It was Sabina Yasmin’s 66th birthday on Friday. The legendary singer talks to Prothom Alo about how she spent her birthday, about her long career in music and more.
Sabina Yasmin said she has never really celebrated her birthday in a big way. “It has always been a family affair, with my daughter, a few relations and a couple of friends coming over. And this time I didn’t even have that. No one could come. But the first phone call I got for my birthday was from my daughter Badhon. From then on, starting at midnight, there were endless phone calls, Messenger calls, WhatsApp and Viber messages, thousands of birthday wishes.” It was quite chaotic for Sabina Yasmin, responding to everyone. So on Friday she gave a general note of thanks to everyone on Facebook.
Did she receive any surprise on her birthday?
Not really, though Faridur Reza Sagar sent her a huge gift box. He does that every year, but she wasn’t expecting it this year.
And was she missing anyone on her birthday?
“I missed by son. He wished me over the phone. But to tell the truth, on my birthday I miss the most those who gave birth to me, my parents. I do not miss anyone else much, actually.”
Many artistes with whom Sabina Yasmin would work are no longer living. Azad Rahman, Alauddin Ali, Andrew Kishore all passed away recently. Before that Imtiaz Bulbul had died. Sabina Yasmin says she misses them all, all the time.
“I sang so many songs composed by the talented music composer Azad Rahman. As for Alauddin Ali, I would say he was one of the very best music composers of this subcontinent. Whatever he touched turned to gold. That is how his songs were. Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul is incomparable. He stands first and foremost when it comes to patriotic songs. Each and every one of his patriotic songs is a masterpiece. And then there were movie songs. I cannot say enough about Andrew Kishore. I was very close to him during the last nine months of his life. I would talk to him every day over the phone. I helped him with going to Singapore and getting admitted to hospital there, consulting the physicians and so on.”
“Syed Abdul Hadi, Mitali Singh and I went to Singapore and held a concert for Kishore. I had thought he would recover and return, but he didn’t. I have innumerable messages on WhatsApp from Kishore. I can’t read them, I can’t delete them. It is painful.”
Sabina Yasmin’s career in the music world spans for over five decades. She began as a child artiste singing for Ehtesham’s film ‘Notun Sur’, but her first song as a playback singer was in 1967 for ‘Agun Niye Khela’, directed by Amjad Hossain and Nurul Huq Bachchu. Does she remember those days?
She does. “I remember singing in a chorus behind Ferdausi apa, ‘C manay cat, cat manay biral!’ Then I sang a composition of Altaf Mahmud bhai in ‘Notun Sur’. He was the first to give me a chance to sing in the movies. He had warned me, if you don’t sing well, I will have to drop you. I was so scared then, when I sang ‘modhu josnar dipali’. I sang another song in that film with Mahmudun Nabi, “ekti pakhi dupur roday shongihara eka.’ Since then, for as long as he lived, Altaf Mahmud took me to sing for all the movies where he was the music director.
The songs are being used randomly on various channels, but the lyricists, composers, artistes receive nothing. Royalty is our right. We must be paid royalty
Sabina Yasmin has sung with all the big names in music, even in India - Manabendra Mukhopadhaya, Shyamal Mitra, Kishore Kumar, Manna De and so many more. She sang for the famous Indian composers RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri and Bhupen Hazarika. Back home, she has song for the top music composers Ataur Rahman, Satya Saha, Subal Das, Alam Khan, Sheikh Sadi Khan and more.
She shares her experiences. “I have learnt something from each and every composer for whom I have sung. I especially learnt the pronunciation and expressions required for singing from Ata bhai (Khan Ata).”
“I sang in two films for RD Burman, ‘Aarpar’ and ‘Shotru’. I had gone to Bombay to sing for ‘Shotru’. RD Burman was in the US at the time, but he came back for this film. He wasn’t aware who was going to sing. He entered the studio and saw me. He said, “Oh, it’s you. If I knew before, I would have sent you the music track. You could have sung it easily. I wouldn’t have had to come all this way.” That was such an honour for me! And Bappi Lahiri’s father Oporesh Lahiri would always insist that I stay back in Bombay.
In 1984 Sabina Yasmin won the Ekushey Padak and in 1996 she won the Swadhinata Padak. She won the national film award 14 times and in 1984 earned a doctorate degree in music. What more could she want?
“I have everything, but there is one think that needs attention. We singers put so much time and effort into our singing, but we do not receive any royalty on our songs. I want to make a point about this. The songs are being used randomly on various channels, but the lyricists, composers, artistes receive nothing. Royalty is our right. We must be paid royalty.”
She said that government initiative and support was required to ensure royalty. A law needed to be passed in this regard. Only then will those who put so much hard world ink each song be duly rewarded.
No other artiste in Bangladesh has as many songs as Sabina Yasmin – around 16,000 in all. How would she evaluate herself?
“I am very lucky,” says the singer, “I am very lucky to have so many songs. I am grateful to all those who chose me to sing their songs. But I want to say, there are so many songs now and good singers too. But the songs simply get lost after you listen to them once or twice. People don’t hum them. I don’t know where there is a lacking.”
She continues, “I never imagined such a vacuum would be created after Runa Laila and myself. By now the vacuum should have been filled. This is unfortunate.”
She is happy if the new generation singers sing her songs. It is the new generation that will keep our songs alive, she says. But she wants them to present the songs with care. The songs must not be twisted out of recognition. The media through which they present the songs much ensure that the songs are preserved and presented in a proper manner.