Remembering Feroza Begum, who sang Nazrul's songs, Rabindra Sangeet

The digital archive offers rich sources for music researchers, practitioners, teachers and students

Remembering Feroza Begum, who sang Nazrul's songs, Rabindra Sangeet

Shoma A. Chatterji

An archive in the memory of a singer from the past is rare. But on late Feroza Begum’s 90th birth anniversary on 28th July, a digital archive was dedicated to her in Kolkata. It owes a lot to the singer’s niece Sushmita Anis.

Feroza Begum sang Nazrul's songs, Rabindra Sangeet, modern Bengali songs, geets and ghazals. She lent her voice to many Bengali and Hindi films too but slowly gravitated towards Nazrul Geeti and is acknowledged as one of the masters. But she was never trained in any school of Hindustani classical music. Third among seven children, she grew up in Gopalganj, now in Bangladesh and was one of the first disciples of the revolutionary poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.

“I would listen to songs on the old gramophone player and learnt to sing by copying the singers. In my spare time, I would take the conical horn off its base, hold the smaller part in my mouth and sing through it. I wanted to hear how my voice would sound on the gramophone,” she had recalled.

One of her uncles felt she had a future in music. She was around nine at the time.

She was escorted to the recording studio of HMV in Kolkata for an audition. She did not know what an “audition” was. “The room seemed filled with very important persons who were seated next to someone who appeared even more important,” she remembered.

“I had no clue that he was Kazi Nazrul Islam. He chatted with me and said for some reason, 'this is the first time a Muslim girl has entered this studio'. He then asked me to sing. I did not know how to sing along with the harmonium but I was allowed to sing without the harmonium,” she reminisced.

On that first day in the studio, she met a strikingly handsome young man. “He seemed to be quite close to Kazi Nazrul, who told him that I was a singer who would go places,” she recalled. The young man however left without hearing her sing. Kamal Dasgupta, already a well-known music director and composer who headed the music section of HMV for years, was to marry her in the mid-fifties.

Dasgupta was a music director, composer and folk artist specialising in Raga and Thumri. He also composed the music for around 400 songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam. He sang in Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil. He ended up composing music for about eight thousand songs.

He was of course much older than Feroza Begum. The couple had three sons. The two younger ones are associated with a well-known music band in Bangladesh, where the couple had settled.

The digital archive www. offers rich sources for music researchers, practitioners, teachers and students. Besides the usual sections such as biography and awards won, it has links to her songs. The archive has accounts of her performances in different countries. There is also a collection of rare photographs and scanned images of handwritten notebook pages, notations,letters and so on.

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