Foad Nasser is frequently credited as the keyboardist of the legendary Bangladeshi band Feedback. But the iconic musician also wears another musical hat that is relatively and strangely unknown, even to the crowd that is familiar with his work in Feedback. ‘Babu bhai’, as he is addressed by his fans and peers, is a film scorer, and a quite prolific one at that with more than a hundred films to his name.
In fact, when asked about the total number of films he has worked on as an assistant or a musician, he is unsure of the number, such is the magnitude of his work. Some of the most well known films include, Jonmo Theke Jolchi, Dui Poisar Alta, Bhat De, Nalish, Mona Pagla, Pension, Nasib, Himmatwali. His own works include Chholona, Ghor Amar Gor, Paper Shasti and recently Opekkha.
As he started to talk about his early days, when he began working in the film scoring, nostalgia gleamed in his eyes. “I started working in film scoring as a musician around the mid-70s, the first one was directed by Mansur Ahmed. Later I began to work under my mentor Alauddin Ali, the extremely gifted composer and it was through the hands-on experience that I and others learned the art of film scoring. There was no school or institution where you could go learn the craft. It took a lot of dedication and hard work and I think I only persevered because of my passion,” he said.
“The work was all done in analog, the 35mm reel of the film would be running interlocked with a 35mm magnetic tape follower, and the musicians had to perform and record the music live in line with the visual. The composer would run the reel over a few times and compose the score,” he continued. Anyone familiar with recording process would be able to comprehend exactly how difficult a task this must have been. Today, all of this is done in digital audio workstations in a computer with cut and paste functions where musicians are afforded unlimited chances to get the perfect ‘take.’
[caption id="attachment_262712" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photo: Nabil Hossain
But Nasser did not let these annoyances get in the way of his passion for film scoring. Film scoring for him was an endeavor that enriched the film’s emotions and its message, arguably the ultimate function of any art form. “Music in films is made to enhance the emotive quality of the film, to paint a richer tapestry of the message the film is trying to convey. There can be films without any music, which has its own beauty but music in films has still been in use for a very long time. So, I found great pleasure in working in writing scores, which combined with the visuals, creates a much deeper and more meaningful narrative,” he says.
Having been in the scene for such a long time, Foad Nasser is also an authoritative person who can truly explain exactly how much the scene has evolved. “I did a film for Ujjal once and I sequenced the entire reel on a music sequencer with the calculations of Footage-Time-Tempo without missing a cue. In retrospective, I wonder how that was even possible. I will not dare to do this now,” said the veteran musician recalling how tough a process that was.
“Today everything can be done much quicker and cost effectively because of the advantages of technology. Now I have everything in a box in the form of software synths. You can take a piano from one, a drum kit from another and you create layers and put them all into multi tracks,” he said.
Although technology has helped the creative process, Nasser feels there are some drawbacks. “Everyone of us use drum loops and tight MIDI sequencing for quick production and I don’t feel this is always right, it is important to represent the nuances of human playing. When a musician plays there’s always going to be human errors and there’s beauty in that as well. So, even after so much technological advancement, people are realizing the value of human nuances in music,” he said.
Having spent the vast majority of his life consumed in music, the senior musician is a repository of musical knowledge. When asked how he amassed this wealth of knowledge and what his approach to applying it is, he replied, “I gained this knowledge from listening to a lot of music and from personal experiences. I am still learning everyday. I like to say, when we play, only the hands don’t play, the head is playing too. So the experience stays in the head and that translates into the hand. Someone can play very fast and acrobatically but that is not everything, what is more important is what you are playing, that is how you judge someone’s musical 'sense'”
When a musician plays there’s always going to be human errors and there’s beauty in that as well
His vast listening comes into play particularly when scoring for films. “In film scoring I may use a certain musical style, sometimes jazz, sometimes blues, sometimes even Indian classical in the same film. Musical knowledge definitely helps in that regard. The sequence of film will definitely dictate what kind of music I need to play, what goes along with it and it could also be concurrent, so it is vital to have different styles under your belt to deliver the right music to the scene.”
He goes on to say, “There’s also places where keeping it completely blank also works very well, this is a big part of background scoring, there are many sequences where not playing anything is more conducive to bringing out the necessary emotions for that sequence.”His film background score experience has also helped him with innumerable TV dramas and sound designing for documentaries, audiovisual presentations and television commercials.
However, it is not all rosy in the film scoring industry. Discussing the challenges film scorers faced and what his advice to new comers were, he highlighted the financial difficulties of this occupation and how it is important to be a multi-faceted musician. “If you want to get into the field full time, it will be very, very challenging. Most people don’t just work on film scoring, they work on other forms of music as well. People working in other countries, they can live off the money made from a film for an entire year, which is not the case in Bangladesh at all.”
But Nasser remains adamantly proud that he has been able to maintain a career completely in the realms of music. He cites his passion as being the main fuel for his career. “It has been this passion that has driven me to be in this field. This studio that I am sitting in now and working in, sometimes I can’t even make the rent of the studio with what I make from this work, but because I have the passion, I am always here, working on music and thinking about music all day long and by the grace of the Almighty I have been able to lead a respectable life.”