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Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna
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Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna



Rezwana Chowdhury Bonna, [also spelled , Rezwana Choudhury Bannya/ Bonya] is a contemporary Rabindra Sangeet singer - immensely popular, and widely hailed as one of the most versatile exponents of this musical genre, in both her native Bangladesh and in West Bengal, India . She is often referred to, by aficianados, solely by her nickname Bonna or Bannya, which translates into English as "deluge". She is the most acclaimed former proteges of Kanika Banerjee. (Tutelage at Visva Bharati) Banya has been singing from a very early age. As far as she can remember she had dreamt of going to and learning Rabindrasangeet at Visva-Bharati University, the university set up by nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore on his ancestral property. (Visva Bharati, to this day, remains a major center for learning Rabindra Sangeet in West Bengal, the other major university in India for this genre being Rabindra Bharati University. Over the years, both universities have developed distinctive styles of singing in this genre. Until the Visva Bharati's copyright of all of Tagore's songs expired, it was mandatory in India for any singer to obtain permission of the Music Board before cutting a record with songs composed by him.) Therefore it was no wonder that after Banya completed her initial training from Chhayanôt in Bangladesh, she wanted to study at Visva Bharati.

However, she recounts that she had no intention of making a career out of music, and rather thought she would return to Bangladesh to get a degree in Economics. In the interim she had been admitted to the Bulbul Academy but her training there was cut short in 1971 by the Bangladesh Liberation War. Prior to and during the war, Pakistan suppressed aspects of Bangla language and culture. It was only after Independence that Bangladeshi singers were free to pursue this art form with renewed gusto. At Visva Bharati, renowned exponents such as Kanika Banerjee, Nilima Sen, Ashesh Bandopadhyay, and Santideb Ghose were her mentors. In her autobiographical account she mentors the respect she had for her mentors at Viswa Bharati, particularly Kanika Banerjee.

In addition, she learned other forms of Bangla music such as the folk kirtan and the classical tappa. Among instruments, she can play the harmonium and the esraj. Critical acclaim On completing her training, she became recognized as a master in the Visva Bharati style due to her clean rendition, impeccable accent, and her willingness to tackle even the most difficult and least popular songs. She has traveled extensively and has cut numerous albums in many countries, most notably in Bangladesh and India.

She also opened Shurer Dhara, a school for learning music in Dhaka. In 2002 she was awarded the first Ananda Sangeet Puroshkar for being the best female Rabindra Sangeet artist, a feat she repeated the following year. She currently holds a faculty position in the Department of Theater and Music at the University of Dhaka.


Rezwana Chowdhury Banya

A voice with passion and perfection

My friend Rummana Chowdhury, a well-known poet and compere was hosting a show in Canada. The next participant was Rezwana Chowdhury Banya, whom she was about to beckon. Suddenly Banya said to her "Rummana, I was in Holy Cross College with you'. Caught off guard, Rummana said, `I should be the one saying that, Banya!' Rummana and I both recalled Banya as a quiet, simple and modest girl with two plaits firmly set in place, hardly venturing out of her own world. Today Banya , despite her success, remains unchanged. This is a major achievement and her compatriots look upon her with great pride.

On January 21, I had the privilege of witnessing Banya's performance in Mumbai, India. The show was organised by a Tagore- based organisation, titled Sadhona who marked their 30th year with renderings from Tagore. The programme began with Rezwana's song, Anondodhara bohiche bhubone. It was a unique rendering and when she presented songs in succession, each song was like a complete offering to Tagore. She had learnt the last song from her guru, Konika Bondhyopadhyay. Clearly her relationship with Mohordi, as she called her, was marked by a close friendship and exemplified the traditional guru-shishya practice. This song, Banya says, is set to Teora taal in the notation, yet Konika had taught her without any taal and maintained that it was better without one. This song was the very famous song of the rainy season, Emon dine tare bola jay. The rendering was one of the best that I have ever heard.

Banya has opened new vistas by recording with recitations by veteran actor Shoumitro in one of her CDs. She also recorded the songs of Ponchokobi (Tagore, Nazrul, Atul Prasad, Rajnikant and DL Roy). She has been working towards attaining mastery in Atul Prasad songs. Her most recent tribute to Konika, jointly presented with recitor Brototi Bondhopadhay, is another landmark in her life. The recordings narrate the life and work of Konika and Banya punctuates it with her songs. One of the songs from Kalmrigoya, Jao re onontodhame is sung with so much passion and perfection that I felt that even this song alone could be a good example of Banya's achievements.

She has imbibed Tagore's philosophies in her life and it was as if she was able to internalise these thoughts while singing. This was exactly her message in the popular chat show Aloy bhubon bhora on channel I. Rezwana's family wanted her to study economics. She in turn had no inkling that she would be a singer, nor that Tagore songs were going to be her forte. Shantiniketan, the heaven, in her own words showed her the way and enabled Rezwana to hold the lamp so that others could follow her. She has her own school `Surer dhara' where the students learn not only the Tagore songs but also develop an ear for music and aesthetics. Despite Rezwana's success, her mission is not over. In the footsteps of Konika, she wants to involve herself with a grassroots organisation titled Elmhurst Foundation. In the make up room of S channel in London, she confides to me, 'Nashid, my songs have only reached those with CD/cassette players. I want to do something for those who have none, the teeming millions must be benefited through my songs.' I could see that the humble Banya is not only a singer or a Tagore exponent, she is much more, and many more times than my pen can express.

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01-19-2009 11:38 PM
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