Arko Mukhaerjee, a singer hailing from Kolkata, has millions of followers worldwide, including Bangladesh, for his urban folk music. Apart from his popularity as an urban folk singer, he is a trained North Indian classical artist. In presence of any musical instrument, he can transform a serious conversation into a musical hangout.
Recently, the Dhaka Tribune Showtime met him during a private session where his thoughts, music and conversation resonated together.
Arko, who has been researching the roots of folk and contemporary music in the subcontinent for years, was born in a typical Bangla family. His mother belongs to Bangladesh and was forced to flee the country, enduring horrific experience during the Liberation War in 1971.
Regarding the loss of his family, especially his mother, Arko said: “Liberation War is very close to my heart. I feel like I have witnessed the war with my own eyes.”
Arko grew up in the capital of West Bengal – Kolkata, where strict guidelines and family values were practiced. All his memories of becoming a singer was influenced by the streets of Kolkata. Behind all the rules and regulations of his typical Bangali family, Arko could always manage time for a bit of mischief.
In his words: “I remember how interested I was breaking the rules of the home. Once I had brought food for myself home, which was not allowed back then. Unfortunately, my grandmother caught me red-handed. Interestingly, rather than reacting, I insisted my whole family taste something out-of-the-box. Since then, that food became popular among them, which they still willingly consume.”
In such a family – mixed with western and Indian culture – Arko transformed into the singer all familiar with today.
With a smile on his face, Arko said: “I visited three to four western countries in the past month before a trip to Bangladesh.”
He came to Bangladesh as a response to an invitation of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
Arko craves for food and a dwelling space after every programme. He requires “Adda” after every event and it is beyond fun if he has his friends accompanying him.
He had previously participated in Bangladesh Sufi Festival and International Folk Festival back in 2015. Reminiscing the past, he said: “A ground full of audience is like a ground full of lightening fireflies.”
Arko’s fan-base in Bangladesh increased after his powerful performance during the Sufi festival last year, where his spiritual and wild music dragged the crowd to a unique inner-peace. It is a dream for many Bangladeshi youths to listen to him face-to-face again.
To have participated at the Sufi festival and Folk festival in the past, Bangladeshi audiences were craving to listen to Arko again. However, the audience missed the singer’s aura.
According to the singer, the audience must experience new and unique voices and music every year. Yet, the festivals are for new talents and new experiments, he added.
Arko became emotional again while talking about his music. For him, singing is no less than praying. Songs are prayers that heal his heart and give him hope.
While sharing his experience of living abroad, he sang a native Scottish song which was written in a jail cell of the country. Every line he sang, he translated the lyrics and explained its meaning. It was clear that a song, so foreign and distant was yet so close to his heart.
While describing the song, he intervened and talked about the mental conditions of a prisoner, which he had observed though an acquaintance. “Prison is a perfect place for the people who take part in crime without understanding the consequences,” he said.
Suddenly, the discussion moulded to his affection for music again. He believes that, at the end of the day, people run for inner-peace and heart-to-heart connections rather than physical attachments.
“People cry when they lose someone close to them because they feel that they will never be able to touch them again. But, there is no barrier to touching one’s soul. The soul continues to encircle a being. Not all relationships can create a soul-to-soul connection via physical bonds. This is exactly where the setbacks are.”
Not tied down to one single ideology, Arko believes in touching many souls all over the world. He travels all over the world with his bag of songs. He blurs the lines between nations by transporting one country’s music to another; experimenting and creating a new form of music, not set in one cultural norm.
He has mastered 15 different languages to spread the power of his music throughout the world. Like his name, Arko wants to enlighten the world with his work of art.
Promoting modern ideas and breaking old conservative ideologies is one of his goals.
That is how Arko exists, that is where his satisfactions reside.