Arguably one of the best rock bands Bangladesh has ever produced, Warfaze have had a long and memorable career in the last 33 years while producing eight albums and making millions of fans around the world. And after all these years, Warfaze is not just a band anymore. It has become sort of an institution for heavy metal and rock bands in Bangladesh. Ali Shahriyar Bappa writes about their 33 years of journey for Showtime readers
During its musical journey, Warfaze have faced many ups and downs and challenges posed by major changes in the line-up on numerous occasions. But they survived and managed to produce quality music for their fans even so throughout the years, which makes Warfaze stand out at a time when several promising and famous bands have dissolved over various issues after several hit albums.
The starting, however, was not very easy for Warfaze as progressive rock genre was unknown to most music lovers in Bangladesh in the mid 1980s. So how did they manage to stand out and set the trend with that particular genre of music? How confident were they of succeeding? And after all these years, has their dream been fulfilled?
To find out the answers, Showtime sat with the heavy metal troupe’s leader Sheikh Monirul Alam Tipu, who is often called the main pillar of Warfaze for keeping the band together through thick and thin even after all these years.
“We formed Warfaze in 1984, when band music culture in Bangladesh had only started. At the beginning, we only wanted to cover English songs. Then we first performed at a Pohela Boishakh concert in Dhaka University in 1990, and the year after that we officially entered the country’s music arena by releasing our first album. But after that, our thoughts changed and we decided to do original works in Bangla. Our goal was to perform heavy metal music and build an arena for it in Bangladesh. So, yes, the bottom line is we have fulfilled our dreams,” Tipu said.
Taking a trip down memory lane while talking to Showtime at Warfaze’s practice pad, Tipu said the challenge they faced after releasing the debut album was enormous as several band members had gone abroad for higher studies. Many promising bands, considered as pioneers of heavy metal music in the country, like Rockstrata, In Dhaka and Aces, were also became inactive over the same reason. But Warfaze, determined to continue their journey, survived and released one of the benchmark albums in Bangla rock music “Obak Bhalobasha” in 1994.
But how did they manage to survive as a band?
Tipu explained: “We all were students when we started the band and performing Bangla songs in the early 90s. Our parents wanted us to concentrate on our studies. Our first album was a hit and later we received many offers to perform live. But we were adamant about performing stage shows only when the five of us – me, Kamal, Babna, Rusell and Sunjoy – are together. That’s why we missed quite a few shows at that time as some of us were abroad. But then we thought that Warfaze should not end like this. We fought off many obstacles and created good rock music after much hard work.”
“We believed that this genre could be the future of Bangladesh’s music. We may not have received much response at that time, but I believed that we would be rewarded after 15-20 years. So I was determined to keep the band together and then we decided to go for our second album.”
“There were no mobile phones back then. Kamal (lead guitarist Ibrahim Ahmed Kamal) was in the US. We used to communicate once or twice every week. Babna (Karim) was here with me. We talked about the lyrics and composition over phone with Kamal. Sometimes we would send recordings to Kamal via either people who were going to the US or post, and Kamal would send us demos and ideas for tracks the same way. Then we had to coordinate with Russell (Ali) or Kamal to compose the songs. Sometimes, we even had to wait months to receive word from Kamal. And based on that kind of communication, our second album “Obak Bhalobasha” was born. That’s why it took longer to release it after the first one.”
The third and fourth albums were also successful although Warfaze’s line-up changed few times in between. But perhaps the most challenging part of the band’s history was the replacement of lead vocal Sunjoy after their fourth album “Ashamajik.” Four members – vocalist Sunjoy, bassist Sumon, guitarist Jewel and guitarist/keyboardist Fuad – had left the band in 1998. But Warfaze yet again managed to come back strongly few years later with their fifth album “Alo,” which was also a hit.
