Sharmin Sultana Sumi, the vocalist of popular fusion band Chirkutt of Bangladesh, has said that cultural activities are regarded as optional pursuits in the country, for which the state and its policymakers need to understand the importance of culture.
‘Cultural activities polish both children and a nation while cultural exchanges between countries strengthen the ties between them,’ Sumi told New Age on April 13.
Cultural activists, she went on to say, have played an important role during all crises in Bangladesh, including the 1971 War of Independence and the anti-autocratic movement in the 1990s.
‘I attended the Womex 21 event in Portugal where the music expo’s chair said in his inaugural speech that Covid-19 had proved the importance of culture in people’s life,’ she related.
Sumi regretted that the budgetary allocations for promoting culture in Bangladesh were not adequate.
Chirkutt has released three albums so far — Chirkuttnama in 2010, Jadur Shohor in 2013 and Udhao in 2017.
Though we are inspired by our old folk songs that highlight our rural people’s emotions and wisdom, we are also working on ‘urban folk songs’ to capture the contemporary situation,’ she said.
‘I have penned all the songs for the album Matigeeti. I hope that music lovers will enjoy the songs. The songs carry folk flavour in either lyrics or music,’ she added.
Born on September 16, 1979 in the southern district of Khulna, Sumi had the good fortune of having a music-loving family.
Sumi’s father, late Mokbul Hossain, was an employee in state-owned Daulatpur Jute Mills at Khalishpur, Khulna, and her mother was a housewife.
‘I had a unique atmosphere of practising music in our house since the very childhood. Even we did the chatting in our family most of the time by way of songs. My father used to ask me to sing songs even just days before my exams,’ Sumi recollected.
‘I did not have a formal opportunity to learn any form of music. There was a music teacher named Harun-or-Rashid whom I consider my mentor. When we were living at Khalishpur, our family friend Tutul Bhai introduced me to him,’ she added.
Sumi has learnt three or four ragas from his teacher Harun.
‘I learned two songs from my teacher and he sent me to perform in the Notun Kuri event and I came to perform in Dhaka after securing the first position in Khulna,’ she added.
She said that she was greatly inspired by her surroundings, people travelling on foot, human relationships and their multi-dimensional aspects as well as by nature.
And in the course, she eventually chose music as her career.
Asked about Chirkutt’s activities during the Covid pandemic, she said, ‘Music is not only singing songs to receive claps from the audience. We wanted to stand by people through music. We created seven songs during the pandemic, featuring also children and doctors, in our fight against it.
‘Besides, we have completed a project titled ‘Alor Gaan’ to which music lovers sent their pieces to us recorded at home. The idea was that one could send us songs recorded in their open spaces like windows, verandas and rooftops where there would be light while it was fading at other places.’
They have received through email a huge number of videos of such songs, including from doctors, and Chirkutt will present them from its Facebook page, she added.
When the government eased the Covid restrictions and the number of coronavirus cases came down, Chirkutt started indoor and outdoor concerts, including at Cox’s Bazar.
Sumi said that people’s love at both home and aboard was their greatest achievement in their 20-year-long journey as many people treated them as their brothers and sisters, not just as artistes of the band.
Chirkutt is scheduled to perform at the Madison Square Garden in New York on May 6, 2022 along with Scorpions, one of the top rock bands of the world, to mark the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence.
‘It will be a great honour for us. We urge our fans and others to pray so that we can represent our country there in a proper way,’ said Sumi, who also thanked the organisers of the event such as the local event management firm Mainspring Limited, the government’s ICT Division, ICT state minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak, UNDP and the US Embassy, among others.
Sumi represented Bangladesh in the Worldwide Music Expo 21, better known as Womex 21, in Portugal held from October 27 to 31 in 2021.
A Swiss filmmaker, who has been a friend of Sumi’s for about 15 years, is making a film on Chirkutt, which will chronicle the journey of the Bangladeshi band.
Sumi met his friend’s documentary film production team in Switzerland in October 2021.
‘When he heard that I was going to Portugal he offered me to meet him at Switzerland,’ she said.
