"In one day, the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh," Shankar later said of the event. Shankar conceived the concert with Harrison as a fundraiser for Bangladeshi refugees. The brutal atrocities of the Bangladesh Liberation War combined with the devastating effects of the Bhola cyclone had forced millions of Bengali people to flee the emerging nation.
Today, Bangladesh is facing a very different sort of threat. As of this writing nearly 400 workers have been confirmed dead in a tragic garment factory collapse in Dhaka, with hundreds more still unaccounted for.
The tragedy in Dhaka is not an isolated event - - it's merely the latest in a series of deadly industrial disasters that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Bangladeshi workers over the last several years. After China, Bangladesh has become the world's second largest garment exporter as corporate vultures have flocked to the impoverished nation to take advantage of the rock bottom wages and low safety standards.
Accounting for 80 percent of the country's exports, the garment industry has started to define Western perceptions of the South Asian nation, and for many Americans, Bangladesh is nothing more than a name on a clothing label. But the Bengali region - - which includes Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, is home to one of the richest cultural heritages in the world.
I've always believed that if we took took time to enrich ourselves by learning about the cultures of our neighbors around the globe, we would be less likely to remain indifferent as they experienced suffering and exploitation. So in the spirit of that thought, I'd like to share a few of my favorite Bengali musicians with NUVO readers.
At 80 years old, Purna Das is the greatest living representative of the Bengali Baul music tradition. A syncretic religious sect merging elements of Vaishnava Hinduism with Sufi Islam, the Bauls are famous for their mystical repertoire of song.
The Bauls live outside the constraints of conventional society, leading a nomadic existence as they travel the countryside performing their ecstatic music rituals. Purna Das has described the music of the Bauls as, "The fastest way to get close to god and find the divinity in human beings."
Known for his fantastic soaring vocals and brilliant artistic improvisation, Das achieved his greatest notoriety in the late '60s when a U.S. tour brought the singer in contact with Bob Dylan. Intrigued by Das and the Baul culture, Dylan featured Purna Das on the cover of his 1967 release John Wesley Harding while inviting Das to record an LP of Baul music at his famous "Big Pink" studio.
Born in Kolkata in 1939, the late R.D. Burman became one of the most influential music directors in Bollywood history. A gifted composer and songwriter, Burman was known for his unique ability to integrate international pop music trends with traditional Indian melodies and rhythms.
Rockabilly, funk, bossa nova, psychedelia, jazz and disco are just a few of the styles that Burman explored. He left behind a massive catalog of recordings and his best work is on par with the greatest pop artists in Western music.
A nephew of Ravi Shankar, Ananda Shankar explored a more unconventional method of sitar music than his famed uncle. Like R.D. Burman, Ananda's atmospheric sitar soundscapes embraced the Western influence of funk and psychedelic rock.
Largely unknown during his prime years, Shankar's groundbreaking fusion of electronic music instrumentation and Indian rhythms would provide significant influence for a future generation of musicians, inspiring artists from Talvin Singh to Thievery Corporation. He also pops up in numerous DJ sets and hip-hop samples.
These artists represent just a brief snapshot of the extraordinary world of Bengali culture. My intent in presenting this information is an attempt to provide an identity for a people who are so often portrayed as a faceless and nameless industrial commodity.
What happened in the Bangladesh garment factory last week was not an accident - - it was the inevitable byproduct of a system that puts profit ahead of human welfare. As media reports continue to expose the links between the deadly Dhaka production facilities and retail outlets like Wal-Mart, JC Penney and H&M, it's becoming clear that American consumers have a complicit role in the Dhaka tragedy.
Posted by Kyle Long