It is most likely that you have at least once heard Sohini Alam singing with her British-Bangalee band Khiyo or Afro-Cuban-Bangalee band Lokkhi Terra in her vibrant voice.
The singer has returned with a new line-up of musicians, called 'GRRRL' which performed recently on 17 November in London at a musical event organised by the international organisation In Place of War (IPOW).
The all-woman band 'GRRRL', were brought together to perform in the show that served as a fundraiser for IPOW. IPOW hosts events that feature musicians that represent different parts of the world.
"It was at Brian Eno's studio in West London. 'GRRRL' was put together by Ruth. She wanted to put together a band of artists doing well in their fields, from different countries and the idea was that it would be a female band," Sohini Alam told TBS.
"The idea was that we each bring our cultures and our musical heritage to the fore."
Other artists, like Peter Gabriel, lead singer of the progressive rock band Genesis and Brian Eno, a composer and producer who has worked with David Bowie and U2, were among the audience.
Other than Sohini, the 'GRRRL' group has as its members the Ghanaian Afro-pop singer-songwriter Wiyaala, Brazilian Dancehall artist Lei Di Dai, the Venezuelan DJ and producer Mabe, and the Zimbabwean rapper Awa Khiwe. GRRRL'S music director is Laima Leyton from Brazil.
Laima, along with her musician husband Igor Cavalera and Peter Gabriel received awards at the event as recognition for their support of IPOW.
GRRRL's music, says Sohini Alam, is actually drawn from all the places the members have roots in.
"When Wiyaala sings she includes the language of Ghana, Lei Di Dai brings in the Dancehall elements, Awa raps in Ndebele, which is her language and I usually sing in Bangla and sometimes in English," she said.
Even though they bring music from different parts of the world, there are actually a lot of commonalities, Sohini said. Commonalities like how certain rhythms from across the world work together. There are also many differences.
"But when we put those differences together organically, they fit together," said the British-Bangladeshi singer.
There are purists who would say, 'Some things should be left alone.' But Sohini is not one of them. "I'm a big fan of experimenting."
"GRRRL's music is electronic and showcases vocals from each of our countries and cultures, Bangladesh in my case," Sohini told The Business Standard.
Sohini's journey as a fusion singer
Sohini is involved in many musical projects of various kinds. Khiyo is her own band that she started with composer Oliver Weeks in 2007. Their first album came out in 2014.
Other than Khiyo, for which she first became known to a Bangladeshi audience, Sohini was also a member of another fusion band, Lokkhi Terra.
Founded by jazz pianist Kishon Khan, Lokkhi Terra's other members were Justin Thurgur on trombone, Graeme Flowers on trumpet, Phil Dawson on guitar, Tansay Omar on drums, Jimmy Martinez and Patrick Zambonin on bass, Javier Camilo on bongos/vocals, Hassan Mohyeddin on tabla and vocalists Aanon Siddiqua, and Aneire Khan, alongside Sohini. Lokkhi Terra have released two albums, 'No Visa Required' and 'Che Guava's Rickshaw Diaries'.
With Khiyo, which she formed with composer Oliver Weeks in 2007, Sohini has released two studio albums.
Khiyo's eponymous first album, released in 2014, covered songs from multiple genres: 'Doyal Tomaro Lagiya' from the Murshidi genre; 'Bareer Kachhe Arshinogor', a Lalon geeti; 'Purbo Digontey' from the patriotic genre, 'Kotobaro Bhebhchhinu', a Rabindra sangeet, 'Rumu Jhumu Rumu Jhum', a Nazrul geeti.
The second album by Khiyo, titled 'Bondona' and released just this year also does not conform to a single genre. Sohini attributes that to her musical background.
"When I started doing music, I started with the music of my ancestors, which I have been taught by my mom and by my aunt. It was a privilege to do that but in my case, since I was born in London, it automatically changed what kind of music I do and what I listen to as well. And also how I express that exact same song I grew up practising," Sohini said.
As a result of that, she found herself in a situation where her arrangements were not expressing any particular generation.
"So I wanted my music to appeal to a wide age range, from little children to grown up to old timers. I like that my music is not for one group of people,"
"A lot of people are out there realising that there is music out there that expresses a lot of our emotions and when that works with our language, the results can be interesting, but not always. For all the music I've put out, I've discarded a lot as well – even more. But when I feel like this arrangement expresses what I feel, when I sing that song, that's kind of how it began for me," she said.
For their second album, Oliver and Sohini began to explore how heritage music from Bangladesh sounds. In 'Bondona', there are a lot of heritage tracks but the album also has a lot of original songs.
A music video of an original track from the album 'Shari Bondona' is set to release this week.
For the 'Shari Bondona' music video Khiyo sent out a request to a lot of Bangalee women to send videos of them wearing shari.
"I was really moved by how much we've moved on in terms of traditional depiction of who we are and how we are. I was thinking: Oh! It would be nice to feature many different women and how their relationship with shari is," said Sohini.
"In the videos sent to us we saw women riding bikes, crossing bridges, getting on slides in shari. It's really cool to see how shari has evolved in our daily lives and how women are celebrating that," Sohini said.
However, Sohini grew up as a third-culture child. Adapting with the English culture since birth, she had no love for the shari. When she would see her mother wearing the shari, she would think it was a hassle.
"But as I grew older, I realised not only the shari has so much cultural significance, it's a piece of cloth where I can smell my mom. I can use it to cover my child with the 'anchol' when she is sleeping," said Sohini.
Both of the Khiyo albums are available online.