Shahnaz Begum and Memories – By R. Siddiqui

Dedicated to the late Allan Fakir for making his colorful Sindhi contribution to the Pakistani Musical Arts.

The San Francisco Bay Area Bangladesh Association (BABA) held a very successful musical evening on July 21. Titled “Beyond the Ocean Shores” it featured the vocal talents of Shahnaz Rahmatullah, whom many readers who were around in the 1970’s
i Pakistan also know as Shahnaz Begum. BABA is a non-political, non-profit organization which has been catering to the social /cultural needs of Bangladeshi’s in this part of the United States since 1985. And since Bangladesh is predominantly a Bengali country it is no surprise that speakers of the language of Indian origin also participate in BABA activities. And then there are people like this reporter lived in the East till 1971 and still consider it another home along with other Pakistanis with Bangladeshi friends or relatives (marriages survive the forces of history). So we gathered at the Mayer Theatre in the City of Santa Clara on this pleasant Friday night to listen to a voice that has at times ruled both Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The fast growing Bangladeshi community in this part of California is well represented by current BABA President Mrs. Rupa Rahman, V.P. Anuporm Barua, Secretary’s Mahbubur R. Khan, Mahmudul Hasssan, Simon Hoque and Ashraful Amin along with Treasurer Masudul Amin. They can all be reached through the BABA website at: Those interested in future activities and membership in this organization will find a friendly response from this group.

And now to Shahnaz and the reason why many people beyond Bangladesh continue to follow her career along with that of Runa Laila and Alamgir. Not only did this trio dominate popular Pakistani Music at different times, but it would even be safe to say that their role cannot be forgotten. How many of us can really forget the original “Sohni Dharti”? It ruled PTV and Radio Pakistan for years as did Shahnaz Begum along with it. Listening to her after 28 years was indeed a trip down a musical memory lane (and at times a painful one).

This event was a colorful gathering. The dances by Tamanna Mahboob, especially the “Road to Rangamati” were well done. And this reporter in the audience was struggling with his memory cells and his once rudimentary command of Bangla. Shahnaz’s “Je Chhilo dristrir shimanai” was a superb reminder of my once almost forgotten youth in Dhaka. “Ektara Tui Desher Kotha Bol” reflected the grim reality that I have to now struggle through most of the Bengali “ Desher Kotha” while trying hard to find meaning in between Bangla lyrics, and to revive an almost forgotten skill. After “Ekbar Jete De Na”, I had hoped to hear Shahnaz sing her rare gift to Bangladesh called “Prothom Bangladesh” along with “Sohni Dharti”, both of which did not materialize. But non-Bengalis were not to be totally disappointed. She did sing a wonderful version of “Ranjish hi Sahi” one that would have made Poet Ahmad Faraz proud (I will end with his sentiments later) along with a good version of Lata’s “Tum na jaane kis Jahan main Kho Gaye”. And for many of a combined Pakistani generation of the 1960’s Shahnaz rekindled memories of a less complex time by singing “Akaylay Na Jaana” from the blockbuster of the time “Armaan”.

After listening to her sing after 28 years, Shahnaz Rahmatullah’s voice has matured and remains worthy of much praise. It seems like only yesterday that we heard her teaming up with a young musical wizard by the name of Sohail Rana. But that was decades and a painful history ago. “Kis Kis ko batain Judai ka Sabab Hum” (How many people do we tell about the reasons for our parting)? Some of us would still like to know and cannot forget.

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