British-Bengali band Khiyo bring their eclectic sound to the East End
12:58 05 August 2014
An exciting young British-Bengali band who combine traditional Bangladeshi songs with modern arrangements will bring their extraordinary sound to the East End ahead of the launch of their debut album.
The three core members of Khiyo - Sohini Alam on vocals, Oliver Weeks on guitar and piano, and Ben Hillard on bass - will perform songs from the album at Stepney Green Fair on Sunday (August 17), following their set at the National Theatre’s Outdoor Festival earlier this week.
Khiyo draw from a range of influences, from classical, rock, jazz, blues, Nazrul Sangeet, Bengali folk and Indian classical, to create a sound which is both familiar and exotic, rooted yet progressive.
As Sohini explains: “In Bangladeshi music there are all these amazing songs that people love, but the arrangement sometimes sounds so dated.
“Growing up I noticed a lot of my friends didn’t listen to that kind of music. We’d think of these songs as the kind of stuff our parents would listen to.
“But as soon as we make it in a way second generation Bangaldeshis can relate to, it works.”
Sohini met Oliver in 2007 when she “depped”, or was understudy, for the Bengali singer Moushumi Bhowmik, who Oliver was working with in the band Parapar, and they later met up to jam and brought in Oliver’s friend Ben on bass, who he knew from their Cambridge days.
“I met him and started doing some music and we really enjoyed it,” Sohini recalled.
Khiyo’s eclectic first album marries a grungy rhythm-section and dreamy acoustic guitars to classic Bangladeshi melodies in a way that feels natural and fresh.
But to people who have grown up with these songs, the arrangements can be quite a shock.
Khiyo’s rendition of the Bangladesh national anthem, Amar Shonar Bangla, caused a stir in Bangladesh in 2012 after it went “viral” online, with one famous musician accusing the band of sedition for “distorting” the lyrics of national poet Rabindranath Tagore, and others coming to the band’s defence.
“These are all very popular songs for Bangladeshis but they’re not presented in a traditional way,” said Sohini.
“I haven’t messed around much with the melodies, but when people hear the arrangement, they say, ‘holy crap, I can’t believe that’s the same song!’ More often than not they love it.”
The album will be launched at the Forge in Camden on August 28, and is likely to surprise people who have only heard a song or two online.
“There’s all different kinds of sounds on the album,” said Sohini. “If people are expecting it all to be acoustic and mellow, they will get a bit of a surprise.
“We’re all quite influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin and Radiohead.
“Someone said it sounds a bit like a classic rock album, and Olly joked, ‘yeah, but without a sitar!’”
Sohini says the band are looking forward to playing in the East End where there is a large Bangladeshi population.
“The way I see it London is a great place to do this sort of thing,” she said. “There’s so many people from so many places.
“I really like performing in east London, because for Bangladeshis it’s something they know but something that’s not, in a way.
“It’s really nice to take that to Bangladeshis, especially young Bangladeshis who say they’ve not really listened to Bangladeshi music.
“A mother came up to me and said her daughter had never been able to relate to Bangadeshi culture, but she went to our show and really liked it.”
Khiyo are performing at Stepney Green Fair on August 10 at 6pm, where entry is free.
For more information visit Khiyo.com.