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‘MEETING NAZRUL’: Exploring the pain and joy of Bangladesh’s greatest poet in dance

‘MEETING NAZRUL’: Exploring the pain and joy of Bangladesh’s greatest poet in dance

March 24 2016

As part of the annual celebration of Bangladesh’s creation in ‘Freedom Week’ at the Rich Mix Cultural Institute in London, there’s a very special one-off dance programme, which is inspired by the unofficial poet Laureate of the country, Kazi Nazrul Islam… our correspondent finds out more…

By Tasha Mathur

ACCLAIMED Kathak artist Amina Khayyam presents a new production, “Meeting Nazrul” which opens at the Hat Factory in Luton this evening, before performed at Rich Mix in Shoreditch as part of the Freedom Week programme tomorrow. We spoke to Amina Khayyam about this innovative and daring new work…

www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): Can you give us a brief description of what “Meeting Nazrul” is about?

Amina Khayyam (AK): Meeting Nazrul is a new music, vocal and movement performance exploring the work of the great Baminakhayyamengali poet Laureate Kazi Nazrul Islam.
The renowned British Bangladeshi vocalist, Lucy Rahman (an expert singer on Nazrul and pictured above right) and myself, imagine a meeting with Kazi Nazrul Islam, the giant of Bengali literature and arts who from 1949 to his death in 1976 never spoke a word, although before that he was an accomplished writer, song writer and composer, and music director, with a huge body of work to his name. In the show, we are accompanied by Debashish Mukherjee, a exponent of the tabla and Asha McCarthy on cello.

ACV: How did this collaboration between Lucy Rahman and Debashish Mukherjee come about? What attracted you to this project?

AK: I have been working with Lucy Rahman for the last fifteen years (and also with Debashish Mukherjee) both of whom have been core performers and supporters of many of my dance projects, most recently ‘Yerma’ (currently on tour and in Edinburgh 2015). Lucy has an amazing voice in terms of her singing and background in learning to sing Nazrul’s songs and this project is to enable her to develop her range and be in the creative driving seat. Debashish Mukherjee is an awesome table player and a technical wizard with his rhythms and its always a privilege to work with him. He also knows Nazrul’s music extremely well and in this project I feel I am actually rediscovering this music again.

ACV: How familiar have you been with Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work? Do you have a personal connection with his songs and poems?

AK: As Bangladeshi you can’t escape Nazrul Islam. I, too, grew up hearing his songs in my early childhood but then growing up in the UK took me far away from his music.
Later through dance, I reconnected back to his music. I entered his world and more I explored the more I was intrigued with him and his writing.
As well as popular compositions, his work also has a strong classical base, and as a classical dancer, the music immediately took to me. I appreciate the multiple meanings of his lyrics, and I love uncovering the many layers through my dance so the emotion of the dance to flow organically.

ACV: Kazi Nazrul Islam has a great wealth of poetry and songs to his name. How did you decide what material to feature in this performance?

AK: This has been a very difficult task – we have spent two weeks during rehearsals going through his songs asking Lucy Appa which ones she likes and enjoys singing, as well as those that are challenging in terms of their musical structure and notation. We have honed down a selection which I hope will appeal to audiences who are familiar with his work as well as those who are not.

ACV: What particular themes and emotions are you hoping to evoke in this work principally?

AK: There are a range of emotions from spiritualism, love, equality, rage, tragic and inspiring – the audience will go through a mixture of emotions as we are trying to depict the different qualities he had as a poet, writer, activist.
Lucy Rahman met him at the age of seven because her father the late Sheikh Luthfor Rahman was a Nazrul scholar, so that gives it a bit more immediacy for us.

ACV: What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?

AK: The main challenge was trying to find a way to break away from the comfort zone of performing Nazrul’s songs in the way that are traditionally done, and create a new sound, but at the same time ensure that people still recognise it as a Nazrul poem.

aminakhayyam2ACV: Is it difficult to get a contemporary British audience to understand your dance and your interpretation of Nazrul’s work?

AK: Nazrul was a gifted and extremely talented artist. In his time he inspired many by speaking out. He fought the subjugators at the same time he put his arm around those who needed protection, all through his songs and poetry. Although in Bangladesh it is common practice to dance to Nazrul’s songs I believe we have something new and something familiar for the diehard Nazrul lovers.

ACV: What do you hope audiences will take away from this?

AK: Meeting Nazrul is a unique collaboration and it’s important for me that people see this work, both old and young.
People who know his work will rediscover him in a new light as his music takes a new direction, and people who don’t know his work will be introduced to a creative genius who in his time wrote over 4000 songs on themes such as revolution,women’s emancipation, secularism and love.
Finally, I want young people to see the show as in today’s climate there are so many issues facing Muslim youngsters who feel frustrated at the lack of role models, I want them to discover Nazrul — as he also was angry and come from a poor background. He used this to his advantage and made a difference and years later we are still in awe of him!

As well touring with ‘Yerma’ Amina Khayyam continues to study at Trinity Laban.

More on Amina Khayyam and ‘Yerma’
Giving-a-voice-to-silent-women-through-kathak-dance

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