Kicked out of the house where they held jamming sessions because neighbours complained of too much noise. No place to practise. No car to carry the modest number of instruments they had. But none of that could stand in their way.
They are five young musicians, who make up the Ottawa-based Bengali musical band, OPartheeb, and their come-up story is one of passion and perseverance. It drove them to find their roots through music.
Asfin Haidar, one of the band’s vocalists says music has greatly connected them, not only with each other, but also a wider group of Bangladeshi Canadians.
“For me it’s a rediscovery of myself. I don’t want a name, fame or money. It gives me a certain meaning to my life,” she shares.
To date, the band members have not received any payments from any shows, nor have they been able to produce their own album yet, though they are working on one.
“Our spirit was renewed by the Shahbag Movement that took place back home in February last year. … We are now more committed to doing music that upholds our culture and history.” – Salehin Chowdhury
One of their tracks, “Roktorin”, has been included on a mixed album titled Songs from Shahbag, which features patriotic songs from Bangladeshi artists and bands residing all over the world. The album’s songs are reflective of The Shahbag Movement, a non-partisan movement carried out by pro-liberation online activists, student bodies and members of the Bangladesh civil society who demand capital punishment for the war criminals of the country’s War of Independence in 1971. Keeping with this theme, Opartheeb’s track, the title meaning “blood debt”, urges the Bangladeshis to wake up once again and fight until the war criminals are annihilated.
“Our spirit was renewed by the Shahbag Movement that took place back home in February last year,” says Salehin Chowdhury, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. “We were so moved and shaken by the phenomenon. We are now more committed to doing music that upholds our culture and history.”
Connections through music, OPartheeb’s band members all met while studying at Carleton University, though they were each in different programs. Three of them came to Canada as international students, while the other two came here with their parents as young kids and grew up in Ottawa.
“Music brought us together,” says Syed Ahsan Ali, the band’s bass guitarist, whose younger brother Syed Adnan Ali plays the drums. “I didn’t know them quite well. I saw them on campus occasionally, but we never hung out. One day we talked about music and that changed everything.”
During a cultural event organized by the Carleton University Bangladeshi Students Association
In 2008, Ahsan Ali and Aad-Yean Faisal, another fellow Bangladeshi student, met Chowdhury, who came to Carleton to do his Masters in Statistics; he learned music back home. When Chowdhury first arrived in Canada, he was homesick and discouraged, but music helped change that.
Watch OPartheeb perform at a culture show hosted by Carleton University Bangladeshi Students Association:
After realizing their like-minded interests in music, the three students decided to form a group. Soon after Adnan Ali joined them.
“We started, but we had nothing,” explains Adnan Ali. “We saved every penny to buy a guitar, a drum set or a piece of equipment. We had to take bus to practice in the basements of our houses. People complained about the noise and we had to shift our locations. It [was] a lot of struggle.”
In addition to their music, they had to juggle the demands of part-time jobs to support themselves and their schoolwork. But they didn’t give up, thanks to their love for music, their language and culture.
“I did night shifts at a gas station and saved money for buying a keyboard for the band,” says Faisal, who is a keyboardist and vocalist. “And it’s paid off. Members of our community want us to play, they want us to promote our culture within the community and beyond.”
Breaking new ground
Today, OPartheeb plays all kinds of Bengali music ranging from folk songs to Tagores to modern day band music, along with the band’s original compositions.
The group took to the stage for the first time in February 2009. The performance at the Bangladesh Student Association’s annual program was a huge hit.
“I can’t stop imagining it – playing in front of a crowd of 20,000 people in Dhaka or Chittagong.” – Salehin Chowdhury
Since then OPartheeb has done 14 shows, including shows at Carleton and ones organized by various local Bangladeshi social and cultural organizations. The band members agree their appearance at Ottawa’s South Asian Cultural Festival in 2012 has been the biggest break so far.
OPartheeb plans to tour and perform for Bangladeshi communities in major cities across Canada, but it is a shared dream of all the members to be able to perform in Bangladesh one day: “I can’t stop imagining it –,” says Chowdhury, his eyes lighting up as he speaks, “… playing in front of a crowd of 20,000 people in Dhaka or Chittagong.”
Check out a sample of OPartheeb’s music: