Travelled to Sydney with Bengali songs, stories and slangs : Arko Mukhaerjee

By Indranil Halder

I did recently attended the first ever Bengali Music Festival in Australia organised by fourth eight year old Bengali Association of New South Wales ( BANSW) in Sydney. It was amazing to hear artists such as Somlata & The Aces and Sahan Samantak and Arko Mukhaerjee Collective.

Who is Arko Mukhaerjee ?

Arko Mukhaerjee is a Kolkata based urban folk artist. A music composer, singer, songwriter and a known face in Indian independent folk music scene. Has an unique voice to sing in more than twenty languages including Bengali and Nepali. Can play five different instruments. According to Google, “His song ‘Reeva’ entered the Billboard Dance 50 Charts at number 49.”

What a mix! : Phenomenal Evening

Today, in the Indian city of Kolkata, Australian consular office has finally started supporting local creative art and culture, Bengali youths are celebrating life without falling into the potholes of generational gap and new generations of singer/ song writers are packing stadiums with crowd ready to hear urban Bengali folk music.

Similarly, a packed theatre in University of NSW (UNSW) waited with enthusiasm to hear the visiting artists from Kolkata. Our core essence of the celebration was to show our love for humanity and Arko did it well. He stole the show. His magical vocal, originality of music and choice of words were amazing. A voice that reached the high peach of a tenor to the humming melody of a lullaby highlighting the Bengal folk rhythm of ‘Baul’. His love for life as human, for Bengal as singer and for north Bengal as a traveler, was eye catching with the use of language, melody and background videos.He is an incredible story teller whose goal was to bring together Bengalis from West Bengal, India and Bangladesh. Bengalis are psychologically seperate by dialects, ideologies and locations.He had accurately identified the distance Bengalis travelled nearly 10,000 kms from Indian subcontinent to Australia with happy memories than mere 300 kms which they travelled during brutal Bengal partition with lose of loved ones. He does not want Sydney Bengalis to segregate ourselves rather identify ourselves as just Bengalis who got Asia’s first noble prize, once lived in the one of the most wealthiest province in the world – Bengal and swam to Australian shore in 1797.

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On stage, Arko kept exploring ethnolinguistic Bengali sentiments with critical thinking and perfect use of language, melodies and instruments to transcend every generation and resonate love. He represented a new generation of Bengalis who express themselves with Billy Joel (Sing as a song the piano man), Bhupan Hajarika (Ganga to Tumi bolcho Kano) and Australian Aboriginal song(Inanay Capuana), all at the same time. His outstanding focus on inspiration and motivation was influenced by eloquent story telling. Sydney based Tarunima Guha , an analytical scientist for JALCO ( Cosmetic Industry) attended the event and said,

“When it’s come to unity in diversity Arko showed us the true meaning of it through his versatile multilingual songs. It was flawless beautifully fused and brought us the essence of well versed music from the heart. He created a memorable concert for us. And the folk stories he shared during the concert in a subtle way, made it wondrous.”

Suddenly, I was watching an memorable musical festival in a UNSW Theatre with latest acoustic technology, incredible talents and Bengali rock bands. In December 2022,I missed watching Arko Mukhaerjee Collective performing at The Soul Local event in Kolkata’s Gitanjali stadium. I found myself in a packed stadium with Bengali youths, happily singing Bengali songs with rock bands such as Fossile , Anjan Dutta and Underground Authority. The crowd participation was thrilling to observe and a great chance to improve my Australian born and raised daughter’s understanding and opinion of modern Bengali urban music. I was witnessing a sea of change in Bengali music scene that has taken the society by storm in an age of artificial intelligence, lack of creativity and deteriorating mental health.

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Arko’s performance was so electrifying, that it did not bother me coming back to my home with no electricity from the freaky storm. For me his vocal depth highlighted Amy WineHouse , Billy Joel and Bob Marley with a certain understanding of a Baul’s love for life. His Bengali urban folk music blended elements of Afro Cuban, Celtic and French folk rhythms to represents common people- indigenous tribes, fishermen and farmers amongst others. His epic use of diaphragm, mucosal waves and larynx with each breath, took my breath away. His voice echoed love for his life that is free from personal or societal oppression. It didn’t matter to him whether an individual lives in Dhaka or Kolkata or fall in love with same sex or hetro partner or speak in Bhatiali or 24 Pargana dialects. A celebration of love that is timeless and boarder-less and language less.

In my teenage year, I never understood my late mother’s fascination with Baul songs. She would even attend Baul festival in Purulia district of West Bengal but never did I imagined, that, I am going to fall in love with metamorphosed urban Bengali folk songs in the 21st century. If Arko would have identified my ignorance, he would have called me a f***ing idiot or in Bengali slang “bocachoda” (Boca= a fool, choda= f***ing). Even then, my pattern seeking neurologically networked brain seems to fall in love with Arko’s version of urban Bengal folk songs like Dr Tasneem Rahman. Dr Rahman is a nuclear imaging scientist, TEDx speaker and a huge fan of Bengali music, who promotes confluence of art and science through her radio program. She believes art and science are nowhere a distinct space, but it complements each other. They require to work together side by side for the greatest advancement of humanity. While attending Arko’s performance, she explains how different form of art is helping, one of her cognitive neuroscience research to prevent dementia. Tasneem says, “Arko’s music does, not only connect people to its core, but it heals. He has a great philosophical understanding about music, its rhythm, and the aura of the Bengali words and I can see a great future ahead collaborating with Arko’s music for the benefit of my research.” She adds that it’s nothing new. If we recall history, we can find that one of the most stimulating, intellectually riveting conversation in history occurred back on July 14, 1930, when Albert Einstein met the great Bengali poet, philosopher, musician and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Albert Einstein said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well” and it is just vice versa for me for the artists.


When visiting Kolkata, no longer, will I needed to visit Somewhere Else in Park Hotel or Tolly Club or listen to Spotify in my Qantas flights on Bose headphone to satisfy my Western music taste with Bengali mindset. All I will be doing, is to purchase my ticket to next Woodstock like BANSW musical festival in Sydney. I will be able to entertain myself with fusion music, unknown melodies and magnifying vocals. Arko definitely highlighted his love for Bengalis from all walks of life and the strength of his vocal defines his courage. He is better than a MBBS doctor, who treat his audience with a prescription of songs , stories and few slangs for a healthier mindset. From Sydney, we wish him all the success, as he plans to record an English album in Los Angeles, United States to celebrate his extraordinary love for urban Bengali folk music.