Ansar Ahmed Ullah :
I met Ina Khan, a fourth generation British Bengali singer, last year around April, at the London Guildhall Bengali New Year Celebration, where she was performing.
I spoke to her during her performance. Watching her perform you wouldn’t think for a moment that she wasn’t a professional singer. She seemed confident and at ease with an enthusiastic audience while belting out her numbers. She was born and bought up in the East End of London and won the UK Shera Konto singing competition run by Channel i Europe. She told me, to begin with she did not know that she could sing. It started with a singing competition run by Channel i. In fact, she barely knew how to speak Bengali three years ago let alone sing in Bengali. She is fourth generation Bengali. Her parents and grandparents were born here. Great grandparents were from Sylhet.
While growing up Ina hardly spoke any Bengali at home. She was born and brought up in Whitechapel, East London. She studied in East London too. After she got married, she felt very happy to be Bangladeshi and felt in touch with her Bengali heritage and her mother-tongue. Now this is all she lives for! Her husband is Bengali from Malaysia and was brought up with western culture. She says her mother-in-law became her inspiration. At the Guildhall New Year Celebrations her mother-in-law, who lives in Dhaka, was watching her on Skype. It was her mother-in-law who taught her to speak in Bengali that she now knows. Ina also attended Bengali class at the University of East London. Her parents spoke Sylheti variation of Bengali at home between themselves but in English with Ina and her siblings. Ina has a very strong relationship with her mother-in-law who has taught her about Bengali culture, and feels a strong relationship with her. She has visited Bangladesh since being married and she loves visiting Bangladesh, and when she arrives, she touches the ground. She has not visited for four years and is missing it very much.
Ina is thirty years of age. She has four children. Her children are aged between eight and fourteen. Her children like her singing and they learn songs and are becoming inspired by music. They sing in Bengali with an English accent, and she corrects their pronunciation. They are getting attached to Bengali music now. Ina runs businesses in Tower Hamlets but above all she loves music. She has a very supportive husband. Her love of Bengali culture started eighteen years ago when she got married. She had never visited Bangladesh before when she was growing up in the UK. Before marriage she listened to all types of English music.
When asked about her musical preference she said she likes Baul and folk songs as it gives her the Bengali feeling i.e. the raw sounds of ektara, dhol and acoustic instruments. They take her back to her heritage. She gets an electric feeling when she hears this raw sound, and this inspired her to get into music.
When she heard someone on Channel i singing out of tune, her husband challenged her to sing better. This is how she got into singing. She does not have traditional singing lessons. She listens to music in order to learn. Her biggest helper is her husband. He suggests songs. She listens on YouTube links. She listens to Baul, Sufi, Lalon and Hason Raja. She likes Bengali bands too. She writes down band songs and sings them. The Bengali bands Ina likes are Warfaze, Hasan, LRB, Lalon band and Azam khan.
For practice she writes down the lyrics in English script as she cannot write in Bengali. But she has learnt how to pronounce well. She understands every word. Ina emphasizes that you must understand the words to connect with the audience. I must say she did connect well with the audience at the Guildhall.
She wants to visit Kushtia in Bangladesh. She and her husband are planning a musical journey to Sylhet first and then to other areas of Bangladesh. She feels she spiritually connects with Sufism and Baul. She is also learning semi-classical, which is a challenge. When she next visits Bangladesh, she will sing on Bangla TV. She has already been invited.
She has been writing too and has composed six songs. She starts writing in an English genre and then gives it a Bengali feel. Her compositions are of Baul and Sufi genre. She grew up with English pop and rock songs and hopes to become a bridge to combine the two, connecting East and West. Ina feels she belongs to the public, and is a normal human, not bigger or smaller, and just wants to make people happy. She has been performing in shows and events in London and other cities in the UK. She has had also the experience of singing live on TV and in mela events such as Southall Mela and Redbridge Mela.