If I am to speak about the All Bengal Music Conference of December, 1934, then I have to speak about the Allahabad Music Conference and the competition. Otherwise I won’t be able to make the connection. In 1931, Allahabad University organised a music conference and competition. One of the founders was Dakkhsinaranjan Bhattacharya – the Head of the Department of Zoology. He was aided by his friend and colleague Thakur Jaidev Singh – a professor at the Kanpur Government College, and Nani Motilal. Nani babu actually hails from Kolkata. He used to live near Bowbazar. He later shifted to Benares. He was a patron of music and an amateur sitar player. Many performers have graced his home in Benares. So, all these people were in-charge of the conference.
In 1933, Nani babu said to Hiru babu that Dakkhsinaranjan babu has invited him there to perform. Nani babu and Hiru babu were friends of my father’s. Hiru babu was like a guardian. At that time Dakkhsinaranjan babu had come and he had heard Hiru babu play. Hiru babu’s name was Hirendranath Gangopadhyay, but he was better-known and famous as Hiru Ganguly. So, he heard Hiru babu play and invited him to perform. Inayat Khan, the father of Vilayet Khan, also went. They were accompanied by the singer Ramkrishna Mishra. The three of them were supposed to perform together. Then Dakkhsinaranjan babu said, “We also hold a competition there, so you can take one of your students if you so wish.”
Phulu Mukherjee participated in the competition as Hiru babu’s student. Many students of Girija babu had participated in the competition – Jamini Gangopadhyay, Rathin Chattopadhyay, Shailen Bandopadhyay, Shantilata Bandopadhyay, Kripa Bandopadhyay, among others. And all of them were awarded either first or second place in their respective categories. And there was a tradition there that the guru with the maximum number of awarded disciples would win a cup. Girija Shankar Chakraborty won the cup that year in absentia. (UNCLEAR) So after these events, Dakkhsinaranjan babu said, “The university doesn’t give us a lot of money to organise this event. Organising a conference and a competition is quite expensive. There are many…”
– Which university is this?
Allahabad University. So…”it is very expensive. There are so many rich people in Kolkata, and music-lovers, so if some money could be arranged then it would be very helpful.” Hiru babu then invited Dakkhsinaranjan babu to his place and the latter accepted the invitation and arrived in June-July. He was taken to Bhupen Ghosh’s residence in Pathuriaghata. Bhupen Ghosh was a patron of music and many musicians would come and stay at his home. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar had stayed there for many days. Our Gyan babu – Gyan Gosai – also lived there for some time. Anyway, Dakksinaranjan babu was taken there. Present there were Pramathesh Barua’s father Rajah Prabhat Barua, Prafulla Thakur, Damodar Das, and Dhirendrakanta Lahiri Choudhury.
So when Dakkhsinaranjan babu explained the financial situation to Bhupen babu and expressed their hope of sponsorship to organise a good conference, everyone agreed readily. In that day and age, everyone present donated Rs.250/- and Bhupen babu donated Rs.500/-. They were all invited. Not everyone could make it, but Bhupen babu had gone to the programme. Others who went to the programme by invitation include Vismadev Chattopadhyay, Krishnachandra Dey, Shachindas Matulal, Anath Basu. When Bhupen babu went there, he saw that the famous musicians of India had come there to perform. The likes of Abdul Karim Khan sahib, Faiaz Khan sahib, Bhai Paramananda, Kriparam, Ahmed Jaan Thirakuya were performing there. A lot of reverence was shown for the artistes from Bengal. When he saw this he thought, “Why can’t we do something similar in Kolkata? Why can’t this happen in Bengal?” With this thought in his head, he returned. The Allahabad Music Conference was held at the time of Kali puja.
– In 1934?
Yes, in 1934. He managed to organise the programme within two months, and the conference was scheduled to be held in December. He wanted Hiru babu to be a member of the committe because he was educated. I received a lot of authentic news from him when I interviewed him.