Talking about how he and Kamal managed everything when everyone left, Tipu said: “Yes, it was a great challenge for us when four members left. To be honest, we did not expect to find Sunjoy’s replacement. He was unique. Also, heavy metal music was just being groomed here at that time. So there were not many musicians who were ready and would be able to cope with our style of playing. But luckily, during our search, Kamal and I found Mizan through sound engineer Duray and guitarist Tito. We selected him as the lead vocal right after listening to his solo album’s demo.”
One of the reasons Warfaze is considered as one of the greatest bands in Bangladesh’s band music arena is their sustainability. Many great and talented musicians had joined Warfaze over the years, but not all of them stuck and left in crucial times. Even after that, Warfaze over three decades have managed to produce songs that still put a smile on the faces of rock music lovers. But Tipu admitted that it was a massive challenge for him to keep the band running.
Although questions were raised every time a member left the band, Tipu stated that their departures were caused by personal reasons. “Warfaze will always miss them and are grateful for their contribution. But we don’t have any regrets as leaving Warfaze was a choice they made in the end.”
“This is showbiz. Musicians like us always face these challenges. In a band, it’s always very difficult to replace someone, because every musician creates his own identity, sound and followers. So when he leaves, the band faces so many questions from the fans. Obviously, we faced this too. To be more specific, I had to deal with all the questions. This happened many times in Warfaze’s career. But we don’t want to handle it more,” Tipu said with a smile.
“Look, there are many internal matters that cannot be disclosed to the public. Kamal or I never forced or told anyone to leave Warfaze. Anyone who left made their choices over personal reasons or career. They were free to do that. So we don’t feel guilty. Obviously, we wanted to hold onto them. We miss them as we have spent a lot of time together. But in the end it was their choice.”
Tipu continued: “A band is a collective effort. One person cannot run it alone. Warfaze have come this far because of the same mentality and dedication of the band members and love and support from the fans. As the band leader, I am always grateful to everyone for their support.”
Discussing the copyright and ownership issues, which are plaguing several popular bands at present, the veteran musician said the situation was very unfortunate.
The copyright law was introduced in Bangladesh in 2000 and it is being implemented in various media. But fans have witnessed a number of ugly disputes among members of a number of bands as renowned artists claimed exclusive rights on tracks even after leaving their respective bands. Recently, the conflict between members of a legendary band had also made headlines and the matter even went to court as well.
Regarding the issue, Tipu said: “Fans do not want to see something like this. They only want to hear good music or see their favourite artists perform at their best. This is bad. But, when an artist raise an issue like this publicly, then it means they had no other option. I only hope truth will win eventually.”
He also clarified how the copyright issue works when it comes to Warfaze’s songs. “A former Warfaze member can perform our tracks in his personal band or live shows under certain conditions. He may have our permission if he have written the lyrics or composed the music of our songs. If not, then it’s illegal to perform songs of your former band. For example, Babna has written and composed many tracks for Warfaze. He often performs these tracks in various programs abroad. We have a good understanding with him.”
As a musician, Tipu has made appearances in thousands of concerts in his career and as a drummer of a heavy metal band that is no easy task. Such performances often lead to severe injuries, and the latest example of that is Warfaze’s lead guitarist Kamal, who is also fondly known as ‘The Guitarman.’ Suffering from a number of injuries sustained over the last three decades, Kamal in December last year announced that he was taking an indefinite break from live shows.
So how was Tipu managing to perform and kicking all the drumming gears at ease in his mid forties?
With his trademark evergreen smile, the Warfaze leader replied: “By the grace of Allah and because of the love of our fans, I am still carrying on. And I always maintain my fitness for playing drums.
“I always tell my students to do some light stretching before playing drums, and also work hard in gym to gain stamina, strength and physical fitness for playing the instruments for a long period. If a drummer follows this sort of routine, he will be able keep going. This is the secret behind my long career as a drummer,” he added.
At the end of the chat, Tipu, considered as one of the iconic drummers in Bangladesh’s rock music, had a short and simple message full of love for Warfaze’s fans: “Keep Rocking.”