I am a fan of Matthew Islam and diligently follow his writings. He is always erudite in his thinking, and articulate in his arguments. But I think he missed the big picture in his article “Not a Cultural Hijack” (Dhaka Tribune, March 16, 2014).
His contention was that many detractors were overreacting to AR Rahman headlining the BCB’s T20 World Cup opening ceremony/celebration, and he tries to put forward some convincing arguments. Of these, the one I disagree with most, is that we do not have artists who are “entertaining and of a world standard.”
But before I come to that, let us understand what this ceremony was all about. If it was a mere AR Rahman or Akon concert, then that was that. But it was not. It was the de facto Opening Ceremony for the ICC T20 World Cup being held in Bangladesh. We can call it a “celebration,” but when the PM declares the games open, that is what it is!
Anyway, what was BCB celebrating? We all have read that the honourable finance minister himself called corporate Bangladesh to cough up the money to host this event. So this was not a mere concert played to an audience of a few thousand.
If it is a pseudo-opening ceremony, it has a few criteria that it must fulfill. Along with being entertaining, this was an opportunity to showcase Bangladeshi culture and its contribution to humanity. And we do have a lot of it. As great as Mr Rahman is, he did not reflect that in his show.
There are those, including Mr Islam, who point to Shakira at the South Africa FIFA World Cup opening ceremony. I was awed by that program. My take was not that Shakira played, but that rather, it was a celebration of African culture and its ability to compete in a global platform. So much so, that a hip-shaking US chart-topping Columbian took an African beat and turned “Waka Waka” into the song for the world.
And the world sang along.
What of last year’s London Olympic ceremony? It was pure entertainment – from songs to dance (mind you done by a Brit-Bangladeshi), from humour to tribute, from culture to legacy. Everybody watching was mesmerised by Cool Britannia. Our celebration could have been so much more than a few Bollywood tracks and just some Bangladeshi rock bands.
To think that we do not have those artists or talents to put up a show that can entertain and enthrall everyone is wrong. We have world class dancers like the above-mentioned Akram Khan. Or bands like Asia Dub Foundation, State of Bengal, Lokkhitara, Joi, to name just a few. Classical singers, playwrights, instrumentalists, dramatists, writers, humourists, designers, filmmakers … we have many, many, talented living Bangladeshi artists who could put together a spectacular show. Not just of music but also of other performing arts.
I know I will get a “no one of AR Rahman’s calibre” thrown at me now. But how do we know that? Have we ever given them a “world stage”? Usually shows of this scale are hard to come by. The business model does not support the investments that need to be made to put together the razzmatazz.
But in this instance, that was not the case. So, if we gave Aly Zaker or Anusheh or Sarwar Faruki or Amitabh Reza or Parchonath or Aarong a fraction of the money it took us to bring Mr Rahman and Akon, we would have had a show we would have been proud of!
I believe that. But even if the organisers do not, why not get Mr Rahman to produce a show based on Bangla cultural roots? Rabindranath and Nazrul, Satyajit Ray and Lalon, Gombhira and Lokokontho, Humayan Ahmed and Hanif Shanket, Bass Baba Sumon and Habib, Tareque Masud and R Nabi, and Shahidul Alam and Bibi Russel could surely have provided the inspiration and content. That would be a show of and about Bangla.
Now that would have been a spectacle. That would have been something that not only celebrated Bangladeshi culture, but also gave back to it. That would have been something that we would talk about for much longer than we would about a music concert we spent a couple of million dollars on. The failure of BCB’s celebration was not because of its performers but rather for the organiser’s lack of vision.
And sadly, it was for their lack of trust and faith in one of the world’s richest cultures, and the creative ability of its practitioners.