Sahana Bajpaie , a singer-songwriter hailing from Santiniketan, became a name in Tagore songs especially popular with the young listeners after her album – Notun Kore Pabo Bole – a collection of Rabindra Sangeet, came out on March 6, 2007 from Bengal Music Dhaka which had created a stir in the music scenario of Bangladesh and West Bengal. The soundscape was designed and composed by the Bangladeshi music producer Shayan Chowdhury Arnob. This album was widely accepted and loved for its new take on much loved songs by Tagore. (Available on iTunes, Amazon). Sahana has recently brought out her new Rabindrasangeet album “Ja Bolo Tai Bolo” (Sept 2015) from India and from Bangladesh. The album is already a chart topper on The album has 12 songs. Three were arranged by classical guitarist Oliver Weeks, Jazz Pianist Zoe Rahman and Jazz Clarinetist Idris Rahman and was recorded in London and Amazon. One song has been arranged by the famous composer from Kolkata Prabuddha Banerjee. The rest of the songs are arranged by the brilliant young singer-songwriter and composer and Sahana’s long-time bandmate Samantak Sinha (of Rituparno Ghosh’s Gaaner Opaarey fame).
Sahana, who was named by her father after the RabindraSangeet singer of the olden days Sahana Devi, was brought up in Santiniketan, West Bengal, India and started taking music lessons from her father Prof. Bimal Bajpaie – a Tagore scholar – at a tender age. He was the inspiration behind Sahana’s singing. She learnt her very first song from him at the age of three “Shokatore oi kadiche shokole”, a Rabindra sangeet.Her debut album ‘Notun Kore Pabo Bole’ (2007) is a tribute to him. Both her parents were professors of Political Science in North Bengal University, West Bengal, India.
She was brought up and educated in Tagore’s own land, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India. According to her, “Growing up in Santiniketan is an enlightening experience”. Sahana trained in Indian classical music and Rabindra Sangeet under Bijoy Sinha, Madhumita Roy, Chitra Roy, Shyamoli Bandopadhyay, Chandan Munshi and Mita Huq (Bangladesh) among others. Musicians she grew up listening to are Sahana Debi, Rajeshwari Dutta, KL Saigal, Suchitra Mitra, Kanika Bandyopadhyay, Krishna Chattopadhyay, Pannalal Dasgupta, Shantideb Ghosh, Debabrata Biswas, Ustad Rashid Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Kishori Amonkar, Mallikarjun Mansur, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, Mark Knopfler, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Paul Robeson, among others.
She is a founder member of the Bangladeshi Sufi-Baul fusion band, Bangla, along with Bangladeshi musician Shayan Chowdhury Arnob with whom she went to secondary school at Patha Bhavana, Santiniketan, India. Sahana had been performing in India and Bangladesh since 1998. Sahana was married to Arnob in 2000. The couple got divorced in 2008 but remain musically attached.
She had written several popular songs for the musician Arnob and performed backing vocals for his solo albums, ‘Chaina Bhabish’ (2006), ‘Hok Kolorob’ (2007), ‘Doob’ (2008), ‘Khub Doob’ (2015).
Sahana joined BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh in May 2005 as a Lecturer in English from where she resigned in May 2008 to pursue further studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, UK. She had then joined SOAS as a Lecturer of Bengali Language, Culture and literature. Sahana had always maintained teaching to be an immensely rewarding job and has chosen it as her profession.
Sahana sings habitually. Music is a form of a passion for her. She plays the harmonica (mouth organ), Tanpura and practices everyday. “Music is a kind of a religion to me. It is the only time I feel spiritual” she says. She wished she could play the harmonium but the teachers at Santiniketan discouraged them, as there is a risk for singers to be dependent on it and thus put less effort.
Sahana has lent her voice for films like Hawa Bodol (Mor Bhabonare) by Parambrata Chatterjee, Tasher Desh (Bolo Shokhee Bolo) by Q, Family Album (Paralysed) by Mainak Bhaumik, Under Construction (Tomaye Gaan Shonabo) by Rubaiyat Hossain. She has worked with music directors from both the Bengals in these films- Indradeep Dasgupta, Neel Adhikari, Anupam Roy and Arnob. She lives in London, is married to Richard Herrett and has a daughter Rohini Elizabeth with him. Sahana performs live all over the world.
In her new album Sahana has explored different musical influences. She was exposed to South Asian and Western music ever since she was a baby, which led her to think of music as a fused sort of form where the East and West compliment each other. As she has grown older, she has come to appreciate the organic forms of music more than the fusion – she has never been a fan of the technology-heavy, programmed sort of music. She had always felt music should have a live feel to it. It should have a level of authenticity, like there used to be in the days of analogue recording.
Instruments should be chosen to complement and enhance the feel of the melody and the words; they should be rooted, close to home. They shouldn’t distract the listener. It should all be in service of the music and the lyrics. These concepts that she holds regarding music have become more defined as she has grown older – into the person she is today. According to a recent interview she had said, “The key test of music is whether it resonates – do the effects linger long after the performance is over? If fusion is used, it should be because the music demands it. The fusion should feel organic.”
n an interview she had said about her new album Ja Bolo Tai Bolo- “My new album Ja Bolo Tai Bolo came out in September 2015 from the Inreco label of Major 7th Music. Three of the songs in this album were arranged by three musicians from London. There’s an innate darkness in the song Kar Milono Chao Birohee; in the album, the song is accompanied by piano and clarinet in the jazz style. Kee Gaabo Ami is framed by just a piano and an English flute. Shokatorey Oi is a Brohmosangeet; you hear a church organ accompany it in your mind whenever you hear it, but we used western harmonies on it, accompanied it with cello and guitar.
Similarly, the inherent drama of the song Jokhon Eshechhiley Ondhokaarey (from the play Shapmochon) is brought out by the chamber orchestra composition of Prabudhdha Banerjee. There’s a tension created by the conflicting moods of desperation and fulfillment in this song, which Prabudhdha has attempted to capture in the subtle turmoil of the soundscape. The title song Ja Bolo Tai Bolo has been arranged like the Baul song it really is by Samantak Sinha. He has tried to capture the arrival of early autumn and the fragrance of the earth through this arrangement. Samantak’s use of mandolin in the song O Je Maane Na Mana has brought out the ballad flavour that the song always had.”
Her future plan is to continue working with Rabindra Sangeet. She wants to learn and sing the unpopular and unsung songs of Tagore. Her intention is to try to make people understand the exclusiveness of Tagore’s songs. She wants to break the stereotypical notion of Rabindra sangeet of being only for the elderly people or merely lullabies that could not be enjoyed by the young generation of listeners. According to her, she is still learning music, literature and life itself. Her message to her fans is, “Keep listening to all kinds of music. It is the only healing power that is left in this world.”