Interview - Kabir Suman - Singer-Songwriter and Politician: "I Miss America"

Kabir Suman Songs MP3 DownloadSinger-Songwriter, journalist, actor and now politician Kabir Suman was born in 1949 in Cuttack, Orissa as Suman Chattopadhyay (Suman Chatterjee) to Sudhindranath and Uma Chatterjee. He introduced a signature blend of Bengali lyrics with a kind of non-conformant Western folk style of music that started off the "Jibonmukhi" gaan phenomenon in Bengali music, inspiring a host of new-generation singers experimenting with songs about real-life contemporary issues - Anjan Dutta, Nachiketa Chakraborty, Lopamudra Mitra, Kolkata Bangla bands including Chandrabindoo, and so on. His early albums, Tomaake Chai (1992), Boshe Anko (1993) and Ichchhe Holo (1993) were radically different from the mainstream Bengali Film Song based romantic and poetic compositions, and were surprisingly well received by a Bengali audience more mature than the times of Mohioner Ghoraguli.

WBRi has some of the later Kabir Suman albums for sale online in digital MP3 download format, including Reaching Out, Dekhchi TokeNandigram, Onekdin Por (with Anjan Dutta), 13 (Taero - with Sabina Yasmin), E Jibon Punya Karo (Rabindra Sangeet) and more - click here to check them out.

In the following interview, Kabir Suman talks about his recent entry into politics, and expresses his gratitude and longing for the United States of America and how deeply he wants to walk America's roads one more time.

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Kabir Suman - the Bengali listeners and music lovers knew you as a singer-songwriter so far. Though you were always aware of the political environment, this is the first time you are actively participating in politics. What are your thoughts on your role as a politician ?

I had to sweat a lot to win this election - you cannot imagine the degree of undemocratic challenges I had to face, as my supporters and I have known - and the CPI(M) party demonstrated ultimate ugliness by throwing filthy and dirty personal attacks against me ... in spite of all this ... the common citizen does not want the CPI(M) - so they voted for me - voted for us and we won. But when I won - as long as we were battling the election, I did not think a lot about becoming an MP - but now, after winning, I suddenly find myself a senator - and I am 61 years old now, and am learning.

Based on your experience as a politician so far, do you still think your decision to participate in active politics was the correct one ?

Let me put it this way - life is full of surprises. I have had the opportunity of doing a lot of different things in my life, and being a political-minded man, there was a need for a shift in my life. As a member of parliament, one of my responsibilities is to advance my constituency. In the last 32 years, the Left Front government, especially the CPI(M) party, have not brought any development at all ! This Jadavpur constituency of mine - if you come here you will see for yourself - is around 20% urban population, and then it is all rural. We need to remember the villages in West Bengal are majority Muslim and lower-caste population. These people feed us, clothe us, they are the fishermen. You cannot imagine the plight of these people, the conditions of their lives ! Let me give you an example. Every day, people come to me, and request me to install tube wells before Roja. Even something as basic as water supply is not there. MPs have this money allocated to them to develop their constituency - I get to recommend how that money will be spent. I am trying to get as many deep tube-wells installed as I can. It will tak some time ... I need to build roads ... there is absolutely nothing ! These are my responsibilities as a congressman. Along with this, I am also responsible as a representative of my party - in that regards, I will follow the guidance of the leaders of my party. Hence, I do not think I took a wrong decision.

We wish you greater success in your political career. At the same time, what message do you have for your music fans ? What is the future of your music ?

Look - I cannot see the future. I am 61, and people usually do not sing modern songs at 61 - but I am a singer and musician, and I will contine to write songs and sing. That I shall continue to sing and play - you can say that is intrinsic to me.

Is there a possibility of a US tour ?

No - such a possibility is remote. I will not get time for a US tour. One cannot just perform one or two shows in the US - there has to be a series of shows. Also, please do not mind my saying this - the Bengali audience is quite particular and impatient - at my age, I do not like big shows like those - now I am the happiest performing in little places. When I perform in Bengal, I feel I am performing in my own quarters. The people of Bengal listen to my songs with so much love and care ...

Perhaps you will sing a couple of lines from one of your favorite songs ?

Let me sing a few lines from a song about struggle for land.

[Suman sings the first few lines from the song "Janan dicche ei meyeta, sharol ekta ganyer meye"]

Wonderful ! I am sure you remember - you have worked as a full-time employee with Voice Of America for quite a few years. VOA sends you warm greetings and best wishes.

Yes - many thanks ... many happy memories - and it will be negligent of me if I don't tell you this: I miss America. I have learned a lot in America. America has given me courage - the America of Walt Whitman, the America of Leroy Jones, the America of Noam Chomsky, the America of Pete Seeger. The amount of love and courage that I received in America is incomparable. My heart aches for America. God willing, before I die, I will look at the vast lands of America. I will set my eyes on the gigantic sky from America. I will walk the roads humming "Country roads, take me home" to myself, perhaps on my final journey ...

We eagerly look forward to the day you come here, and your songs will be heard along with Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan under the American skies.

Stay well, and pass on my greetings to America.

- This interview was recorded by , VOA Washington Bangla Radio, on Aug 22, 2009 (link). The audio was transcribed by WBRi for this post.