artists of the "Adhunik Gaan" and folk (especially new wave) genre also contributed to the pop music from time to time. Mehreen is a noted name in this regard for having revived pop and new generation fusion music. This further popularized pop music with the masses.

    Rock music:
    Bangla rock was started by Azam Khan, Miles and LRB. Hassan (associated with Ark) and James (Faruk Mahfuz Anam) (associated with Feelings and, later, Nagar Baul) contributed in popularizing rock music. However, hard-rock did not begin until arrival of bands like Rockstrata, and later Warfaze among many others in the early 90s.
    Bangladeshi rock scene has evolved into two distinct categories.
    • Mainstream
    • Underground

    Mainstream Rock:
    Current day rock and metal bands have progressed a long way from the initiators of the genre in Bangladesh. Deeply influenced by the progressive rock music of the West, and with the latest technology and equipments at their disposal, many of the new rock musicians are trying to develop their own identity and style instead of following western bands. Some of the best known new bands are:
    1. Artcell
    2. Aurthohin
    3. Bangla
    4. Black
    5. Chime
    6. Feedback
    7. Feelings
    8. In Dhaka
    9. LRB
    10. Rockstrata
    11. Souls
    12. Warfaze

    Underground Rock:
    Mainstream bands have already released solo albums while underground bands are trying to promote themselves by performing their own numbers or cover numbers in concerts. Many popular bands like Artcell, Black, Cryptic Fate, The Watson Brothers have come from the underground circle and are still considered underground by most people as they still mostly play underground shows and are not widely popular throughout the country. The more successful bands eventually sign for a record label. G-series is becoming more and more popular for providing platforms to such underground bands. Genres such as alternative rock, heavy metal, thrash metal, death metal, black metal and gothic metal are increasingly popular among these bands.
    Sellouts include:
    1. Cryptic Fate**
    2. Black**
    3. Artcell**
    4. [Firebrand]
    5. The Watson Brothers**
    6. Aashor
    7. Arbovirus**
    8. Dna
    9. Birodh
    10. CnG
    11. Firehose
    12. Virtuosity
    13. jinsil-jang
    14. D.O.T
    15. Breach**
    16. Amps
    17. Nemesis**
    18. Kr0nic**
    19. Decipher
    20. STS
    21. Sellout
    22. Breathless
    • Punk Rock
    1. Exiles From Noakhali (Planning to release an EP by September)
    2. Baahzsnought
    • Electronic/Alternative
    1. Hash Eza
    • Heavy metal
    1. Ironice
    2. Urban Fictions
    3. KraL
    4. Damnation
    5. St Sinner
    6. Power surge
    7. Auleek
    8. Aria.51
    • Thrash metal
    1. KraL
    2. Poizon Green**
    3. Zeal
    4. X-Uranium
    • Death metal/Black metal
    1. Barzakh
    2. Bloodlust
    3. Dripping Gore
    4. Forbidden Truth
    5. Severe Dementia (formerly known as 666)
    6. Voodoo Economics
    7. Weapon
    • Gothic metal
    1. Druids
    2. Shadow of Doom**
    • Progressive metal
    1. Eclipse
    • Fusion/Rock-fusion
    1. Ajob**
    2. Meghdol**
    3. Shironamhim**
    4. Taan
    5. BIM (Brothers |n Madness)

    New wave of Bangladeshi folk music
    Fakir Alamgir, Firoz Shai, Momtaz, Kangalini Sufiya and Kuddus Boyati set notions of revitalising Bangladeshi folk music. Their immense popularity showed that despite Western influence, Bangladeshis still thoroughly enjoyed their own music.
    While Bangla rock music was approaching the peak of its success, several musicians and music enthusiastts felt the need to revitalise traditional music. Inspired by the previous work done by those mentioned above, several new bands and singers emerged with the notion of creating true Bangladeshi pop music, inspired by traditional compositional structure.

