Interview with Habib Wahid

For someone who is so deeply passionate about music, someone who feels rhythm deep inside veins, someone who is so in love with the sound of music, someone who is truly drawn in to reach the hearts of the mass through melody- Habib is surely an emblem of everything musical and ‘deshi.’ Beautiful songs that were un-heard of for many many years, songs that most definitely captured emotions of geniuses who weren’t fortunate enough to reach to the mass, Habib re-created them in his own exclusive style and brought it to Bangladeshis, home and away. Thanks to Habib, today I, as a Bangladeshi living abroad (and I’m pretty sure I can vouch for other ‘probashis’) have this inexplicable love for deshi pop and folk songs. I am able to feel the music in a song and long for desher maati.’ I listen to tunes like ‘Maya,’ ‘Kuhu shure moner agun,’ ‘Din gelo,’ and actually feel chills down my spine with nostalgia for Bangladesh and the love of its people. bracnet caught up with Habib at his studio last week. The passion and zest that he transferred onto us just by talking about music have still left us spellbound…

How did your interest in music come about?

When I was 4-5 years old, I would always hang out in my dad’s recording studio and play with his instruments. I think that’s how I figured I had interest in music.

How did your interest in performing come about?

When I was 12 or 13, I had neighbors who played instruments and were looking to form a band. A teacher from a school downstairs recommended me to them and one day they asked me to come over and jam with them. I used to play the keyboard and they actually liked me! That’s basically how it all started. Then for about eight months in 1998 I played as a guest keyboardist with the band Arc. In 1999 I decided to go to London to take this interest further. I studied sound engineering and music production at a London college and worked on the album ‘Krishno’ alongside studies. Everything else after that was done here in Bangladesh

How big was your father’s role?

It was definitely a 100%. He knew that I always had a huge fascination for music so he would always encourage me to pursue this interest. My mother was a big support too.

I feel very blessed to have such supportive parents- I think it is great luck actually. This support makes you feel good and confident. These days there are many talented people out there but not necessarily they get support from their parents.

Are you working a lot with folk music?

Not anymore. Actually before I went to England, I never heard any folk songs and had no interest in folk music. It’s only after I moved to London and started hanging out with the Sylhetis there that I stumbled across all these songs. The people from Sylhet in Britain are very passionate about their folk music. On the one hand they listen to all these international artists but on the other hand they are very deeply attached to their folk music. What captured me most is how they incorporated these folk tunes with their own style. I realized that these songs could be remixed. And so, along came Krishno – it was very experimental. Only because Krishno was so popular, I decided to do Maya as a follow up of Krishno. Actually the original songs are so very beautiful. If we didn’t experiment with these tunes, they probably wouldn’t reach the younger generation today.

Your remixes are all so popular- don’t you think it has become your specialty?

See, the thing is, with a remix – all you can do is rearrange the music and see it in a different way; the words and the tune are already set. Whereas if you create a song from scratch, your inner feelings will be totally and truly expressed. When I remix a song I only remix the song I like. It has to be something I can relate to – maybe I like the melody, I like the words, or something that I feel I can alter musically. I have now decided to do original production only unless I find something exceptional. I will only remix something that sounds totally new. And whoever sings it has to sound very different and have a completely new style. Only if I find something like that, I will re-mix.

So now you’d like to do more of your own tunes?

I have always wanted to create my own original music. From the very beginning I have wanted to make new tunes. In Moina Go, as an experiment I put in two of my original songs (Din gelo and Brishti namai) to see what kind of response I get. In my next album I will only have original songs.

Who’s your lyricist?

Saqui Ahmed. He is only 22 years old and very very talented! He wrote both ‘Din Gelo’ and ‘Britshti Namai’ and in my next album 9 out of 10 songs are written by him.

Any reason why you’ve used his work so much?

Sometimes it is good to work with a couple of people or just even one. It is very important that your style matches with your lyricist’s because in original music there is a freedom of writing anything you want and giving your music any shape you want.

How come you use new singers and not the established ones?

I’m open to work with anyone who sings well. Everybody who sang for me so far is who I have associated with since my career started or people who I am close to. Kaya and Helal are both my very good friends. I know Julie and Nirjhor (from “Moina Go”) personally. And my dad sang too. If I didn’t know them, I’d probably then go for known singers. However, I feel I have a weakness in that I am very relaxed when I work with a new singer. I feel I can guide them whichever way I want to – without any hesitation. I’m a bit of a perfectionist really! I kind of make my singers work really hard till I am completely satisfied with the end result.

