Rajesh K. Jha
A Short history of Rooftop Concerts
Let me confess right in the beginning. I did not know of the genre of rooftop concerts till I heard a few of the Bangladeshi songs under the category ‘roof concert’. As I got mesmerised by the music that seemed to effortlessly traverse from Lalon to Fusion, Bhaityali to pop and Rabindra Sangeet to the Bengali film music, I started looking for references to it on the internet. I did not get many but a few that I got clearly showed the glorious origin of the rooftop concerts.
Half a century ago on 30 January 1969 Beatles gave their final concert in London which became famous as the ‘rooftop concert’. Its old recording will give you an idea why they wanted music to be performed on a venue like the rooftop.
You can enjoy their concert here-
No surprises that the concert was ended by police after Paul MaCartney finished his improvised song ‘Get Back’ with the words “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!”
Of course, it is speculated that it was a last ditch effort by the Beatles to revive the group which did not succeed.
The performance at the Apple’s rooftop is considered legendary. It was also their last last live concert in which Lennon thanked the audience with the words that “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
Even before the famous Beatles Rooftop concert in London, the Jefferson Airplane band had performed in New York on rooftop in 1968.
The context for the concert was provided by the events like assassination of Robert Kennedy, Dr Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War.
The famous French director Jean Luc Godard wanted to film the radical mood of the times under his One A.M. Project for which the Airplane was best suited.
The concert began with the band hailing New Yorker’s ‘Hello, New York! Wake up, you fuckers! Free music! Nice songs! Free love!
They could perform just one song before the police broke up the concert.
Of course publicity was one of the aims of the short 7 minute concert as one of the band member Grace Slick later said ‘We did it, deciding that the cost of getting out of jail would be less than hiring a publicist. ‘
Watch the Airplane performing on the rooftop which was filmed by Jean Luc Godard
Almost, thirty years later, the U2 did their first live performance of the The Joshua Tree tour atop a Los Angeles booze emporium on March 27, 1987 with just one song ‘where streets have no name’.
The concert was inspired by the Beatles rooftop show in 1969.
It was acknowledged in a left handed complement to the Beatles by Bono who said in an interview “It’s not the first time we’ve ripped off the Beatles.’
Watch the electrifying performance by the group on the roof top of a LA building.
But the earliest account of a famous roof top concert comes from Sao Polo where the Singer and songwriter Roberto Carlos performed in 1967, more than a year before the famous Beatles concert in 1969.
In the 1960s, Roberto Carlos was known as the king of Latin Music in the rock-n-roll scene of the country.
The roof top concerts bring out the fact that music also yearns to reach the audience. A no frills, simple and direct connect with the audience is unsurpassed in its impact.
This also explains the enduring appeal of the live concert despite technology making music consumption so affordable and easy.
When the Bauls go singing from village to village or the boatmen sing the Bhatiyali while rowing their boats, it is all intended to connect to the audience.
The folk ballads like Raja Salhes, Dina Bhadri, Bihula Maya, Alha Udal etc continue for days on end in rural areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh drawing hundreds of people over many nights.
And the stunning music of Bangladesh
Exploring the music scene of Bangladesh, I stumbled across a number of fascinating songs performed over the roof tops named Aamader Chhade. The music under this category has great variety and appeal. These combine the folk with the modern giving them a contemporary look and feel.
This is a song by the poet, mystic philosopher and songwriter from Sylhet Hason Raja (1854–1922) named Loke Bole, Bole Re’.
In the mystic tradition of Kabir, Gorakhnath, Lalon he talks about the ephemeral life. Looking at his grey hair he says if he knew how long he is going to be on this earth, he would have built a house for his own.
You won’t run out of variety in songs from Bangladesh. Here is a song that would set your foot tapping.
It is truly Folk Rock by Khyada (Ananya)-
And this folk song Saaltole Bela Dubilo with generous doses of classical touch introduced by the singer will let you breathe the air of the place from which it originates.
The Bhakti tradition of Bengal continues to find expression in the folk songs and music of Bangladesh.
Here is an Odiya Bhajan going by the responses on the YouTube page.
And how can Krishna not be invoked in a land of rivers? This song, explains the singer, establishes Radha as a strong lady
who loves Krishna but on her own terms. Listen to the great pitch of the song and the exquisite control Dipannita Acharya exercises at such a high pitch of singing.
Of course, Bhakti, mysticism and folk does not mean there is no place for the modern. Here is a song by Debdeep rendered in his deep, sonorous voice
Indeed, no Bangla music ensemble can be complete without Rabindra Sangeet (never mind if it does not qualify as Rabindra sangeet going by strict puritan standards-I don’t know, nor do I care).
The song cuts deep into your heart, even if you don’t understand Bangla much. Here is Srijato singing ‘O je maane na mana’
Music of Bangladesh is exquisite and rich. It requires expertise and knowledge to critically examine its nuances which I certainly lack. I only understand that the music sampled here touches my heart, soothes my mind and makes me feel great about this cultural heritage of Bangladesh.
Before I finish, I can’t stop myself from sharing with you two other songs which are not part of the roof concert till 2019 but are great songs nevertheless.
The versatile singer and music composer Kaushik Hossain Taposh who looks very much like Michael Jackson in this song is a big name in Bangladeshi music.
He is also a successful businessman who has invested his talent to earn money and promote music.
He set up the popular music channel of Bangladesh Gaan Bangla. Taposh is active in the music project ‘Wind of Change’, which is dedicated to ‘Music for Peace’.
The Allah Nobijir song by Taposh is in the genre of Coke Studio and beautifully sung.
But finally before winding up this blog, let us celebrate the Bangla Music with Dhol.
This is a composition by S.D.Burman who was born in Bangladesh of undivided India. Listen to S. D. Burman celebrating his roots on the beats of Dhol.
This is now rendered in a visually rich setting by Taposh with legendary percussionist Shivmani featuring in the performance.
Perhaps one day music and love would envelope all the terraces, haat-bazar, gali-muhalla. It will seep into the air and sea, cast its spell on our hearts and minds, fill our nostrils and sweat glands so that there is no space left for hatred dividing us into religions, countries, races, colours and what not.
Great literary figure of the 20th century Jorge Luis Borges celebrates the importance of music and beauty in his poem ‘The Just’.
Let’s read, re-read the poem.
Who knows imbibing the essence of this poem at a time when the world seems to be wallowing in hatred and bigotry can cure its ills magically? After all magic happens.. Doesn’t it?
A man who, as Voltaire wished, cultivates his garden.
He who is grateful that music exists on earth.
He who discovers an etymology with pleasure.
A pair in a Southern café, enjoying a silent game of chess.
The potter meditating on colour and form.
The typographer who set this, though perhaps not pleased.
A man and a woman reading the last triplets of a certain canto.
He who is stroking a sleeping creature.
He who justifies, or seeks to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for Stevenson’s existence.
He who prefers the others to be right.
These people, without knowing, are saving the world.
(A somewhat edited version of the blog was carried on thecitizen.in on 28 August 2019. See the link if you wish-