With Rob Fakir's untimely demise, Bangladesh has lost a foremost member of the Baul family and a phenomenal exponent of Baul music, who won the hearts of people at large in Bangladesh and worldwide. When UNESCO put Baul music on it's intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2005, it was Rob Fakir's face we saw on their webpage and his “roughedged and lived-in” voice that we heard, soulfully singing the lyrics of Lalon Shai, the inspirational Baul philosopher poet. We take a journey down memory lane with Rob Fakir's most memorable performances on the international stage.
Rob Fakir's first performance abroad was in 1999, at the “Bangladesh Festival” organised by Arts-Worldwide UK. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated this 19 days festival, which promoted all aspects of Bangladesh culture.
Rob's next trip to the UK was in 2006 when invited to perform at the Concert “From Bangla Beat to Afro Beat,” held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre in London. It was a milestone event that embraced an all inclusive audience mix, not restricted to the Bengali community, and reflected the rich diversity of London, generating a positive interest in Baul music of Bangladesh and it influences on the international music scene.
The Dhaka World Music festival came next in 2011, where baul Rob Fakir was one of the highlights of our traditional renditions. He was at his best as he struck his two-string dotara, which he made himself. Four London based international bands and four local bands performed over two days with the festival closing with a memorable finale of 50 musicians coming together to jam - with Rob Fakir on the microphone, standing center stage, singing his favourite lalon song “milon hobe koto diney” accompanied by sounds of music never heard before. The mixing of musical genres stretching four continents left thousands in the audience spellbound. Rob uttered in an exhilarated voice in Bangla “Amara ajkey eitihash banalam”( today we have made history), and indeed they did. Sponsored by Grameenphone and directed by Kishon Khan of Lokkhi Terra, the festival was organised by Culturepot Global, UK, with local partners, Excalibur Entertainment, Jatrik and Symbionic Partners.
Shikor Bangladesh All Stars was born in December 2014. This was an ensemble of some of the best grass root Baul and folk muscians, as such Shikor was the chosen name for the band by Runi Khan.
Rob Fakir was its lead male Baul singer and Guru to all the members of Shikor including Dhol Maestro and band leader Nazrul Islam. They all worked tirelessly with Kishon Khan of Lokkhi Terra for weeks on end, until they ticked all boxes for quality and musicianship, ready to premier at the prestigious Songlines Encounter Festival at Kings Place, London in June 2015 and at the World of Music and Dance festival (WOMAD) UK, two months later, the same year. It is said that WOMAD is to music what Cannes is to film, and Shikor was among the 120 bands. The best of 53 countries selected to perform. This was the first time pure traditional music of Bangladesh was heard by an entirely international audience in thousands. The Shikor team did full justice to their “all stars” title and made Bangladesh proud, securing a permanent place for Bangladesh in the global map of world music. Rob Fakir once again stole the show, mesmerising his audience- all passionate music lovers from around the world.
Rob Fakir was the star Baul at two major musical events in Dhaka- the first ever Sufi Fest in March and the Dhaka International Folk Festival in November. Three other members of Shikor Bangladesh All Stars team were on stage and together they reflected the best renditions of Bangladesh's musical traditions Participating at these festivals where other celebrated folk bands and singers from South Asian regions besides our own.
Rob Fakir Shai, one of the most loved and revered exponent of Baul music in Bangladesh and abroad will be deeply missed. For the Shikor Bangladesh All Stars team and for all the international musicians who interacted with Rob on and off stage, his sudden and untimely demise will be a great loss.