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From rebel to philosopher

  • Published at 05:35 pm March 31st, 2019
At_Mar 30, 2019_Pg 7
Photo: khallid Rahman

Towfique Ahmed’s musical voyage 

Many things in life inspired Towfique to become the artist that he is: the moral discrepancies he saw in the society, an inner urge for speaking the truth, but above all, music itself inspired him. And it still does. 

That is why many years after beginning singing and rapping as a recording artist, Towfique Ahmed or ‘ck toff’ can go on creating music. 

An UK trained barrister and currently teaching law at the American International University-Bangladesh, Towfique comes from a family that encouraged arts and music from an early age. In fact, his parents’ insistence on taking the tabla lessons, the recitation classes kind of irked the young Towfique at first. 

But soon he grew up to appreciate his upbringing and love artistic expressions, mainly through his own brand of hip-hop music. Since then Towfique went on to recording two full-length albums with his ‘alternative hip-hop’ outfit Rajotto, and then to singing in many commercial songs, and currently recording a solo album.

With a full-time job and a family to attend to, doing music is not easy. But Towfique says it acts as a ‘vague defense from reality.’

Yet, his earlier music, the self-titled first full length ‘Rajotto’ with Faisal Roddy, talks about the harsh reality he tries to scurry away from: ‘Tomar amar odrissho deyal srenihin shomajey gan geye jai’ (There is an invisible wall between you and me, so I keep singing those songs for abolition of classes). 

A lot has happened since Rajotto was released in 2010. The next album Dashotto (2014) continued Faisal and Towfique’s musical collaboration. In between these two albums a single titled ‘Atto-kothon’ was released by Towfique featuring singer-songwriter Surjo in 2011. 

The music video for this song became one of the signature songs for Towfique. People started to recognize him through this song. It attracted hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and paved the way into his ‘rap stardom.’

Along with Atto-kothon, Towfique is perhaps best known for his ‘Khepa Gan’. A satirical jab at ‘typical rap’ and a critique of ‘the system’, Khepa Gan came one year after Atto-kothon. “I’m very thankful to Adit bhai for making that song,” said Towfique. The song set the stage for what was to come for ck toff. 

Towfique went onto sing in a plethora of music aimed for mainstream audiences. These include at least four or five film songs, theme song for BPL, anniversary theme song for Prothom-Alo, song for the United States embassy, Bangladesh government’s celebration song for Biddut Shoptah and so on. 

All of these brought commercial success for the rap artist, but veered him away somewhat from his roots. The songwriting in Rajotto and Dashotto often featured hard-hitting lyrics that pulled no punches. His lyrics identified his music as ‘din bodoler gan’ for ‘manobotar mukti’. 

Calls for abandoning sectarianism is heard in songs like ‘Laal Shobuj’ that sharply criticized the manufactured factions in Bangladeshi society: ‘Keu nastik, keu astik, keu tantrik, ogonotantrik….ar kotokal ebhabey katabi, ar kotokal aposhey roktoholi’ (‘Some are atheists, some are theists, some are mystics, some are anti-democrats…. How long will this go on, how long there will be voluntary bloodshed?’)

Khepa Gan (lyrics by Towfique and Abdar Rahman), spoke about the transparent injustice prevalent in modern Bangladesh: ‘Relpothey ghumay shishu kotipotir shesh nei, Dhonotontro shagotom, Gonotontrer lesh nei’ (Children sleep on rail lines, but there is an abundance of millionaires, nepotism is welcome and there is no sign of democracy’)

Time has not changed Towfique’s principles, but it has changed how he internalizes the external world. 

“I used to think you can change the world through music, but I can’t really believe that anymore,” said Towfique. From rebellious lyrics in Rajotto and Dashotto, Towfique now has moved onto crafting his words in ways that reflect spiritual truths rather than ‘direct truths’. 

His ongoing project with producer Nabil Hossain represents this shift. Towfique recorded a few songs and hopes to be able to finish the album soon. But these songs will not be released in a traditional album format, as is the norm of the ‘viral era.’ Towfique plans to release singles and music videos for these songs. 

In a rapidly changing music market where trends rule art, this project, Towfique thinks, will be a return to his core artistic values, which is to focus on creating and be oblivious to the latest viral trend. 

“I don’t really know how my songs will be received,” he said. But it will be a missed opportunity to not create the way he likes, he thinks, and worry about what will happen next. 

This approach towards his craft allows Towfique to not think too much about the legacy of his music and truly enjoy the process. He doesn’t want to think about where ck toff will be in the next five years. “I want to think about today right now,” he said.