    1. Abeda Sultana: contemporary
    2. Abdul Jabbar: playback singer for movies in 60's and 70's
    3. Andrew Kishor: playback singer for movies for three decades
    4. Fatema-tuz-zohura: respected singer for three decades
    5. Zinga Goshty - one of the earliest bands (70s) in Dhaka (which originated from Chittagong)
    6. Kaderi Kibria
    7. Rebecca Sultana: contemporary
    8. Runa Laila: Ghazal singer and playback singer in 80's
    9. Sabina Yasmin: playback singer for four decades
    10. Mehreen: pop, modern bangla, new generation heart throb.
    11. Tapan chouwdhuri: went solo after beginning career in Souls.
    12. Uma Islam: playback singer in 70's and 80's & artist of the Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro.
    13. Shakila Zafar

    1. Begum Akhtar: (deceased)

    Nazrul geeti:
    1. Angur Bala: deceased
    2. Arjumand Banu: deceased
    3. Dalia Nausheen
    4. Firoza Begum: popular in the 1960s, carried out lot of experimental composition work in an attempt to popularise Nazrul geeti
    5. Khairul Anam: contemporary
    6. Khaled Hossain
    7. Shamsi Faruque Shimki
    8. Laila Arjumand Banu: deceased
    9. Sadya Afreen Mallick
    10. Shabnam Mushtari
    11. Shaheen Samad
    12. Sohorab Hossain: played key-role in popularising Nazrul geeti
    13. Nilufer Yasmin: deceased

    1. Abbasuddin: revolutionary work with folk music and its revitalisation
    2. Abdul Alim
    3. Abdul Karim: from Sylhet
    4. Abdur Rahman Bayati: from Jessore
    5. Binoy Bansi Das: rhythm-specialist from Chittagong
    6. Bijoy Sarker: from Jessore, deceased
    7. Farida Parveen: unrivalled in Lalon Geeti, known for three decades, carried out huge projects on modernising and popularising Lalon geeti
    8. Ferdousi Rahman: immensely popular for three decades, heir to rich tradition established by her father, Abbasuddin,
    9. Horolal Rai: deceased
    10. Kanai Lal Shil: dotara player, deceased
    11. Kangalini Sufia: singer from Chittagong
    12. Khoda Box Shai: from Kustia
    13. Kutubul Alam: gombhira singer from Rajshahi
    14. Neena Hamid: contemporary
    15. Saydur Rahman Bayati: from Manikganj
    16. Rothindranath Rai
    17. Rowshan Bayati: from Jessore

    1. Azam Khan: popularly hailed as pop guru of Bangladesh
    2. James (Faruk Mahfuz Anam):Vocalist of nagor baul
    3. In Dhaka: rock band
    4. Happy Akhand: survived by his brother Lucky Akhand, after his untimely death in 80s.
    5. Jewel: deceased
    6. Lucky Akhand: legendary pop singer who carried on the work of brother Happy Akhand
    7. Mehreen : pop, modern bangla, new generation heart throb.
    8. Souls: emerged in late 70s in Chittagong, gained popularity over more than a decade, served to launch Ayub Bacchu (vocalist of L.R.B) and Tapan Chowdhuri, been less visible in the 90s
    9. Tapan Choudhuri: went solo after beginning career in Souls
    10. Warfaze: emerged in mid-eighties as hard-rock band and initiated rock era of Bangladesh.

    Rabindra sangeet:
    1. Atiqul Islam: deceased
    2. Fahmeeda Khatun
    3. Iffat Ara Diwan: contemporary
    4. Kalim Sharafi
    5. Milia Ali: contemporary
    6. Mita Huque
    7. Papia Sarwar: contemporary
    8. Rezwana Chowdhury Banya
    9. Sadi Mohammad Takiullah
    10. Chanchal Khan: contemporary/living abroad (
    11. Iqbal Ahmed: living abroad
    12. Sirajus Salekin: contemporary/living abroad (Sydney, Australia)
    13. Lily Islam: contemporary
    14. Sanjeeda Khatun: contemporary, better known as a specialist in Rabindra sangeet and as the founder of Dhaka's popular music school, Chhayanot
    15. Zahidur Rahim: deceased

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We spend most of our time and energy in a kind of horizontal thinking. We move along the surface of things%uFFFD[but] there are times when we stop. We sit sill. We lose ourselves in a pile of leaves or its memory. We listen and breezes from a whole other

James Carroll

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