Me: Music is of the heart and, as art, refuses to be quantified.
Also me: Here’s a list of my favorite 20 songs from 2019. It’s a personal list and therefore biased. Plus, since it’s a list of songs vs any other musical output, we can’t celebrate occasions like Miles celebrating their 40th year as a band with a world tour (the first ever for a Bangladeshi band), 20 years of Artcellism, and Trainwreck rocking Wacken Open Air in Germany.
These are not the only great songs Bangladeshi musicians produced. These are not the best songs of 2019. These are the songs that I loved most.
Embers in Snow — Flight
Rakat Zami is an exact and exacting sound engineer, which makes the lush, broad-strokes palimpsest of his own musical project that much richer. Every song is an impressionistic landscape of clouds and warm skies. “Flight” is no exception.
Aseer Arman — Eka
Above all else, be original. If you can’t be original, be emotionally honest and sing with truth and poetry. That’s what Aseer Arman does, and we are lucky to be his audience.
Taraga – Biborton No. 3
Speaking of originality—Taraga is breathtakingly unique, creating soundscapes that soar above our world and swoop into our hearts like a flock of birds. And it’s just one guy with a guitar.
Xefer — Harbona
I was torn between “Harbona” and “Dirty Tricks”, and that’s one of my favorite things about Bangladeshi artists these days. Xefer is equally at home moving from English to Bangla and hopping across genres. And what power!
Samin Ahmed — Blue
Another musical chameleon, Samin Ahmed—the son with the golden voice—is always the most interesting artist in the room, with his Australian band Packing Dhaka, with Galactic Jukebox, Messup, The Attempted Band, and of course, his own solo material. He’s already an international superstar, and he has big plans in 2020.
Pragata Naoha — Kalo
She fronts Hades, collaborates with producers like Fuad, and is famous in her own right as a thought leader from the new generation of ultra-talented, multi-disciplinary, media-blind geniuses. Case in point: “Kalo”.
The Pocket — Ektu Ektu Kore
The Pocket’s debut album was my favorite of 2019. Every song is a finely-cut jewel featuring some of the most accomplished musicianship around, although the vocals are an acquired taste. The star of the album is Sekender Ahmed Khoka, the greatest bass player in the history of Bangladesh. Thank you, master.
Fuad feat. Fairooz — Tumi Hina
The leonine hitmaker had an eventful 2019, with a US tour, a series of shows in Bangladesh, and “Boba Prem”, his love song for the original Mandalorian bounty hunter. But my favorite moment was when bilingual wunderkind (see a pattern here?) Fairooz joined him on Winds of Change to belt out the most passionate rendition of “Tumi Hina” I’ve heard that wasn’t me singing to my cats.
Farooque Bhai — Golapi
Farooque Bhai is funky, spunky, and “Golapi” is pretty slam dunky. Did he reinvent all of music and art like he said he did? Probably not. But the impossibly catchy “Golapi” proves that he’s got range—from the laid back lassitude of Obostha Dekhe Bebostha to this groovy gem.
Petty Never Grew — Signal
The Pink Album is a masterwork, with a graphic novel adaptation of the album coming out in February. There isn’t a bad song in the album. I feel like I’m in the John Ashbery poem—“as one who eats not for he cannot choose from among the smoking dishes”. So, arbitrarily, I submit “Signal”, with its drum breaks and microtonal guitar licks.
Tashfee — Mayabono Biharini
In 1999, Maqsood o Dhaka released “Rabindranath 2000”, a modern take on a Tagore song, and sent pearl-clutching cultural gatekeepers into a tizzy. It’s been 21 years and interpretations of Tagore’s music in his spirit of cultural exploration are now commonplace. Tashfee’s versions are beautiful, elegant, and passionate.
Ghaashphoring Choir — Chaina Bhabish
Arnob’s Chaina Bhabish album is a secret handshake among music fans, and Ghaashphoring Choir’s newest release adapts its quiet comfort and ethereal, odd-time melodies into an arrangement
Adit feat. Rajotto — Payer Niche Mati Nai
Is there anything Adit can’t do? I was torn between this song and his Valentine’s Day collaboration with Tahsan, “Mayabi Aalote”. I went with Rajotto because Towfique Ahmed is a force of nature. (There’s a YouTube clip of him creating extempore raps from words suggested by a television audience. Watch it!)
Pritom feat. Ferdous Wahid — Khoka
It’s a scientific fact that Ferdous Wahid’s presence on any song will make it 45% more awesome and 60% more sparkly. While the legendary singer is uncharacteristically monochromatic, he steals the show with his guest spot.
Sahana Bajpaie — Keyaphuler Alo
As a singer, songwriter, lyricist, and performer, Sahana has influenced the last two decades of Bangla music to a degree that she does not often get due credit for. She does not court the limelight, content to live as an academician and mother while occasionally releasing the most gorgeous songs, like “Keyaphuler Alo”.
Habib feat. Ferdous Wahid — Panja
The bejeweled romantic returns with his superstar son. I mention Ferdous Wahid first here and with Pritom’s “Khoka” because his voice is the secret spice that elevates good songs into greatness. The only thing keeping “Panja” from being *perfect* is the 2-minute video intro on YouTube.
EIDA — Night Driver
EIDA lit up the music scene’s night sky like a supernova, and every instalment of Pop Songs for No One was a stunner. “Night Driver” feels like the future of Dhaka city told through retro sounds.
Artcell — Shongshoy
The beast rears its fearsome head and ROARS! After close to a decade of being sorely missed, the prog monsters return with a new guitar player Kazi “Metal Majhi” Faisal, and a song that delivers the odd-time gut punch that Artcell fans crave.
Agoon Khan — Adhunik Jajabor
There’s a chance you don’t know his name, even though Agoon is the most recorded male singer in Bangladeshi history. With over 4,500 songs, he has sung hundreds of movie hits, rock songs, and everything in between, including Dipjol’s famously viral songs like “Post Mortem Koira Dimu”. “Adhunik Jajabor”’s bluesy instrumentation is a stylistic return to his days fronting his first band Sudden, but now, instead of singing with youthful earnestness, he’s telling us the story of a man who has seen the world.
Conclusion — Odyssey
When my friend Adhip sent me a link to “Odyssey”, he said, “This changes everything”. I don’t know if I would agree with that sentiment, but “Odyssey” is the song that cements Conclusion’s position at the top of Bangladeshi rock bands today. As a musician, I find their restraint to be both admirable and impossible—how can you have three guitar players and still leave enough room for your virtuoso bassist? How can your drummer lay down such solid foundational grooves and play blistering fills at the same time? How can you have a singer with Atif Imtiaz’s range and still hold yourself back from belting out the high notes? For me, this was the song that defined 2019.