Remembering the inimitable Shahnaz Rahmatullah
Shahnaz Rahmatullah was one of the most passionate and dedicated singers, one who sang patriotic songs for Bangladesh. From early childhood, we used to hear her songs, which are still found in our playlists. She was an extraordinary talent, and an extraordinary figure in Bangladesh’s music history.
With her unique melodious voice, she won the hearts of millions at home and abroad. No doubt, the country has lost one of its most powerful and talented singers. Her untimely demise has shocked music lovers across the world.
Born on January 2, 1952, Shahnaz Rahmatullah started her career -- at the age of 11 -- as a playback singer for the Bengali film Notun Sur (1963) and sang for 50 years at a stretch. She released four albums in her music career, spanning five decades (1963-2012). Her magical voice caught the attention of ghazal maestro Mehedi Hasan, under whom she trained for a few years. Later, she received training from Ustad Phul Mohammad, Ustad Munir Hossain, and Shaheed Altaf Mahmud.
We, the Bangladeshi people, must remember her immense contribution to the Bengali music industry. Most importantly, four of her timeless songs, “Joy Bangla Banglar Joy,” “Ek Tara Tui Desher Kotha Bolre Ebar Bol,” “Ek Nodi Rokto Periye,” and “Ek Bar Jete De Na Amar Chotto Sonar Gaye,” were selected in the list of BBC all-time top 20 greatest Bangla songs.
Her music is so enthralling and mesmerizing that it leaves us with everlasting memories, which help stir our patriotic zeal. Not a single song by this amazing artiste has let anyone down so far.
Unfortunately, one of her greatest songs, “Prothom Bangladesh Amar Shesh Bangladesh,” was used, without her consent, as the theme song for Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This controversy put her life in trouble for many years. However, her most popular song, her masterpiece some may say, “Joy Bangla Banglar Joy,” truly excited and inspired the freedom fighters during our Liberation War.
This song was penned by the renowned lyricist Gazi Mazharul Anwar, soon after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s March 7 historic speech. Later in an interview, she expressed her frustration over the politicization of her songs, although she sang for the nation, not for any political party.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she sang many patriotic songs, including “Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhay” and “Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan.” In her illustrious career, she made playbacks in many songs/ghazals for Urdu films in the Pakistani era.
She released an album named “Megh Roddur” with Samina Chowdhury. She received many prestigious awards, such as Ekushey Padak (1992), Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer (1990), Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Award, Bangladesh Chalachchitra Sangbadik Samity Award, and many others.
Shahnaz Rahmatullah is perhaps the only singer whose songs -- both modern and patriotic songs -- have been immensely popular with Bangladeshi people of all ages and social classes. Some of her famous or iconic modern Bangla songs -- “Shagorer Teer Theke,” “Je Chilo Drishtir Shimanay,” “Pari Na Bhule Jete,” “Oi Jhinuk-phota Shagorbelay,” “Tumi Shat Shagorer Opar Hote Amay Dekecho,” “Khola Janalay Cheye Dekhi Tumi Ashchho,” “Amay Jodi Proshno Kore,” “Ami To Amar Golpo Bolechhi,” “Shagorer Shoikote Ke Jeno Dur Hote,” “Neshar Patre Dhele” -- will keep her alive in the hearts of millions of music lovers.
No doubt, her music will be passed across generations. With her death on March 23, 2019 at the age of 67, we mourn the end of an era. We regret to say that such a rare talent in Bangladesh’s music history, perhaps, did not get her full due from the nation or the state.
May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Sheikh Nahid Neazy is associate professor and chair of the Department of English at Stamford University Bangladesh.