Meet Bangladesh’s New Female Pop Group Laisfita
The Dhaka band was created from the debut edition of singing competition Sunsilk Divas
On a humid afternoon in a verdant and somewhat posh part of Dhaka, four women in traditional attire step out of a car and into a conference room. In addition to being dressed in fusion wear, they’re all sporting what looks like one strand of their hair in a colorful braid.
Later during our interview, singer Shunanda Sharmin tells us that as winners of singing competition Sunsilk Divas (which concluded in April), they could have as well chosen a “fancy English or French name.” She says, “Or you can choose something that actually represents our culture.” Of course it’s evident that the name Laisfita – a hair ribbon worn by young girls, usually in rural Bangladesh – works well with a haircare sponsor. But Shunanda says, “We want to reintroduce our own culture in a way.”
Along with Shunanda, Laisfita – modeled as Bangladesh’s first female professional pop group – includes singers Antora Rahman, Ferdousi Moumita and Mustarin Ahmed Sheetal. It takes a while to break the ice, but if there’s one thing the group is excited about, it’s putting out music. As winners of Sunsilk Divas, they’ve received money, phones and a contract with Sony DADC. Plus, a promise of being involved in a Bollywood song. Sheetal is excited about being involved with that last one. “I love Bollywood music, especially item songs,” she says with a wide smile.
While Sunsilk Divas attracted initial ire from viewers for not picking guitarist-singer Samira Binte Fahian, Rabeth Khan – the managing director of inceptors Creinse Limited – points out that Samira’s flair as a rock artist was limiting the scope for putting together a diverse band. Khan is all praise for Samira, but he adds, “The only problem was, she was a bit of an introvert and her only skillset is rock.”
The women of Laisfita – all in their 20s – were picked among 20 finalists who were shortlisted for the show based on audio submissions. In the course of a few weeks of televised episodes, they were up for scrutiny and feedback from Bangladesh’s top musicians such as celebrated singer Alif Alauddin, vocalist Sharmin Sultana Sumi (from rock band Chirkutt), composer-singer Hridoy Khan and Zohad Reza Chowdhury from rock band Nemesis. Alauddin says, “We didn’t have much disagreements. The contestants, when they made mistakes, it was pretty obvious to all of us. We all registered that, but still we had our favorites.”
When asked about their background in music, it becomes quickly evident that the girls in Laisfita been picked for their diverse influences. Shunanda has a way with international pop, Sheetal loves Bollywood but also says her strength is singing Bangla folk songs. Antora grew up singing folk songs too, but specifically mentions Rabindra Sangeet and Moumita first trained in classical vocals as a child, with her mother as her first teacher. But for Sunsilk Divas, they were in the deep end when it came to singers with folk backgrounds being assigned pop music and others being given duets to prepare in about two or three days for forthcoming rounds. Antora says, “In a band setting, I was singing songs in school (competitions) but the English songs and even patriotic songs – those were new for me. Remembering the lyrics to a completely new song and do it well, in front of the judges that too, was the most challenging.”
In turn, now that they’ve won and are on their way to challenge a few stereotypes about women musicians in Bangladesh and South Asia. There have been all-female pop bands in the country before – Khan points out Blue Birds in the Eighties and Angels in the Nineties – but judges like Sharmin Sultana Sumi says the music industry never focused specifically towards women talent. “I would like to see them as leaders in their own fields, who are creative, committed and encouraging to each other and the whole country,” she says of Laisfita. Moumita adds, “There’s a culture in our country – if she’s a girl, she has to wear a sari and she has to sing classical music. Girls can sing pop and rock, these are the main kinds of music in our country.”
While Creinse is working regularly to bring down international talent to the country – they had Canadian pop-rock veteran Bryan Adams stop by in 2011 and later, seasoned pop artist Richard Marx in 2017 – this is the first time they’re managing a band’s sonic and visual identity. They have the right people on board, like Creinse’s chief operating officer Kaiz Faisal Ahmed (a recent inductee into the country’s biggest rock band, Artcell) and the band manager is Ashikur Rahman, who runs a record label and raps under the moniker Franklin Tra’vious.
Khan adds, “The band is absolutely fresh and new and we’re trying to shape them up. The music industry is ruthless. They seldom give spaces to newcomers. These are things we understand and that’s why we’d like well-wishers and people who give them that support, provided they put out good work.” Currently, the four women are only singing while the songwriting is being taken care of. Shunanda says, “We don’t want to jeopardize whatever our composers are coming up with. They have a theme and lyrics. If I’m not sure of the idea, we will not interfere.”
Their debut pop-rock song, “Swapno Akhon Amar Haatey” is a jumpy, heady mix featuring an inspirational message and is composed by Hridoy Khan. Shunanda says it’s about having a positive influence, even if the journey to it is an emotional one. “If you watch something on TV or read something online, you’re often left with an empty feeling. We want every song to leave on a positive note, even if it’s talking about sad stories.”
Laisfita is on a two-year contract with Sony DADC to release material and the girls are fully aware of that it’s not the biggest window in this fast-paced music world where singles get viral attention and then quickly fade away. Moumita says, “We’ve just started our journey so there’s a lot of things to think about. We’ll do something inshallah.”