Moheener Ghoraguli or Mohiner Ghoraguli (Bengali: মহীনের ঘোড়াগুলি , translation: Moheen's Horses) was a Bengali music group from Kolkata. It is difficult to classify them into a musical genre, as their music was a mixture of a wide variety of influences, including the Baul and folk traditions of Bangla and rock.
Established in the 1970s during a period of stagnation in Bangla music, when commercial film songs were the dominant market force, the lyrics (and to some extent the compositions) of leader Gautam Chattopadhyay were radically new. They were of a very personal or social nature, similar to the urban folk movement lead by Bob Dylan in the 60s. Though they were almost unknown in their time, in recent years they have undergone a critical re-evaluation much like the Velvet Underground. This can not be understood without a little background on the Jibonmukhi movement.
In the early 90s, Suman Chattopaddhay (now called Kabir Suman) revolutionised Bangla music by writing songs about everyday life, ordinary people and burning social issues. He gave voice to the feelings of a generation and in the process opened the floodgates on a number of artists who tried to emulate Suman. The focus shifted from mellow melodies, recycled lyrics and separate composer-songwriter-performers to strong lyrical content (written by the singer himself) and a fresh sound with significant influences from Western folk and rock (Suman was mentored by Pete Seeger). Bangla music would never be the same again.
This gave rise to a genre of songwriting called Jibonmukhi (About life), a term coined by Nachiketa, the first to follow in Suman's footsteps. It left a profound influence on the music scene. Though Suman never accepted the title, he was considered the de-facto pioneer and leader of this new breed of singer-songwriters. It was at this point that some begun to recognise the fact that something similar had been attempted previously by Moheener Ghoraguli. In recognition of this renewed interest, Gautam released a compilation of Mohiner Ghoraguli covers by contemporary artists, Aabaar Bochhor Kuri Pore in 1995. They have since come to be considered an unrecognised pioneers of the jibonmukhi style and ethics, decades ahead of their times.
They are sometimes also credited as the pioneers of the flourishing of Bangla bands in the new millennium. This is debatable as their songwriting was strongly rooted in Bangla folk and also American urban folk, while modern Bangla bands like Fossils and Insomnia are influenced by grunge.
Their signature song is Prithibita Naki, a reflection on how television creates urban alienation. It has been covered by many artists.
The 1970s were not a propitious time for an experimental group like Moheener Ghoraguli. It was the heyday of classic Bengali singers such as Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Shyamal Mitra, etc - soloists who were responsible for creating the canon of adhunik gaan or 'modern Bengali songs'. These were songs that updated the tradition of Tagore and Nazrul. They were traditional in their instruments and arrangements, and traditional in their themes and lyrics. They often appeared for the first time in the soundtrack of Bengali movies before getting wider release. Indeed, composers like Salil Chowdhury maintained a bank of their compositions, to use when they were requested to score a film. These were usually typical romantic songs, fluffy and unmemorable in their lyrical content. The situation has been compared to the mellow, commercial Tin Pan Alley music in USA that led to the rebellious rock'n'roll movement.
In such a conservative climate, Moheener Ghoraguli, with its unorthodox musical compositions and strange choice of song themes, failed to gain much of a fan base. Its songs dealt with everyday topics -politics, poverty, injustice, revolution, love, loneliness, even begging and prostitution. Gautam Chattopadhyay had strong political beliefs; in common with many intelligent and idealistic young men of his generation, he was involved in socialist/communist politics during the 1960s and 1970s. (According to former bandmate Abraham Mazumdar, Gautam may have been involved in the Naxalite movement as well.) This political outlook was reflected in the musical output of the band.
The type of music that Moheener Ghoraguli pioneered, though debatably, had the seeds of now very popular Jibonmukhi gaan or 'Songs of ordinary life'. Two decades after Moheen, singers like Kabir Suman, Nochiketa and Anjan Dutta took Jibonmukhi gaan to a new level of popularity, but the origins of the genre can be found in the songs of Moheener Ghoraguli.
