Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's raised index finger at the Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) on a scorching Sunday noon of March 7, 1971 woke a nation up to fight back again injustice and oppression, in what eventually culminated into a nine-month war fueled by millions of lives and uncountable tales of valor for a land of our own. To commemorate the occasion, Young Bangla, a wing of the research organisation Centre for Research and Information, has been organising the Joy Bangla Concert at the capital's Army Stadium since 2015, an event that has become one of the most-anticipated music events of the year. This year was no different, with easily an excess of 50,000 people jam-packing the venue and dancing, jumping and singing along to their favourite bands stretching from the early afternoon heat of 3pm to nearly midnight.
The inspirational, patriotic songs of Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (SBBK) are a central element of the Joy Bangla concert, and the afternoon began with a young ensemble of musicians taking the big stage to set the concert off with “Purbo Digonte Surjo Uttheche”. They were followed by Powersurge, the country's premier thrash metal act. They opened with their interpretation “Ma Go Bhabna Keno” from SBBK, before going into their ballistic original “Ognisnan”, the crowd-pleasing medley of James' “Sultana Bibiyana/Jatra Pala”, and finishing with “Mitther Agrashon”. Although the crowd was only growing when they performed, the response showed that heavy metal is still very much alive in the youth of the country.
Arbovirus, arguably the most electrifying stage acts in the country, was next up, and also opened with their obligatory SBBK number, “Amra Korbo Joy”, before breaking out into the explosive “Jwalo Agun Jwalo”. The band mixed up their set-list with mellow and energetic numbers, singing “Shohor”, “Bhenge Felo”, “Hariye Jao”, “Ishkool” and “Omanush”. From shirtless guitarists to stage-dives, the band pulled out all the stops to give the fans full rock gig experience.
After them was Shunno's slot, whose soft pop-rock sound has been a hit with the general audience for the better part of a decade now. Their repertoire included hits “Godhuli'r Opare”, “Shoto Asha”, “Bedona”, “Jhoriye Dao”, “Mon Tore” and “Shono Mohajon” , with a somewhat peppy version of “Joy Bangla Bangla'r Joy” sandwiched in the middle.
In between the performances, Young Bangla kept audience busy with visuals of a promo for graphic novel “Mujib”, based on the life of the Father of the Nation, clips from the Road to 7th March traveling concert (which took place in Khulna and Sylhet this year prior to the main event), and highlights of the UNESCO ceremony where Bangabandhu's speech was inducted as one of the “Memory of the World Register” last year in November.
Nemesis took the stage next, with their brand of crispy and crunchy rock music, launching straight away into the title track from their third album, “Gonojowar”, and smoothly transitioned into “Bir”. They followed it up with one of their earliest hits, “Obocheton” from the mixed album era of Bangladesh's underground music scene. Their SBBK song was a repeat of their previous year's performance “Rokto Diye Naam Likhechi”, which got a modernized - if a little desensitized - makeover. But the redemption came in the form of “Janala”, “Joyodhwoni” and “Kobe” that followed, before the band closed out with “Ghuri”.
Cryptic Fate followed Nemesis to the stage, and was probably the best act of the night, both in terms of their set-list and performance. The band opened with “Bhorer Opekkha”, a song that actually opens with a sample of Bangabandhu's speech, and is about the call to liberate the country after the genocide of March 25, 1971. The band followed it up with “Onadorer Sontan”, and a commendable adaptation of “Teer Hara Ei Dheu Er Sagor”. The band then threw it back to their old days with a true Bangla rock classic, “Bhoboghure”, before pulling it back with the mellow “Protibad” as cell-phone flashlights lit up the stadium like fireflies. The anthemic “Cholo Bangladesh” was next on cue, before the band finished on “Akromon”, a blistering song about Freedom Fighters' attack on Pakistani forces during the Liberation War. With their powerhouse display, Cryptic Fate showed that rock music is not exclusively a young man's game, nor is it just about flashy stage gimmicks.
Lalon came next to the stage, starting with “E Shohor Elomelo”, before performing a lesser-known but powerful song from SBBK, “Rokto Chai, Rokto Chai, Sheikh Mujib er Mukti Chai”. Vocalist Shumi's sharp voice cut through the air as the band got into their original groove with two ballad-like interpretations Lalon songs – “Parey Loye Jao Amaye” and “Somoy Gele Sadhon Hobe Na”. The band then sang “Bhogoban”, before getting the crowd worked up with their closing number, “Pagol Chhara Duniya Chole Na”.
Lalon left Chirkutt a tough act to follow, but the fusion band with plenty of big stage experience (the likes of SXSW) lived up to it banking on their popular film soundtracks that are at the tip of their fans' tongues. Starting with “Dhono Dhanye Pushpe Bhora”, the band belted out “Prothom Preme More Jawar Golpo”, “Jadur Shohor”, “Ahare Jibon”, “Khajna”, “Kanamachi” and “Duniya”, with guitarist Emon providing the pyrotechnics with his stringed instruments – be it the sitar, mandolin, acoustic or electric guitars. As enjoyable as the songs were, most of their songs felt a little stretched out.
The final band of the night was Artcell, the poster boys of Bangladeshi rock music of the 2000s and a band marred in controversy in recent times regarding their lineup and internal conflicts. Despite the fans thundering chants of their name to welcome the band on stage, it was not the best of nights for the band that has been performing live with only one-fourth of its original lineup. The band opened with the iconic “Onnoshomoy”, before diving into what many consider their magnum opus, “Oniket Prantor”. There were issues with the sound and Lincoln's voice felt worn out, but the band surprised some of their hardcore fans, bringing out deep cuts like “Rahur Grash” and the instrumental “Chhayar Ninad”, before ending with their signature cover of Nazrul's “Kandari Hushiar”.
The event management was largely faultless, and the sound, lights and logistics held up well especially for such a jam-packed concert. The audiovisuals were nice, amenities were not scarce and the event ended without any major trouble. The only things left to be wished were that all the bands did their Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra songs with a little more care, and the security personnel at the entrances could confiscate the copious amounts of marijuana that slipped through into the stadium, making it hard to avoid the stench almost at any part of the grounds.