Mahfuja Mukul:It seems to be a very common thing for the many, especially for the locals or residents of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, to make a visit on Old Dhaka for many reasons. However, have you made it like the others? Though you made it already, did you have a look at the Haji Osman Gani Road of Alubazar area?
If the answer is ‘yes’ for anyone then his or her mind was bound to be attracted to see the shops named ‘Dhaka Band Party’, ‘Bangladesh Band Party’ and ‘Special Band Party’ as soon as making entrance to the road.
Undoubtedly, this ‘band party’ art has been at the top among the traditions of Dhaka that surviving to this day. In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the country’s other businesses are facing recession. We talked to the owners and artists involved in the ‘band party’ art to know- how are the artists of this hundred-year-old ‘band party’ art spending their days during Covid-19 period? what has changed in their business in the past and present?
In that case both sides pointed out that -although all other businesses are running or reopening in the pandemic all kinds of activities of the band party are completely closed. From the beginning of the virus (March) all of our activities have been stopped. “Everyone has got back their works amid the pandemic, even the hawkers who are used to sell goods by doing peddlery on the street have jobs. Only we the artists of band party don’t have a job,” an artist of ‘Dhaka Band Party’ named Mohammad Saeed was describing their miserable conditions regretfully.
But for the last few decades, they have brought joy and culture to the minds of the people through Bengali drums, shehnai parties, jamai chata, jamai pakha, swords, horse-drawn carriages, dhulki, palanquins, cartoons and elephants in any occasion including marriage, birthday and Pahela Baishakh.
Their presence was also noticeable in political processions, meetings, rallies, election victory ceremonies, as well as in pre-releasing movie publicity. But since there is no band party work, the artists engaged in this profession are now spending their days thinking about ‘how to survive’.
In the words of artist Saeed- “If our band parties do not work, then how will we survive? How will we manage food? How will we spend the days with children? How will we pay the house rent?” “Now it’s time for us to sit on the street and beg!” saying that, Mr. Saeed cried.
It is clear that in the current situation, many people are leaving their profession and pursuing another profession as a means of livelihood. However, in the case of band party artists, they are different!
Even in this miserable time, it is difficult for them to take up another profession by overcoming the illusion of art. Because- they are artists! Saeed, who has been in this profession for the last 40 years, in response to a question of “why don’t they choose another profession?”, said, “We cannot go to other work, we have no habit in any other profession. We are artists, it is our tradition, we have been doing this since our grandfathers’ eras.”
Band party artists have no fixed salary where people of other professions have a fixed monthly salary. When a party gets a work, the artists of that party get their remuneration as per the contract. On the other hand, if there is no work, they have to wait for the next work. “If we have work, we can earn money, otherwise we have no income. I am not even getting any money to survive with my wife and children,” said Mr. Saeed.
Now as the band party is workless the artists like Saeed demand to the government -”Everyone has a job, they don’t need to be helped by the government. They (the government) should look after how we are going, what we are doing.”
Meanwhile, due to the pandemic, many of the band party’s musicians have left Dhaka and moved to the villages. However, some of them have remained in Dhaka city by taking loans. Many of them have not been able to rent a house for the last five months who are hoping to get a work in every upcoming month.
As other activities during the Covid-19 disaster, especially weddings (large-scale), community centers, schools, colleges, and political events have been stopped, it has a pernicious effect on band parties.
Mohammad Humayun, the owner of nearly a hundred-year-old Bangladesh Band Party, was talking regarding this, “Our business was very good. We mainly worked of the parties (political programs). Besides, we could do various programs of school-college, university for 12 months. But we are workless due to the deadly virus from March to September.”
Those who are in this profession permanently get some money from the owners though it’s not enough for them.
“Who are my permanent artists I am giving them a little money so that they can live life in any way. But that is not enough for them,” Humayun talked.
The concerned of the band parties hope that if the community centers reopen in October along with resuming of political rallies and meetings, they will be able to resume work in full force.
In this regard, Mr. Humayun said that the business of the band party is most affected by virus. If the government looks at us then we can survive.
Humayun added, “The artists that I have, they can’t do anything other than this. Now in this disaster, someone may drive a rickshaw to save his life. I don’t know in what condition they are now.”
Although band parties existed in Gopibagh, Lalbagh and Mirpur of Dhaka along with other parts of the country, the band party firstly appeared in Alubazar of old Dhaka during the British rule.
In fact, the golden age of band parties lasted till the 90’s while the band party was also seen in almost all the movie dramas of that time. Which is now rare.
In the past, bands were more active at weddings than political events. However, at present, their presence in various political programs seems to be a must.
Although the position of this art has not gone to the bottom in modern times yet, many people are worrying about its future as the number of band parties in the country is now one-fourth that of the past.
Due to the advent of modern things including band shows, dominance of digital things, uncertainty of livelihood, no one wants to learn and do it as a new comer.”Who knows if our future ends here. People don’t want to learn this art like before. It is difficult to say whether it will survive after us,” Humayun remarked that about the future of the band party.
In many cases the appeal of the band party may have diminished with the touch of modernity. But now in many aristocratic events, the bands are giving people an unprecedented gift of entertainment.
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