Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Contributing Editor, Shottobani
London: The London based Grand Union Orchestra(GUO) plans to celebrate Mujib Year, 100th anniversary of the birth of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, by working closely with its musical collaborators in East London’s Bengali community and from Bangladesh itself, to present a programme of its own. This begins in Spring 2020 with two very special concerts titledBengal to Bethnal Green at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green on 16 February and 1 March, and a workshop programme at Poplar Union Arts Centre during 19-21 February.
These events are timed to coincide with another significant day in the Bengali calendar Ekushey, known formally as Martyrs Day, marking the loss of lives on that day in 1954, as campaigners fought to use their mother tongue, Bengali, as an official language of Pakistan. This day was eventually recognised by UNESCO as the International Mother Language Day.
The first concert, on 16 February, featuring popular singer Amith Dey with Grand Union musicians, will be built around the songs of the legendary poet/Baul singer Lalon Shah, whose songs affirm equality and common humanity irrespective of faith, race or caste.
The second, on 1 March, features Lucy Rahman performing the songs of her father, the iconic composer and singer Sheikh Luthfur Rahman, a leading voice and activist in the 1971 War of Independence. She will be joined by Shyamal Kanti Chowdhury from Dhaka, and the Grand Union Orchestra All-Stars. They will also perform The Mother, The Riverby GUO composer/director Tony Haynes and Bengali writer Mohammed Rafiquzzaman, a deeply moving account of the war as seen through the eyes of a woman anxiously awaiting the return of her son.
These two concerts frame a day of open workshops on Wednesday 19 February during half term school break led by GUO tabla maestro Yousuf Ali Khan and members of Generation Band, the second generation Grand Union ensemble.
All events are directed by Grand Union’s tabla maestro Yousuf Ali Khan, who has been a long term collaborator with Tony Haynes, working with Grand Union Orchestra for nearly 30 years. Yousuf comes from the same famous dynasty of musicians as Ali Akhbar Khan, and began playing tabla at the age of five, later studying in Kolkata. He came to England in 1980 to help set up South Asian music teaching, developing his career as a performer and accompanist for South Asian artists visiting the UK.
Lucy Rahman was born in Dhaka, into a family of famous musicians, artists and poets. From the age of six, she was trained in Indian classical and semi-classical music by her father and went on to train at the Nazrul Academy for six years. Now settled in the UK, she has forged a formidable reputation as a leading singer of South Asian traditional and classical music. She has also been a core member of the Grand Union Orchestra for 25 years.
Since 1984, the Grand Union Orchestra has presented concerts that thrill audiences with the extraordinary virtuosity of its diverse roster of musicians, whether resident in East London or from across the globe. Migration narratives, political activism, the rallying cry of freedom fighters, independence celebrations – all these resonate in Tony Haynes’ compositions, which take their inspiration from the music and experience of the performers themselves – all of whom share the Orchestra’s core values of independence and musical freedom of expression which lie at the very heart of its improvisational, genre-busting repertoire.