Nish, a British-Bengali artist, songwriter and producer, personifies the concept of cultural fusion in the best way possible. Syed Nishat Monsur, born in London, has carved out a place for himself in the music industry by fusing his Bangladeshi ancestry with cutting-edge, soulful sounds. TINDS spoke with Nish about his career and his journey so far to gain an insight on the good parts.
What’s the story behind your name?
NISH: Nish is not just a stage name, it’s more like my nickname. Everyone around, including my family, calls me Nish, which is basically a shorter version of my name Nishat. I think I am one of the very few Bangali people who doesn’t have a home name.
Where’d you grow up and how do you relate to the culture not being around?
NISH: I was born and raised in London UK but I have a very strong connection with Bangladesh because I keep traveling back and forth a lot. Even within the last six months I have probably been there 3/4 times. I feel very blessed to have a dual identity I’d say because I am very much British and uphold British values being born and brought up here. But at the same time, my background is being a Bangladeshi. My parents always taught me the Bangla culture and talked to me regarding our history so I am well informed because I took a keen interest in it to know myself. I can read, write and speak Bangla fluently, as well as Sylheti because I belong from there. It’s just cool and I feel like people like us are very lucky because we have two parts of us, the British part and the Bangladeshi part.
What were your trips to Bangladesh like?
NISH: The first time I visited was probably back in 1996, but I was very young and I don’t remember much of it. The next time however was the full experience when I visited in 1999. I stayed in Dhaka and had the opportunity to visit Sylhet and stay in the village as well. As I got older, I started traveling to more places in Bangladesh. I visited Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and also places in the outskirts of Dhaka like Gazipur.
How did you get into music?
NISH: A lot of people may not know this but my musical background is classical music. I got into music at a very young age of 5. Growing up, kids always wanted toys or video games to play with – I was always drawn to musical instruments. I was always fascinated by unfamiliar sounds from all over the world. I realized that music was the one thing that took me into my own world, allowing me to really express myself. Being in the UK I had a very strong connection with English music as well as Bangla music. I consider myself very lucky because my parents exposed me to Bangla music and with that I got the chance to fuse the two and come up with my own creations.
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How did you get interested in Bangla music being in the UK?
NISH: I come from a very Bangali household and it’s not as difficult as it may seem. We are just like any other Bangladeshi family, in fact it often feels more Bangali than families back in Bangladesh itself. We speak in Bangla at home, always learning about the culture, arts & food. I have family back in Bangladesh and being in touch with them has helped a great deal to understand what life is like in Bangladesh. My parents are very much into Bangla music and everything Bangali. My father has a very good voice apparently but it’s something that he wouldn’t agree upon.
How many instruments do you play?
NISH: The good thing is, being in a musical environment while growing up I got to pick up a lot of instruments. I started off playing the harmonium and the tabla from my classical background. As I got older I learned how to play the piano, keyboard, guitar and drums. I did a few lessons learning how to play the sitar as well.
When did you decide to pursue a career in music and when did you release your first song?
NISH: My first song came out 2015, but if I have to say professionally full-time I started in 2017. Never had I thought that I would get into music professionally. I would say it was rather a kind of an accident but definitely a good one indeed. I met Mumzy Stranger during my final year of Bachelor’s, who actually is my mentor. Never told him that I was a singer. One day, I was doing something of my own in a room trying to create some music and what not which was very amateur and Mumzy was in the next room apparently, who came running in asking, ‘Whose voice is that?’ I was almost embarrassed to tell him it was me and he complimented me on my voice and told me how good I was. We got together and decided to do something together like a Bangla remix. One of my goals has always been to make Bangla music bigger and better. Since I come from a classical background I always understood the beauty of Bangla language and at the time Bangla music wasn’t getting as much attention and I wanted to change that. When we released our song it ended up being the No. 1 song on iTunes, which was unbelievable. That’s when we figured that this is something that we could really push forward, because the audience liked it.
What encouraged you to make the kind of music that you make?
NISH: To be honest, I have had a lot of inspirations while growing up. My dad is one of the biggest Subir Nandi and Kumar Bishwajit fans you’ll probably ever find. I got to listen to their songs while I was growing up through my parents. Then when it comes to singers from our generation, I have listened to Habib Wahid, Kona, Balam, Mila, Haidar Hossain and so many others. I wanted my music to be relatable for the people in the UK, so I decided to make some English records and use some Bangla in them, so that the people in the UK would understand and get a taste for it.
How was your experience doing shows in and out of Bangladesh?
NISH: I have done a lot of shows in the UK. I think the UK and the US probably have the most show audiences because of the presence of the second generation NRB community. The last few years, especially the last year, I did several shows in Bangladesh which is a big deal for me because I am not from Bangladesh. It’s something that I take pride in getting back to my roots. I have had the opportunity to do shows in places like Morocco and in Paris where one doesn’t see too many Bangla audiences even.
What sort of difficulties have you had to face?
NISH: One of the biggest difficulties that I have faced was trying to connect a little bit to all the generations because not everyone understands the way music is going. The challenge is to try and bridge the generation of listeners and also to show that we respect the legends so I make different songs trying to find the right balance. If there’s a challenge I wanna overcome it. Sometimes when you personally think of one of your songs to be a good one, the audience might not feel the same way. At the end of the day it’s always about the listener, it’s always about what the audiences like. Any struggle or challenge that there is, I will always welcome because for me it’s a learning process.
How do you feel about the transition Bangla music is going through?
NISH: I think it’s incredible. The way I look at it is that we artists now have a scene to build. There’s not many of us but we have to support each other. Muza did a song with Habib Wahid recently and when I listened to it. I loved it so much even though I am not a part of that song it felt like my own. Tumi jaio na for example of Master-D, who I call Subir Da, the success of these songs make me feel like what we are all doing together is simply amazing and all credit goes to them for making such phenomenal music. The way we are trying to build this is definitely going in the right direction. I often think to myself that I have so much to learn because music is something that changes everyday. There’s always going to be something different and new before you know of it.
What would your advice be to young musicians?
NISH: My first advice would be to trust yourself and your talent. Unfortunately in the music world there might be a lot of factors. That might make you feel like you’re not good enough. But the truth is if you’re confident in your ability. You’ll be able to make it, provided you have some sort of a talent of course. It’s important to trust your ability and work towards something that you know you are proven to be good at. Trust the process, build yourself, success doesn’t come in overnight.
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