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Upal Sengupta on Harry Belafonte: His activism for a better world, music, and swag will remain untouched

The Chandrabindoo frontman elaborated on why Harry Belafonte will always be his ‘hero’.    

Upal Sengupta on Harry Belafonte: His activism for a better world, music, and swag will remain untouched
Upal Sengupta and Harry Belafonte

Last Updated: 06.41 PM, Apr 26, 2023


Musician-artist Upal Sengupta almost took Harry Belafonte’s autograph after he attended the latter’s concert in 2003. Upal’s band Chandrabindoo was on their US tour. The musician changed his mind after waiting a while in the queue to take his autograph. In a candid chat with OTTplay, Upal elaborated on why he changed his mind and why Harry Belafonte will always be his ‘hero’.    

“We were back to San Jose after touring Grand Canyon and Las Vegas when I saw a Belafonte concert in Los Angeles. I knew I would not miss that chance. Dron (Acharya, the then keyboardist of the band), Surojit (Mookerjee, the band’s guitarist), and I, along with two of my friends, booked our tickets and went to the gig. It was like a dream-come-true moment for me. After the show, I waited in a queue to take his autograph. Then I thought he might be tired and what if he was not in the mood! Maybe, you should never meet your heroes. I left,” said Upal, who has been an ardent fan of Harry Belafonte since he was a child.  

The Chandrabindoo frontman first listened to Harry Belafonte in 1983. “We got out cassette player. The English cassettes used to be very expensive and our friends and I used to exchange albums. My friends Ashish and Angshu gave me a cassette of Belafonte and I was floored. There was no YouTube or Google back then. I used to look for Harry Belafonte’s new songs at cassette shops in Kolkata,” Upal recalled.

Even after giving up the opportunity to meet Harry Belafonte, Upal kept on finding his whereabouts. As a result, he communicated with a woman who used to maintain Belafonte’s website. “I asked her if she knows Harry Belafonte. She replied to my mail saying she met him a few times. She informed me that she would be meeting him again and I wrote a long fan mail to him. After a few weeks, the woman told me that they met and she handed over the printout of my email. Belafonte, according to her, gave it a quick read and kept it in his pocket. My day was done. I don't care if he read the letter, kept it, or threw it in the bit. The letter reached him and he glanced through it. I was overjoyed,” he said. 

That is not all. Upal got in touch with one of the percussionists who played with Harry Belafonte once. “He wasn’t playing with him anymore. But when he heard that I am a fan of Latin percussion, he said he started learning tabla. It is always amusing to see how music unites the world,” said the musician. 

For Upal, Harry Belafonte has always been a ‘hero’. “It was his music that primarily drew me towards him. And then I realised that he is some kind of a multitalented person. He was a brilliant musician, a fantastic performer, a brave activist, a successful orator, and whatnot! The way he helmed the project, USA For Africa, is outstanding. The video of the making still gives me goosebumps,” he said.

It was Upal’s wife Gargi Gangopadhyay who broke the news of Belafonte’s demise to him. I was a little shocked. But I realised that this day was unavoidable. He lived his life. He wasn’t making a lot of music in the last 10 years. Moreover, even if he was gone, his music will always be there for me. His activism for a better world, philosophy, and swag will remain untouched. While I am in love with almost all his songs, there are two songs that I particularly adore, Turn the World Around and Sing For The Song. Chandrabindoo’s music has always taken inspiration from him. Through his songs, I made my junior musicians understand that there is more to music than rock and pop. There is other soulful music and Harry Belafonte will always be the King of Calypso,” Upal signed off. 

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