It was a terrible time in 1971. A war was imposed on 75 million people of this land. Pakistan army, a well trained and equipped military, had occupied everything and launched one of the most barbaric genocides in the history of mankind against unarmed civilians.
Over one million people fled their homes and took shelter in neighbouring India to skip the bloody massacre. They were starving for food and their children were dying in front of their eyes.
The people of Bangladesh were paying the highest price for their independence though most people of the world even didn’t know the name of their country for which they were fighting for.
Thousands of miles away from this scene, Indian sitar maestro Pundit Ravi Shankar’s heart was aching since he read news about the crisis of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Looking his saddened face, his friend former Beatles’ member George Harrison wanted to know the reason of his disappointment.
Ravi described everything to George and asked if he would do anything for the hapless refugees. Assuring his friend George said, “I think I’ll be able to do something.”
And the rest is history. A pair of concert, the first large event involving the rock n roll generation for a humanitarian cause, took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971.
Responding to the call of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, some of the most popular artistes of that time including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, Badfinger, Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland, and Kamala Chakravarty, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Ustad Alla Rakha had rocked the stage of double concert.
All these attractions coupled with the cause of Bangladesh brought 40,000 spectators to the Madison Square Garden and they all had enjoyed music to the fullest.
Ravi Shankar had set the tone of the concert before Harrison took to the stage with his friends and performed eight songs. The last performance of the programme was the unforgettable song ‘Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh’ which had secured the name of Bangladesh in the hearts of the viewers.
A three-record set of the show was released later in 1971 and won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
The concert raised USD243,418.50, which was given to UNICEF to administer. The money was tied up in an Internal Revenue Service escrow account for 11 years as the concert organisers had not applied for tax-exempt status.
However, nearly USD12 million had been sent to Bangladesh for relief by 1985. Besides, sales of the DVDs and CDs of the concert continued benefitting the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.
The Concert for Bangladesh couldn’t bring instant aid for the distressed refugees, yet it left a deep imprint on times serving a bigger purpose for them. The event was held when pronouncing the name of Bangladesh was prohibited in many countries as their administrations had close ties with Pakistan.
This epoch-making show rejected the rhetoric produced by global superpowers and hit the mechanisms of regional politics hard projecting the difference between barbarism and humanism.
It also proved that music can be used for more important cause then merely entertaining people and created huge political pressure on the top influential leaders at least to not sponsor atrocities, if they don’t reconsider their policy.