How did you bond with Kaya?

Kaya’s name is actually Kairul Hassan. I started calling him Kaya and now he is known as Kaya!

Anyway, I met him through another friend in London who introduced us since we were both into performing music. I joined him to do weekend performances at a greater London restaurant. That was basically how we got together and our friendship began. It’s been three years and going strong!

It seems like you re-mixed quite a few songs by Abdul Karim- any particular reason?

The interesting thing here is, when I started making music, I had never heard of Abdul Karim or Ameeruddin or the likes. I was just picking songs that sounded nice to me. It just so happened that I liked the tunes by Abdul Karim and in my two albums coincidentally a lot of his songs were selected. I just feel his songs have this very sweet, simple melody. There is innocence and purity in his tunes and that just moved me a lot. I personally admire him very much. I also like Ameeruddin a whole lot. His songs too, have a lot of melody and depth.

What kind of music do you think is popular today?

Well there is a mix crowd of music lovers. One group loves the alternative/rock scene. And then there is a crowd that’s into modern pop song. Folk falls under this category. There are also people who like both. I think this pop/folk music have a lot more listeners. People in all age group listen to these songs because the music is simple. These tunes have an “international common listening sound” – something that everyone can relate to. Not everyone can relate to heavy metal, hard rock, and blues and jazz. That’s why pop is pop – Popular!

Why did you get into Pop as opposed to rock?

I’m a simple guy you see. I just don’t have any interest for something that is not simple. I like to do things for the common people, things for the general crowd. Like “PG” you know what I mean?

Today you are a very popular musician not only in Bangladesh, but also abroad. What about your music do you think people like so much?

I think it’s the simplicity in my music. When I sit down to make a tune – simplicity is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I’m making a tune, I will call my dad from the next room to come and have a listen to it; I’ll call my mum up and play it to her; I’ll play it to some friends; I’ll play it to the boys from work here. I’ll play it to all sorts of people to get feedback and make something that is liked by the mass.

There have been a lot of criticism about “Maya,” “Krishno,” etc. – how do you perceive them?

See, criticism is part of the package of being in this industry. If there is no criticism, there is no fun. The main thing is the base of the criticism. I’m open to criticisms if they are justified and not baseless. Yes, there are people who have criticized my work and these people will always be there.

Actually let me tell you a very interesting story. I was visiting Baul Abdul Karim in a hospital and there a journalist who had asked him how he felt that so many people were re-making his songs. Abdul Karim then said to him that he heard many versions of his songs and didn’t like them. Then he said, “But this guy here (pointing to me), what he did I liked.” This was from the guy who composed the original song!

You see, when I re-mixed his songs my intention was to make it nice and not to put him down or anything. I did something out of pure love and passion. The fact that it sold was just a bonus. As long as there are more people appreciating the outcome, I’m not really worried about criticisms. I’m sure these bauls who have the beautiful gift of writing and creating melody want their songs to reach the urban population.

How successful do you feel you are today?

If you ask about commercial success – yes I’m sure I’ve got a bit of it. But if you ask about personal satisfaction; my own success – I don’t think I’ve even achieved 20%. Music is a huge thing. I haven’t had any kind of training in music. Whatever I have learned is technical stuff. Whatever I have done so far, is out of my own innovation with my technical knowledge. I’ve only decided recently to learn Indian classical music. I feel I still have a long long way to go. And it is tough – believe me!

What is your future plan?

As of now, I’m yet to come out with a full original album. My future plan depends on the response I get from my upcoming album. I am going to keep songs of different styles – no folk though. My personal style is pop with a bit of R&B and maybe semi classicals. I’m waiting to see the response I get from that album. Only then I can plan my future. I will be singing all the songs in that album.

Your most memorable concert

All of them! Every concert makes me feel equally tensed and I treat each like it’s my first.

Any advice for the budding musicians?

My advice would be to stay focused and be serious about it. Music is something you cannot be doing with too many other things in your mind. You have to cultivate on it everyday. You cannot take it for granted. Just keep listening to different kinds of music and be open to every kind of tune so that you can become a more creative person.

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