Karaoke, antakshari, covers, remakes, and remixes constitute the diverse afterlife of numerous songs, expanding their reach far beyond their initial moment. However, this transformative process is inherently contentious, with the perpetual risk of being accused of disrespecting the cherished original. AR Rahman's recent reinterpretation of "Karar Oi Louho Kopat," a composition by Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam from 1922, has encountered precisely this reception.
The new tune, which translates to "break down those iron gates of prison," has not only tested the patience of the poet's family but has also stirred discontent among Nazrulgeeti fans. Some express distress, others fury, and some label the new rendition a "tragedy." It's noteworthy that Rahman himself has faced challenges with adaptations of his compositions, as seen in his response to a remix of "Masakali," where he urged listeners to "enjoy the original" and emphasized the importance of proper commissioning and dedication in the creative process.
In the realm of music adaptations, obtaining consent from the original artists or their estates and ensuring appropriate royalties are the ethical imperatives. Beyond these considerations, the level of experimentation and public reception, whether positive or negative, poses a worthwhile risk. This year, a cover of Tracy Chapman's 1988 ballad "Fast Car" has not only made history by making her the first Black woman to write a US country music chart-topper but has also significantly enriched her. Indian films, in particular, have a penchant for vintage playlists, contributing to the continued popularity of classic songs, even when criticized for potential exploitation.
In the case of Rahman's rendition, it undeniably brought Nazrulgeeti back into the spotlight, garnering renewed attention and appreciation.
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