NEMESIS - The most important rock band in Bangladesh today [INTERVIEW]
An interview exploring the many sides of a Bangladeshi rock band: a crash course on their history, their presence, and their artistic contribution to Bangladesh's sociopolitical struggles
Nemesis is arguably the best rock band in Bangladesh. In a 22-year long career of constantly producing tunes ahead-of-times, the band has seen its fair share of personal battles and contributed to various sociopolitical struggles as they saw fit along their way. Their music is almost unheard of outside of Bangladesh, primarily because their songs are all written in Bangla. However, for the fresh ears, it won’t take even a second to acknowledge a brand new offering in their music. And if you have been following them for a while, rest assured you will recognize their guitar-driven aesthetic the instance it hits overdrive. The band is all grit with unique compactness that reminisces of QOTSA’s (Queens of the Stone Age) …Like Clockwork, but progressively louder with a political edge as piercing as The Joshua Tree.
I have been a long-time fan of the band and had previous opportunities to interview them as well. But this time, it was different. I found myself projecting from the bleakest corner of my room while the 5 of them huddled up at the vocal’s house to answer, what really seemed like, some of my personal grievances regarding the band. This time we met at the height of anti-rape protests in Bangladesh (EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was submitted to us on 16 October 2020), where hundreds of women have taken the streets demanding legal reforms to ensure proper justice for rape victims. This protest is doing rounds in the international news and in social media for commitment to its activism despite COVID-19 gripping the entire country by its neck. Being known for writing one of the most political rock albums in the country, the frontman – Zohad – is found amidst the protesters on often nights. On days that he is not, the band’s spirit is kept alive by many posters boldly draped with his lyrics. This time, it felt a bit more charged. It was only fitting to ask how they feel being labeled as one of the biggest bands in the country, resonating with so many in times of moral crises.
“We try not to think about it, really. It’s usually on the surface, but it’s not all that important to us. As a band, we think there is always scope for improving our music, and it is best we keep it that way. We are 5 guys making some noise with purpose. We usually talk about stuff that happens around us and how it affects all that we stand for. As a band, that’s how we connect to the same wavelength and make the tunes that we make. It just feels good to know that it has not gone to waste – that we share the same values as our fans, that we are hitting the right note when our sociopolitical reflection echoes within our fans for causes greater than all of us.”
Nemesis’ political songwriting began with their critically acclaimed second album called Tritio Jatra (Translation: The Third Journey). The 2011 full-length had the band take on the then-ongoing political strife between the ruling and the opposition parties in Bangladesh, really asking how soon is soon enough for actual organic change to happen in Bangladesh. The 48-minute long alternate-rock record, spanning 9 meticulously crafted songs, is a 180-degree turn from the softer sound that defined their debut full-length album Onneshon (Translation: Search) five years earlier. This timely departure and a promise to keep getting louder that powerfully rests within Tritio Jatra is often considered as one of the best band albums to have come out from Bangladesh. But my concerns were directed towards their political philosophy and how a bunch of high schoolers not only found their voice of reason as they graduated into a band of men, but found the courage to keep producing grittier self-reflections in their 2017 full-length album – Gonojowar (Translation: Mass Tide) – that resonated with a call larger than their existence.
“Tritio Jatra was definitely more political than Gonojowar, but we weren’t as socio-politically aware as we are now”, says drummer Dio. “It’s not like we were convinced by Tritio Jatra’s success that we will be a political band throughout. We allowed our surroundings to convince us what to write about.” Zohad chips in saying, “Gonojowar was definitely a conscious decision – we wanted to be political, we wanted to be louder, we have something to say and we wanted to be heard.” While they have some English tracks sprinkled across their first two albums, the band felt more comfortable writing Bangla songs because the product becomes easily relatable to their fans in the country. Zohad recollects how he was constantly challenged by many to write songs in Bangla when he was younger. While he claims he still writes lines in English, they are few and far between. “We see things around us and we write about it. It’s just better in Bangla”, Zohad claims as he chills out perched on the corner of his chair, as comfortable as his effortless rhyming in Olosh Roug (Translation: Laziness).
“Gonojowar is a better reflection of our times, and how we view the world around us. For instance, the song Bhor (Translation: Dawn) is how all of us felt that morning after Holey Artisan Terrorist Attack – it’s as if our collective indifference to the changing tide of time silenced us forever. It’s in these ways we try to connect the issues to our songs. Look at Ami (Translation: Me). We released a single about the student protest during the protest. We are a rock band! We should have something to say, and as long as things stay the same, we will keep getting louder and louder. We don’t think we will think twice before writing a charged-up song.”
