Khiyo: Bondona

October 30, 2022

Bengal on the Thames

Listening Post 360. Khiyo emerged when Sohini Alam, a singer born in London to Bangladeshi parents, met Oliver Weeks, a Gloucester-born musician-composer steeped in Bengali culture. Their work together reflects nothing less than the laws of chemistry and the story of humanity: Two entities combine to produce something new that shows its roots but also develops independent force and identity. The music of their now six-member band (plus guests) is Bengali folk performed in traditional as well as rock, blues and jazz idioms. In 2015, Khiyo released its eponymous debut album, an impressive collection of re-interpreted Bengali classics—including works by seminal artists Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. It took seven years to produce their second album because Alam and Weeks never stop moving—each performs with multiple ensembles and also works in theater and film. The music on Bondona (“to pay homage”) is as fresh as morning marigolds; the new album has a similar East-West mix with one difference: Six of the 14 songs are original works by band founders and friends. Nazrul sangeet (music) remains prominent, as in Riniki Jhiniki, which follows a girl whose ankle bells ring as she walks into the forest in search of love (video 1). Reverence for home animates Dhono Dhanno Pushpo Bhora (Nowhere a Land Like This, video 2), a hymn to the flora, families and heavens of Bengal; while Amar Ei Rasta (Will the Roads Meet?, video 3) explores the push-pull of new lands and enduring ties. Tradition collides with rock in Aajke Shaadi (video 4), describing a merry and intoxicated crowd at a princess’s wedding. And Lungi Bondona (Ode to the Lungi, video 5) combs the fabric of tradition with a salute to the South Asian man skirt. Khiyo revels in its fusing of styles and cultures; more than the sum of its arts, Bondona is unique, universal and beautiful. (ARC Music).

Khiyo: Bondona / ক্ষ: বন্দনা
Sohini Alam: Vocals, handclaps, bells
Oliver Weeks: Electric guitar, handclaps, piano, violin, acoustic guitar
Ben Heartland: Electric bass, handclaps, fretless bass, double bass
David Ingamells: Drums, triangle, shaker
Hassan Mohyeddin: Tabla, shaker, handclaps
Flora Curzon: Violin

Also featuring:
Rohini Alam: Backing vocals
Himanish Goswami: Khol, ektara
Nazrul Islam: Mondira, dhol
Zami Jalil: Viola, violin
Tahseen Jannat: Backing vocals
Tamar Osborn: Tenor sax, baritone sax
Sophie Rivlin: Cello
Aanon Siddiqua: Backing vocals
Justin Thurgur: Trombone
Nick Walters: Trumpet

The Ligeti Quartet:
Mandhira de Saram: Violin 1
Patrick Dawkins: Violin 2
Richard Jones: Viola
Valerie Welbanks: Cello

Note: The band Khiyo takes its name from a letter of the Bengali alphabet. The letter “khiyo” (ক্ষ) is a conjunct consonant, created by combining two simple consonants into a separate symbol with its own sound.


Riniki Jhiniki
(Lyrics & music: Kazi Nazrul Islam)
The title is onomatopoeic, referring to the sound of ankle bells. The song is about a girl going into the forest in search of love.

(From the Bengali lyrics. Translations by Sohini Alam, Leesa Gaza and Oliver Weeks)
‘Riniki jhiniki jhini rini rini jhini jhini’/
The ankle bells ring, they ring
A newly adolescent girl goes on a love-quest/Leaving home and into the wilderness

The vines cling to her feet to dissuade her
Indulging in her emotions, she doesn’t care about obeying her elders, or fear, or shame.

Bewildered by her feelings with her tousled hair/Shadow dancers move to sweet murmurs
Madhabi flowers glow in this love nest/The sight of such beauty gives Murali* pause
The lost moon/Has come to the garden dressed as Radha**

* flute-playing Krishna
** Krishna’s lover


Dhono Dhanno Pushpo Bhora / Nowhere a Land Like This
(Lyrics & music: Dwijendrala Roy)

Nowhere will you find a land like this
She is the queen of all lands/She is the land of my birth

Lush with grain and flowers as treasure/Is this Earth of ours
In the midst of this is a land beyond measure/She is made of dreams
Wrapped in memories.

The moon, sun, planets, stars/Where else do they have such brilliance?
Where does the lightning play like this, among such black clouds?
As the call of her birds put me to sleep/I wake to birdsong

Whose rivers are so soothing?/Where such majestic mountains?
Where do such green fields blend into the sky?/In whose land does the wind play in waves upon the paddy?

Branches full of flowers/Birds singing in every haunt
The bees arrive buzzing and chase each other in clusters
They fall asleep upon the flowers after drinking their nectar

So much affection from a mother, a brother
Where can one go to find it?/O Mother, I hold both your feet close to my chest
This is the land of my birth/May it be where I leave this Earth


Amar Ei Rasta / Will the Roads Meet?
(Lyrics: Leesa Gazi / Music Sohini Alam & Oliver Weeks)

Dreams of gravel, tell-tale signs of dust, earth and mud
An untamed heart, captivated by travel, stands and turns
Will this road ever join the other?

Obon Baul* writes pictures when and where/The day’s weariness mixes with the twilight breeze
How do you find the path in the shadow of the path itself?/Tell me: will this road ever join the other?

Where is your home? Where is your home? Where do you live?
The house has no knowledge of home twelve months a year/My shadows are gone and my days go by in false illusion
The body doesn’t get to see shadows in this world/I understand that this road will never join the other

* Rabindranath Tagore


Aajke Shaadi
(Lyrics & music: Kazi Nazrul Islam)

A song about getting everyone drunk and making merry at a princess’s fancy wedding… but all’s fine because it was written by the national poet of Bangladesh.

Today is the princess’s wedding
Drink the Shiraz, everyone
Drink the Shiraz

In the stupor of drunken eyes
May fireworks play
Drink the Shiraz, everyone
Drink the Shiraz

Whoever we find before us
We will give coloured water* to drink
We will fill their hearts with the colours of happiness
Through singing and dancing
Drink the Shiraz, everyone
Drink the Shiraz.

* Red wine


Lungi Bondona / Ode to the Lungi
(Lyrics: Leesa Gazi / Music: Sohini Alam & Oliver Weeks)

A song in praise of the man skirt.

The rich man wears a lungi/He wears it in contentment
The servant boy twists his lungi/With a trembling heart
The boat sways to the rhythm of the river/The boatman is alarmed
The lungi flies up over his head/And drowns him in embarrassment
Who is watching in the middle of the river?/And who cares?

Red lungis, blue lungis/Lungis are a lot of fun
Checked lungis, trendy lungis/Hail the lungi in song

‘The small man wears a lungi/It’s an eyesore
The roads should be free of lungis/Get rid of them
Gentlemanly snobbery is crushed/If you wear a lungi
If you wear the lungi indoors/Then the gentleman is pleased
It’s when you wear them outdoors that you lose your prestige/Be conscious of your status.’



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