Singer/songwriter Armeen Musa in July had released a new single accompanied by a music video titled "Onek Din Por," written by Rajib Ashraf and composed by the singer herself. Singing about heartbreak and nostalgia, the single marks Armeen's comeback after a brief hiatus from creating her own independent music. In a candid interview with Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid, Armeen Musa shares why she removed herself from the public eye and how she found her way back
You just released a new single. What’s it about?
It’s obviously about somebody who’s recollecting memories. You know the interesting part about life is – sometimes
the person who we are closest to becomes a stranger. Rajib Ashraf wrote this song about somebody that he was very close to. I connected with it instantly. It was August 16, exactly two years ago.
Why do you think you shared that instant connection?
I connect with it because there were people who were a part of me and now I don’t even remember them. After a long time, a smell or a sound can remind you of a completely different way that you were with someone who is a complete stranger to you now. So that’s where it comes from.
Does the song make you happy, sad, or nostalgic?
I think it makes me feel very free. When you’re still recovering, the person is not a stranger; the person is there in your thoughts. When I think about the people in my past, and have a nice moment about it, that means that I’m at peace with it.
You released a video with the single. Tell us about the inspiration behind that.
The video was shot at my ancestral home. My grandparents actually grew up there. It’s my maternal grandmother’s home, beside Shilpakala. I’ve been going there since I was born. So, it meant a lot to me. Nobody lives there anymore. It will be developed at some point…
Do you have an album coming up?
Yes. I have an EP coming out, which is kind of a jazz fusion of classical Bangla songs with Piano Trio. So it’s piano, upright bass, and drums. I recorded this almost two and a half years ago in America. But I couldn’t finish because of budget reasons. But I’ve decided; by hook or by crook I want this done.
This is my first single after coming back from America. I had worked on three songs from three films: “Swapnojaal,” “Eagle erChokhe” and “Ice-cream.” Then there were plays, jingles, live videos and “JagoPria” from my school. I’ve released things, but none of them were my own production. They were my creations, but they were all part of a project. This is the first song I’ve released in a long time without any “dhanda” (agenda). It’s not linked to anyone else’s project. I think It’s my most honest work yet. It’s a snippet of what I’ve been doing in the last couple of years.
Any plans to release a full album?
After this jazz EP, I want to work on a full Bangla album. I haven’t done that in 10 years; very excited about it.
You said this new single was written two years ago. But you released it just now. What was the reason behind the delay? Were you sidetracked by other projects?
Yes. Also, the amount of motivation it take. You have to get the money for it, even though it’s a simple song. I started with a simple song, because the budget it takes for guitar, voice, video, promotion- that’s all that I could afford.
Releasing original music is almost a dying art, especially for non-commercial people. Now people get famous singing covers, or singing very commercial songs, releasing fun videos- that’s what’s doing well, which is great and I really appreciate that. But I feel like because of the money situation, there’s a lack of diversity in our Bangla music scene. All the songs sound the same. The bands are almost dying. I feel like there isn’t enough scope for other diverse bands to come in. And where will they perform?
Because we’re still a developing country, the arts and culture are not a priority when it comes to charity. Say if you’re giving “zakat,” you’ll donate to mosques first, not any artist community. We literally have to beg, borrow, and steal. You can’t blame anybody. That’s just the reality of it. So, it’s very difficult doing my job. But it’s rewarding.
After a long time I’m producing something straight from my heart. We don’t get to do it often because we’re always chasing money doing jingles, voice overs, cinema- because I have to pay my office rent. I have to pay my driver. I have to pay my assistant. Just to pay these three bills, I have to work the whole month. When will I make time for personal projects then? So, I decided that I’ll stop going on vacations, stop buying clothes on Eids, stop going to restaurants- cut back on any excess expenses. This is how I have to make my music in this country. You know I think I will be rewarded for it with love.
So, the new song is from your own indie label?
Yes. It has only been released on YouTube.
What did you do for Eid?
I attended a workshop in Delhi.
What was the workshop about?
