Issa Nibras Farooque, more popularly known as The Farooque Bhai Project among his fans, is a Bangladeshi Alt Pop artist based in Canada. A full time data architect working for a multinational real estate company, from writing poems to making music that has captured the love and adoration of the indie fan base in Bangladesh, his journey so far has been like nobody else’s. The rising star shares his amazing story with us at TINDS during an exclusive interview.
So why use the name Farooque?
Farooque: Farooque was my father’s name. He was called ‘Farooque Bhai‘ by everyone. My father, Dr Mohiuddin Farooque, was the founder of ‘Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)’, and worked as an environmental lawyer in Bangladesh. He passed away at an early age. I adopted his name for my act as he had always been my hero.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Farooque: Born and raised in Dhaka. I was a student of Scholastica from my play group to A levels. Later I came to study engineering in Canada and then decided to settle here. I started making music as a hobby in my first year of university and then everything unfurled with time. I couldn’t have fathomed where I am today from where I started.
How did you get into music?
Farooque: My father was very much into music, he could play the harmonium and guitars and even sang. He would often plug me into a mic even when I was as little as two or three years old. Basically, that’s where the interest comes from. Also, my uncle Khalid, used to be part of a band named Chime. He is well known for his hits during that era, ‘Shorolotar Protima’ and ‘Himaloy’ are a few examples.
Do you play any instruments?
Farooque: Initially, I was only a vocalist, but I also wrote poetry on the side. Farooque Bhai Project began a few years after I began performing music. Later, as my friends began to graduate, I realized that if I didn’t pick up an instrument on my own, my music would most likely die. So I attempted a few times to learn how to play the guitar, but I couldn’t get ahead of the early learning curve. Later on, I decided on the ukelele because it was just becoming popular in the early 2010s. I had been playing the ukelele for a year when I began composing songs from some of my older poetry, such as “Haate Tojbi” and that’s how The Farooque Bhai Project began its journey.
What was the reason behind the very long gaps in between the release of your songs?
Farooque: I released “Haate Tojbi” by simply recording it at a friend’s house with a cheap condenser microphone; it was more of a student studio setup. He mixed the song for me, and I uploaded it on Soundcloud with no expectations because living in Toronto and not being recognized here did not make sense for me to be a breakthrough artist back in Bangladesh. There are many talented artists who do not receive the recognition they deserve. ‘Haate Tojbi’, on the other hand, was performing well; I had a continuous stream of about 60 people listening to it, but it was still a slowly growing fan following because it was too fresh and independent for the audience. Over the course of that time, over the next four or five years I had written all these other songs that were released later.
Who encouraged you to keep at it?
Farooque: When my wife heard all of the songs, she said, “I’m not Bangali, and I don’t even understand what you’re saying, but all of these are really good.” She suggested I record my tunes at a studio. She compelled me to, and I also had the bug in my head. I did my homework, identified a decent producer, and considered which people I wanted to play with. My intention was to use an all-Bangali cast from Toronto. I could only rent the studio for three days. We recorded eight songs on the first day, completed all of the structuring on the second, and finished all of the mixing on the third.
What is your inspiration behind the kind music that you make?
Farooque: One of my friends, who I played guitar with, used to be a firm believer of doing things differently which was a huge influence on me when I first started out. Also, being an engineer, it’s fun to try to reverse engineer everything. I thought the music industry was kind of stagnant since, as my musical tastes evolved, and I sought to discover bengali songs of that genre, I could either find nothing or not find too many musicians working on it. When I was looking for independent music, I fell in love with the work of the band Blunderware, an indie rock band from Bangladesh, but I couldn’t find much more. When you’re a fan of any genre, you don’t only listen to music from one band; instead, you create a playlist of songs from several bands that you enjoy. So I wanted to make my tracks a little distinct, I wanted my lyrics to be the distinguishing feature, and I simply tried to avoid doing something that we’ve been hearing our entire lives when it comes to bangla music.
How would you compare the response of the audience in Bangladesh to that of people abroad?
Farooque: I could think about my dhaka shows and get goosebumps right now. The energy, the love for the music and the artist is unparalleled. The love that I got from the crowd during my shows in Dhaka was insane. I wish I could do a show in Dhaka every month.
Are you planning to come back to Bangladesh again anytime soon?
Farooque: It’d be very nice to come back once a year to reconnect with the fans, get to meet new people and show more of who I am as a person.
What do you think the future holds for Bangla music?
Farooque: I believe that the future will be our best musical era yet. When we compare our music to different types of music from throughout the world, we frequently see several genres that coexist due to language. That kind of coexistence, I believe, exists at a much higher level in Bangladesh due to a variety of variables such as the availability of internet, the strengthening of the economy, and access to jampads, among others. The cohabitation of numerous genres, as well as each of us trying to push the envelope in our own manner, will give rise to new kinds of fusion that Bangladesh has yet to witness.
What sort of struggles have you had to face coming this far?
Farooque: It was having to put a lot of money into something for which I was getting nothing in return. It was thousands of dollars spent on something I enjoy doing with no expectation of return. Being able to do so is both a luxury and a struggle. I wanted to ensure that whatever I did was of high quality. Managing time would be another, but I wouldn’t call it a battle because I genuinely enjoyed myself. It’s frequently difficult to balance all of the sides; what the listener sees as one song has so much more to it: the logistics, the campaigns, getting people together to generate posters and photographs, and so on. It was difficult for me to coordinate everyone as a solo artist, I think every solo artist has to be somewhat of an entrepreneur to be able to cope.
What are your plans with Farooque Bhai Project?
Farooque: I have written a few more pop tracks and hopefully I will be able to hit the studio because I got the lyrics and the tune but I want to be able to sit down with the producers and get the exact beats that I want. I’d also like to move towards other genres. I have been dj-ing alot so I would probably want to make some electro, funk pop or something else in the future.
What would your advice be to upcoming musicians?
Farooque: When I was a university student, it was much easier to jam with other people, therefore I would encourage everyone to do so. I wanted to make sure that whatever music I was doing was of the highest quality throughout my post-university years, which included writing more of my original songs. When audiences are listening to your music on Spotify with an ocean of other tracks, if the quality does not stand out, it is simply unfortunate because there is so much stuff out there. It is critical to highlight quality, and even if this takes time, one should try to consistently ask themselves what their distinctive worth is. Someone should not start fantasizing about becoming famous overnight; instead, they should focus on doing their best.