Sumi met the filmmaker friend there and discussed and finalised the film. The film is now in the pre-production stage.
They have already finalised the film’s DoP and the film will be produced under the banner of NU Films, disclosed Sumi, adding that the filmmaker would focus the film on Sumi and her struggle as he has been following her and the band for a long time from Switzerland.
Chirkutt came into being in 2002 and the band is going to celebrate its 20th founding anniversary soon.
Asked about what went into forming the band as she is a woman, Sumi said, ‘I formed the band as a human being. Both men and women go through hurdles while creating an entity like this. But, yes, it is still more difficult for women than men to form such an organisation.’
She said that she had to try ten times while a man could have done a thing in a single attempt.
‘A good thing in my life is that I do not complain about anyone. For example, if one leaves our band we don’t start complaining about the person,’ she added.
She worked as a senior copywriter at the advertising agencies Grey Dhaka and Adcomm Ltd, as a human resource recruiter and product manager at Computer Source Ltd, as a creative consultant at the BBC Media Action and in various capacities for other organisations alongside her music career.Asked how she managed the time to work alongside music, she said, ‘I work hard. I forget about eating and sleeping while working. I joined Grey Dhaka in 2007. I needed to work as I had to earn so that I could pursue my music career.’
She pointed out that working for four years at Grey was a great learning experience for her.
‘I took music career as a challenge as many people said that people could not survive by practising band music. We did never have to look back in the past 12 years. I always kept telling myself that financial crisis could not stand in the way of Chirkutt’s band members practising music,’ she added.
Sumi also now owns an ad agency. She is the CEO and Creative Director at Salt Creatives, which she founded in 2017. Its activities were officially launched in 2018.
‘Though it is basically an ad agency, we have been working on climate change for the past four years as the country’s weather has undergone so much change. We do not now witness winters like before, so we can’t perform in overcoats in the country,’ she said.
She has also taken up a music project titled ‘Nodi Rocks’ under Salt Creatives, which will give the coming generations a glimpse into the beauty of riverine Bangladesh. The Swiss embassy and Manusher Jonno Foundation are supporting the initiative.
‘We are gradually losing our rivers. We are creating seven songs on seven rivers — the Kushiyara, Padma, Sangu, Dahuk, Buriganga, Pasur and Chitra. Seven bands will first present the songs. They are Arbovirus, Ark, Cryptic Fate, Chirkutt, F Minor, Bangla Five and Smooches,’ she said, adding that six songs out of the seven have been completed.
‘Chirkutt will sing on the Sangu. We have also completed the music videos for the song. Shootings of the music videos were held on the river. Rivers will be the centre stage for such a work for the first time. The project is very close to my heart and we are receiving immense response in this regard, including from our foreign minister and environment minister,’ she said.
Sumi prefers comfort in clothing and she likes slawar kamiz and saris.
‘I don’t have any special plan for the upcoming Eid,’ said Sumi in response to the question as to how she intends to celebrate the biggest Muslim occasion. ‘I always do rounds by car from Gulshan-1 to Gulshan-2 on the Eid day,’ she added.
The singer urged the country’s younger-generation musicians not to give up and keep staying glued to music.
‘After trying for a few days, many new bands lose hope and part with music. But if one wants to succeed, then one mustn’t give up. We have heard songs of many young singers from Bangla Five, F-Minor, Smooches, Krishnapakkha and others and they are doing good,’ she said.
Chirkutt has, meanwhile, performed in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka.
She said that they had received immense respect while performing aboard.
Chirkutt’s most popular numbers include Duniya, Kanamachhi and Ahare Jibon.
The band has to its credit the Channel-i Music Award 2018 in the best playback music category for the song Ahare jibon, which was created for Mostafa Sarwar Farooki’s film ‘Doob’.
Asked about singing as a playback singer, she said, ‘We have a comfort zone in performing with Chirkutt members. But in most of the playback numbers, I performed with other musicians.’
‘I would urge filmmakers to create songs featuring the whole Chirkutt team. It is a comfort zone for us,’ she ended.