It was a vocal workshop held by my alma-mater, Berklee School of Music. It was a five-day bootcamp. Honestly I feel so uninspired in Dhaka that I really push myself to find ways every year to do something that inspires me. So, last year I went on a yoga retreat. Even though it’s not related to music, but it gave me a lot of time to think about my life.
Where was this yoga retreat?
In Nepal. The year before I did a meditation retreat. I went and took classes in India. Every year I try to give myself five-six days. Whether it’s silent inspiration or physical inspiration. Honestly, the live show quality in Bangladesh is very poor, other than Tagore and Nazrul Gitee, which is still maintaining perfection. We have poor sound and equipment. So, I try to go abroad once a year just to not lower my standard, to see what the international standard is.
Did the meditation help with your music or have an impact on it?
Yes. When I went to the meditation course, I actually had moved away from music. I was going through a very horrible breakup and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. I’ve been through a lot of breakups, but my last one was just very horrendous. I think the first thing I did was remove myself from the public eye. Because I’m a very open person. I’m very open with my heartbreak, but there was a time when a breakup happened and I was just too ashamed to face my music.Even my keyboard and my guitar, I didn’t even want to look at them. The meditation course really helped me accept where I am in life. I made a mistake, I was with the wrong person, somebody really hurt me- I had to accept it. After accepting it, I moved back into music. Believe me, on my flight back from my meditation course, I met a musician on my plane. The next day I was asked to join a band in Kolkata.
It was the universe. I can’t make this up. From the meditation camp, there was a transit in Kolkata. At Kolkata airport, I saw this musician. He said: “We were going to look for you in Dhaka. We need a female vocalist for our Bangladesh part. So I sang with them in Dhaka. We went on tour for three months in India and the rest is history. Then I came back to music almost a year after the breakup. But that one year was very difficult. I worked, but doing my own music and performing was on hold. Because, to perform you have to push yourself- booking the venue and dates.
You have to do that yourself?
Yes. For our individual gigs, we have to do it ourselves, unless it’s someone’s wedding or birthday. We book our own gigs, we always have.
You were just referring to your musical instruments as “them.” Are they like persons to you?
They are my best friends.
From your first single to this one, how much do you think you grew?
I’m still talking about heartbreak (laughs). I’ve been singing for 20 years and releasing music for 10.My first single that I released was called “DurTheke.” It talked about heartbreak very angrily… I was 16 then. That was 15 years ago. Now the single that I released is about fondly remembering the in between, a decade of ups and downs.I’m a grown up now…At this point I’ve learned to see what is fleeting love, what is true love, what is friendship, what is lust, what is just a fun adventure, and what is actually a relationship. So, I learnt it the hard way.
You make both Bangla and English music. Which language are you more comfortable with?
I can’t pick. I used to speak English before. I stayed abroad for 10 years. After staying in Bangladesh for sometime, I’m so comfortable in Bangla. Both are equal. 50-50.
Who are your audience, demographically? Do you think the audience for English music by Bangladeshi musicians is the same as the audience for world music here in general?
In Dhaka? I think my audiences overlap between Bangladeshi people who listen to singer-songwriters like Arnob or Topu, and people who listen to English music by singer-songwriters. I think my audiences are into music that is soft.
And indie music maybe?
Yes. I mean me and Kona Apu, Tahsan Bhai and Elita Apu, certainly don’t share the same audience. I think me and Shovvota share the same audience. But then my audience listens to a lot of Arno. They listen to a lot of women singers. I’m very lucky. My audiences have a very good taste in music. In that, I’m very blessed. They’ve been really loving and welcoming. Especially since I talk in English and write poetry in English. They’ve taken it. Other than this one Bangla big newspaper interview, where people swore at me for dressing the way I do. Because that’s a very, very public crowd. I dress the way I want to. I wear off shoulder and backless and shorts. I’m very myself and I think that’s why they love me. So that’s why I refuse to change. Everyone says you should be careful in Bangladesh.
How do you think you should’ve responded to those trolls?
Honestly, I don’t reply to trolls. Because I wish I had that big heart to try and change them and help them not be so vicious. But I just find it’s a waste of my time. A part of this country has been poisoned, their brains have been poisoned, and it’s not my job to save them. I’d rather focus on young people who haven’t been poisoned yet.