It was obvious for me to ask if the loud aggression and anger had any association with the band’s tumultuous affair with changing members. Nemesis has always been considered as one of the freshest sounding bands in the country, housing guitar virtuosos like Maher Khan whose talent and musical competence spoke on behalf of their name. Coupled with Omayr Khan on rhythm guitars, Nemesis was the epitome of compactness on stage and a synonym for the millennial teenage attitude. With both Omayr and Maher’s departure, the band felt lost as they trialled through an assortment of guitar duos with extreme trepidation, until they settled for Zafir and Rafsan. Nemesis’ four years since Tritio Jatra was defined by part caution and part grappling with public criticism for supposedly losing their musical wits.
“Personal anger did not have anything to do with how we sound now. I mean, yeah of course, we were angry. It was right after Tritio Jatra, we were at our peak and ready to take the next step that could have transcended us to newer, possibly unthinkable heights. It was unimaginable that they will contemplate leaving music altogether, let alone acting on it! So, yeah sure, I mean fuck you for doing that, right? But there is nothing that can be done. It’s not as if they joined another band – they just called it quits and it was their conscious choice. Even if there was anger, there was still closure that their musical relationship with the band had run its’ course. Now we have to move on without them, and that was the logical thing to do. We faced so much unwanted heat for continuing the band. It felt as if we are the bad guys!"
“It was quite difficult for a few years. There were moments of not feeling right and moments of plain fatigue trying to pull through”, exclaims the band’s bass-player Ratul. “So to have finally landed on our feet and redeemed ourselves, we felt really proud of ourselves.” Both Rafsan and Zafir, who equally share rhythm and lead guitar responsibilities of the band, have responded to the call with fervent dedication, adding fangs to the already-gritty soundscape that Nemesis was famous for.
The shoes left behind were immensely big, the task equally daunting and the intimidating challenge did dawn upon Rafsan and Zafir even before they were revealed to the public. “When they asked me join, I almost thought I was dreaming”, says Zafir who was already a huge fan of the band, “but soon I realized the gravity of the task tugging at me.” Rafsan adds in by appreciating the bands’ openness to growth and how it has gradually made things easy for the both of them. “I was determined that I want to properly be in it. I don’t want to be just another guy playing guitars for Nemesis, I want to memorize every line, every lick and every trick – I wanted to be a proper guitar player for the band. The guys were very appreciative of how I approached music and allowed me space to change into a well-oiled unit of the band. I was joining a new band but it surely felt like a homecoming!”
“So what’s next for Nemesis?” I asked against my better judgment. Bands often can’t predict their way forward, and must be more difficult for a band that finds itself clawing its way back every now and then. “We can’t tell, really. We have a few songs, that’s for sure. But maybe we can write to you later how they are going to sound after we are done recording them” says Zohad as the entire band breaks into a chuckle. Perhaps it’s only fair to expect the unexpected from Nemesis and cut them some slack, especially now that it has been more than a year that they have been performing live with a back-up drummer. “Sometimes we think to ourselves, ‘of course it was supposed to happen to Dio!’” says Zohad as he burst into jokes regarding Dio’s previous unhealthy lifestyle. While Dio was comfortably sitting on the floor behind him and laughing with the guys, you can see from the gleeful look on his face that he is glad to have survived a 48-hour long heart attack that paralyzed half of his body. “We wish him all the best! He is recovering slowly, but he is definitely recovering” says Zohad, “It does not matter if it’s 5 years or 10, this band will be here for him!”
That Nemesis is arguably the best rock band in Bangladesh is an understatement if you were at their Homecoming concert. A space supporting only 200 people felt as if it was housing a thousand people singing and dancing and blowing the roof off. Perhaps, Nemesis is the best Bangladeshi rock band of our generation, and perhaps will be one of the very few musical acts from Dhaka to endure the test of time. But it is no doubt that Nemesis is “the great perhaps” of the Bangladeshi music scene, and every Nemesis fan found themselves asking what could’ve been if the band didn’t find struggles waiting for them at every turning corner. I can end this piece by writing to you that perhaps time will tell. With claws so sharp and fangs that bite deep, the teenage millennial attitude in Nemesis has graduated to become the epitome of endurance. If the world today is any barometer for accurate predictions, we can rest assured it will get louder.
Follow Nemesis on social media: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nemesisbd/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNeIHsIzP4eH-j1DsHfZg7Q