Interview with Imran Rabbani of The Blues Brothers
Dhaka's music scene has been primarily dominated by post-blues melodic rock and fusion bands. These bands mostly fused indigenous melody with Western rock song structures. There has been a niche audience for harder kinds of rock music and an underground scene had spawned and recently faded into almost non-existence, with small bands performing sporadically at different venues.
The Blues Brothers is among the few bands that emerged with a different approach from these two dominant strands. They are part of what appears to be a small but steady movement of blues and jazz music in Dhaka. The Blues Brothers focus on covering blues, jazz and soul numbers from the 60s through to the 90s.
Weekend Tribune spoke to Imran Rabbani of the band to know more.
Your live set consists of covers of iconic blues and jazz songs. Have you recorded any original music or do you plan to do it soon?
Nope, we do have a few original tracks of the band, which we regularly play in different gigs but have not yet recorded. But we progressed quite a bit for compiling a rich set of original tracks.
Tell us a little bit about how the band got together
The Blues Brothers is an outfit of all likeminded musicians. We believe it’s not a band rather a platform for musicians who share the same influence of music which is mostly blues with a lot of jazzy touch. The setup has been instrumental since early 2000, where many good but not so renowned musicians from home and abroad came and played in The Blues Brothers. Currently, most of our members have a day job and do music as a passion. Music for us is a de-stressing activity and we genuinely love the music we play.
What are the songs you typically play in a show?
The Blues Brothers offer a mix of some classic selections of jazz, blues, soul and easy listening numbers from 60's to 90's, featuring John Lenon, BB King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Otis Redding, Norah Jones, Bob Dylan, Ben E King, Bill Withers, Nancy Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Santana, Julie London, Elizabeth Cotton, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Presley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Muddy Waters, CCR and many more.
What has been the reaction like to your music since you started to perform?
Blues is the mother of all genera of music, no matter what you play; it eventually ends up in some of the blues notes. Though we play in a very niche market where true jazz and blues lovers are limited, the good thing is audiences are developing good taste. It is not what the mindset or expectation they have, rather it is what you offer. Audience segmentation is very important, it is very important for us to know the audience taste, expectation and comfort. The audiences are happily accepting the country blues, folk blues, Chicago blues, delta blues, Tennessee swing, R&B, funk, rock n roll.
You played in the Jazz and Blues Festival 2015 along with some of the world-renowned artists, including the legendary John McLaughlin. What was that experience like and how did that affect you?
Jazz and Blues Festival 2015 was quite a grand experience. Only a few Bangladeshi bands were invited to perform and The Blues Brothers was one of them. The band performed on the second day of the festival which was on a Friday evening and the venue Army Museum Field was totally filled with an enthusiastic audience, with at least 15,000 people, if not more. The band had the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with the participating artists John McLaughlin, Indian blues legends Soulmate, Louis Banks and many more.
Bangladeshi "band music" drew from a lot of different influences. In the earlier bands the musical characteristics have always been very hybrid, but mostly leaning toward blues-rock/pop-rock. How is your music different from traditional Bangladeshi 'band music'?
Three things make it totally different from the rest. Firstly, the 'tone' - different blues songs have their own signature tone and we try to deliver the right tone to the audience. Secondly, appropriate 'gears' - different musical instruments have their own characteristics. We try to be as appropriate to the song as possible. Thirdly, the use of blues harmonica. This makes our set totally unique, as there are hardly any blues harmonica players in the country.
Are Bangladeshi audiences familiar with the songs you perform? Do your performances tend to influence people to start listening to blues and jazz?
We do keep a lot of popular tracks so that the audience can relate and it doesn’t become monotonous for them. The ones we usually play may not be known to them. However, in our experience, first-time audience do tend to appreciate the tunes. All music has certain elements of blues in it, what we do is we focus on pure African-American blues.
What's ahead for The Blues Brothers?
Presence in the Dhaka's music scene by playing live even more, because we believe live performance is the only way to gather more experience. You can get to interact with your audience directly. Also, we get to pick more versatile numbers for our audiences.
Imran Rabbani: Bass guitar and harmonica
Shafkat Ahmed Dipto: Lead guitarist
Nahyan Imam: Rhythm guitarist
Bikash Roy: Drummer
Fairoz Nazifa: Vocal