The band recorded with Western instruments and also experimented in a variety of musical styles, some of which must have jarred with the sensibilities of its audience. Today, these compositions sound quite contemporary, leading many to conclude that Moheener Ghoraguli was indeed ahead of its time. The band freely borrowed elements from baul shongeet, the folk music of rural Bengal . It can therefore lay claim to be the original Bengali folk-rock band. Many bands since Moheen have adopted similar innovations, among them Feedback, Dolchhut and Bangla. They also borrowed both in terms of lyrics and tune from western music of the 70s. For example, although the group never acknowledged on their album covers, their song "Bhalobashi Tomay Tai Janai Gaaney" is a direct lift (both in terms of lyrics and tune) from the Jim Croce song "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song".
The group played together until 1981 and was then dissolved. Its music was largely forgotten. Then in the mid-1990s, a decade and a half after its dissolution, Gautam Chattopadhyay decided to revive the movement of Moheener Ghoraguli. The original members all had professional commitments now, so Gautam decided to inspire and encourage younger musicians and decided to come out with albums 'compiled by Mohiner Ghoraguli': Mohiner Ghoraguli shompadita Bangla Gaan.
The first album in this phase issued by the new-look Moheener Ghoraguli was a compilation called Abar Bochhor Kuri Porey ("Again, After Twenty Years", a quotation from Jibonanondo Das), released at the Kolkata Book Fair. It included a number of original MG classics from the 1970s, as well as songs recorded by select music makers of the 90s. Although listeners were initially slow to catch on, the album proved to be a hit, and it introduced the MG movement to a new generation of music-lovers. Gautam Chattopadhyay finally saw MG music gaining the popularity and critical recognition that had eluded their band in the 1970s. Several other successful compilations have followed since the first one. Both in their native West Bengal and in Bangladesh, Moheener Ghoraguli is now a much-admired movement.
Gautam's death in 1999 was sudden. After returning from a location shooting of his last film Rong Bin, which was never completed, the next day he went to the Indropuri studio to meet his longtime cinematographer friend and colleague, Vivek Banerjee and there he collapsed and died of a heart attack. An entire generation of budding musicians who had been popularized by Gautam in Kolkata mourned his untimely death and a tribute album "Moni chara shunno laage" (We feel empty without Moni) was released; it should be noted here that Moni was not Gautam's nickname, but his siblings would call him Moni-da, moni, defining that he was the third of the brothers. His nickname was Manik.
The name of the band itself is a strange one. The literal meaning of Moheen'er Ghora-guli is "Moheen's horses". While this obscure phrase puzzles many of the band's fans, it is actually taken from a poem Ghora ('Horses') by the great modernist Bengali poet Jibanananda Das. The second line of the poem is:
One of the band's most popular songs, Bhalobashi jyotsnae, is a tribute to the natural beauty of the Bengali countryside; the influence of Jibanananda's pastoral poetry is evident throughout the song.
There are other parallels: Jibanananda broke with the literary tradition of his time and introduced modernist themes and diction to Bengali poetry. He is often considered the first Bengali poet to truly break free of Rabindranath's imposing presence. To some extent, Moheener Ghoraguli attempted to do the same for Bengali popular music.
After Tapesh Bandopadhyay left the band in 1978, he was replaced by Raja Banerjee. Raja went on to record the third Moheen album Drishyomaan Moheener Ghoraguli with the band and performed in numerous concerts till the band was disbanded.
N.B. The corresponding English names are literal translations, and not names under which the albums were released.
In 2006, the original Moheener Ghoraguli song Prithibi ta naki was remade as Bheegi Bheegi by the music-director Pritam Chakrabarty for the Hindi film Gangster which went on to become a chartbuster. The song was sung by Bangladeshi singer James of Nagar Baul fame. Prithibi ta naki was sung by Bonnie who is a founder member of Oikyotaan, a baul fusion band based in Chennai.