In 1933, VishmadevChattopadhyay, that is, my father, he already knew Kazi Nazrul Islam, and he took him to Megaphone. They required a music director-cum-trainer. Nazrul Islam himself was a trainer there. They were bringing out records of songs he had set to tune. So father joined them as a music director-cum-trainer. During that time, Durgadas Bandopadhyay was in the Drama department. So, alongside setting tunes to songs, father had also set tunes for plays – these were called ‘pala’. Durgadas Bandopadhyay would direct these plays and also act in them, and my father would arrange the music. These records sold very well – Nal-Damayanti, Karnarjun. Karnarjun was later recorded as an LP as well. I have seen that. Then there were other plays like Phullara and Mantrashakti. There are so many others as well…my father has arranged the music for Assamese songs…I have seen this in their catalogue. He composed tunes for orchestra music as well.
Then, Begum Akhtar came, and she used to learn from him. Begum Akhtar has sung his tunes – there are records. Kanan Devi recorded songs from there. Then there is Phullara Devi – Phullaranalini Dasi, she was called Kalobala Dasi. There are recordings of Bhabani Das. Bhabani Das was a rejected artist. He couldn’t throw his voice properly. My father took up the challenge of training him. He loved such challenges. They brought out a record of Bhabani Das’s songs arranged by my father. There is a single record of the tabla playing of Naththu Khan that Megaphone had brought out at my father’s initiative. He was the one who made Naththu Khan record it.
Badal Khan Sahib has just the one recording…both sides have music – it has Suha and Bhayro-Bahar. That was also supervised by my father. Father also supervised a recording of Allaudin Khan playing the violin. There’s something that no a lot of people know about Bade Gulam Ali Khan. He hails from Punjab. It was Begum Akhtar who brought him here. He knew how to play the sarengi and the harmonium because he had a habit of sangat – accompanying the singer on some musical instrument. He has played the sarengiin many recordings of Begum Akhtar. These records came out from Megaphone. He was paid for this. Kamal Ghosh, the owner of Megaphone, has informed me of this himself.
Our Begum Akhtar wanted to bring out a recording of Bade Gulam Ali Khan sahib. She hadn’t then received the title of Begum. She was called Akhtari Bai. But the recording couldn’t get done because he couldn’t throw his voice properly in front of the microphone and the very expensive mother disc was getting damaged. This is in the ‘30s. Bade Gulam Ali Khan was not a big name back then and they were suffering losses, so J.N.Ghosh was not displaying much interest. On the other hand, Begum Akhtar knew that he was a great singer. In the end, she came to father. Father was working in his room at Megaphone’s Harrison Road office. She went there and said, “I brought Khan sahib from Punjab, now these people are saying that they can’t record his songs. They are saying that he cannot throw his voice, so there can be no recording.” Then father said, “Okay, I want to hear him sing.”
So Bade Gulam Ali Khan sahib came into father’s room and sang. After hearing him, father said, “He is a great singer. Why can’t the song be recorded?” So J.N.Ghosh explained that there was some difficulty with voice throwing. Father said that he would show Khan sahib how to throw his voice in front of this particular type of microphone. So he explained it to Khan sahib and they recorded the song again. This time it was better, but not to their complete satisfaction. Father asked them to take a print and make a mother. Then from that copy, you’ll get the actual voice. This is what the technologically-sound young man said. This is how Gulam Ali Khan’s first record came out. On one side was the MultaniKheyal ‘HoSahabJamaan” and on the other side was a PiluThumri – “More NayraLaage”. When the record came out, Bade Gulam Ali signed a copy and came to our house to present it to father as a token of his gratitude.
– This was at the Sarkar Lane house?
– No. Father used to live at BalaramDey Street at that time.
– When was this approximately?
– This was the ‘30s. Father joined Megaphone in 1933 and left everything and went to Pondicherry in 1940.