DHAKA: They used to be the life of every party in Dhaka.
For almost a century, “band parties” provided the soundtrack for events across the Bangladeshi capital, from weddings and birthdays to election campaigns.
But in a swiftly changing world severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the tradition is fading away.
Mohammad Ibrahim, who owns one of the only three remaining groups in Dhaka – the Bangladesh Band Party – entered the profession as a 13-year-old boy.
He said his craft was a family legacy and he “can’t think of doing any other business except this,” as he had never learned any other skills.
“But there is no one to take over after me. The history of this century-old business will come to an end after my death,” Ibrahim said.
All of the party bands in Dhaka share a tradition that started with a man named Mohammad Kha, who brought the idea to the city in the 1930s.
Kha’s four wives and five sons were all band artists. One of his sons, Siraj Kha, started his own group in 1948 and the tradition trickled further down the family line.
In their heyday, the bands could do up to three events in a day. But demand slumped as people increasingly turned to modern sound systems and DJs. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated their struggles.
“It’s not a very lucrative profession nowadays,” Mohammad Salahuddin, who runs the Dhaka Band Party, told Arab News.
“I think with the passing of time, the tradition of band parties will disappear from society. It’s only a matter of years now,” added the 62-year-old, who took over the family business in 1975.
The bands, which were still popular through the ’80s and ’90s, are unlike other musical groups. They comprise between five and 15 members who dress up in colorful uniforms and carry their musical instruments, giving them the appearance of a marching band.
They were once considered the ultimate form of music and entertainment.
“In those days we didn’t have many options for listening to music. So the band party was an immense source of entertainment for us,” 66-year-old Omar Hossain told Arab News.
Abdul Awal, a 72-year-old Dhaka resident, also remembers the bands fondly. He said they were the main source of entertainment for any occasion and would play different types of music according to the mood of the event.
“In fact, we couldn’t think of any celebrations in our early days without the music of the band party,” Awal said. “The presence of the band party instantly changed the color of any celebration.”
Mohammad Arman, who owns the National Band Party, said business had dried up due to the recent lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings.
“We didn’t receive a single work order for 20 months in the last two years,” the 40-year-old told Arab News.
While he had received some inquiries in recent months most of them had fallen through, he added.
Arman, who has run the business since 1993 and is the fourth generation of his family to do so, said his troupe used to have 20 regular members but since the start of the pandemic half of them had left.
The lack of work meant they were not earning the $10 to $15 they would each normally get for a performance.
“I don’t know where they are living now or how they are managing to get by as I am on my knees trying to run this business,” Arman said.