It would not be difficult for an average Bengali who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s to recall the burgeoning age of the Bengali rock and pop scene led by emerging new-age bands. And Fossils, formed by Rupam Islam in 1998, was surely the favourite, leading the pack with their blended renditions of blues, rock and psychedelia.
The band pioneered the new Bengali rock soundscape with their melodious aggression and powerful ballads, taking inspiration from Bangladeshi rock star Ayub Bachhu. Twenty years later, the five-member arrangement still remains one of the most successful Bangla hard rock bands of all time with classic acts such as Bicycle Chor, Hasnuhana, Bishakto Manush and Aro Ekbar.
We caught up with Fossils guitarist and music producer Allan Temjen Ao on their 24th anniversary.
What led to a sort of mini rock revolution in the Bengali soundscape in the late 90s?
During the last half of the 90s there was a section of students who listened to western rock music but aspired to do something in their own language, not unlike the Bangladeshi scene which was already established and flourishing there. ‘era. This led to a sudden boom of Bengali bands in the city. Initially, we had minimal expectations of recognition from the general public and from musicians.
Fossils have diverged from traditional Bengali music to create something new. What was the response?
The group encountered obstacles in terms of acceptance initially because the public was not too accustomed to loud music accompanied by physical aggression and grunge. Fossils remained unapologetic in their modes of expression and did not await validation from the general public. We chose this name with the idea that our music would never be accepted and would remain buried deep somewhere until it was discovered years later, just like lithic fossils are.
What would you call a turning point for Fossils?
Radio and television in the first half of the millennium brought fossils into homes. Our debut album, Fossils 1, came out in 2002, and for a year and a half after that things were flat. It wasn’t until Aamar FM and Sangeet Bangla came into existence that Fossils started to gain momentum. our original Ekla Ghor of the album became popular and there was a sudden increase in the number of performances we were invited to. It was a turning point for us because you know you make a difference when people want to see you live.
Twenty-four years later, what is your survival mantra?
It’s easy to be an underdog because people have the least expectations of you. However, the real challenge starts when you start getting accepted to each progressive year and album. We owe our survival to continuously evolving with the times, writing and producing quality music, and ensuring that our live shows consistently meet production and performance standards.
Is Bangla rock as active as before?
Despite many talented musicians, Bangla rock again went underground. Audiences are more interested in watching music than listening to it. A part of the public is not aware of our most recent works, because they no longer follow. This happens due to the variety of content instantly available on the internet. It wouldn’t be surprising if our albums were buried in this pile of options. We therefore continue to promote our work at our shows and on social media to keep the public informed.
People have to step out of their comfort zone to experience a new revolution in Bengali music.
Have you thought about exploiting the digital space?
While the pandemic has pushed many indie bands into the digital space, Fossils has consciously stayed away from digital gigs. We worked on a few songs amid the challenges of the pandemic. We have recorded a song in Hindi with the intention of reaching a wider audience and are looking for the right platform or collaborator to release it. We hope to resume rehearsals as soon as the situation normalizes.
The date of the Fossils Jhor 2 concert will be announced soon.
Photo credits: Prasanta Kumar Sur