Sunday, May 27, 2018

Brass bands vanishing from weddings


Sitting in his dingy office, amidst the din, Iqbal Darbar, the 70-year-old patriarch of Darbar Brass Band, one of the oldest brass ensembles in the city, laments: “No one wants to listen to live bands anymore. All people now want is to dance to loud music blaring from sound boxes.”

He recalls a time when people used to stand for hours on the road and listen to bands playing various ragas such as malkauns or darbari and even bhajans. “Everybody used to listen to us with rapt attention till the early hours of the morning and bombard us with requests to play various tunes. Nowadays, people only want heart-thumping music. That pains me,” Darbar says.

When we used to play 30 songs in three hours. Now, we hardly play four to five songs within the same time at weddings as people now ask us to play the same song over and over again so that they can dance. Very few people care about melody,” he adds.

The band has had a chequered journey since its birth in 1905. It was founded by Darbar’s grandfather and grand uncle. It had a different name then - Universal Brass Band. Later, the name was changed to Darbar Brass Band after the Independence. Darbar’s three sons have moved to Mumbai to play in an orchestra. One son has provided background music to a recently-launched film. “They are better off there,” he says.

Across the road, the scene is not too different in other band companies such as Shri Krishna, Bharat Brass Band, New Rajkamal or Swar Sangam. These companies too made roaring business once upon a time when brass bands were de rigueur at weddings. The band members, in all their sequined regalia, led processions through the streets announcing the arrival of the bridegroom to the neighbourhood.

Darbar’s eyes light up as he speaks of the number of bookings his band used to register during the wedding season until a few years ago. “We used to have 20 to 25 bookings every day. We had an ensemble of 60 to 70 musicians and the men used to go out in batches to various places in Pune and to Kalyan, Thane, Vadodara, Indore and even Rajasthan. Now, we have a maximum of three to five bookings a day during the wedding season,” he says.

Amod Solapurkar of Prabhat Brass Band, one of the city’s oldest and better known brass ensembles, which has been in business since 1938, says their bookings have plummeted. But he says the dr bers has n to do with popularity live bands.

“People nowadays do not like to spend lavishly on wedding due to va ous reas such as GST crunch etc our retinue would comprise 20 to 25 musicians. Now, people tell us to send only 10 to 15 members as they want to cut costs,” he says.

Most bands charge between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 for a two-hour performance while it is less for the electronic variety with a keyboard player leading the band. A brass band ensemble consists of trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, euphonium and sousaphone players.

If contending with people’s ever-changing tastes wasn’t enough for the band companies, recent laws prohibiting use of amplified and loud music past 10pm have also cut into their business.

“We can no longer play late into the night. Some villages around Pune and elsewhere too have set in place restrictions on baraats at night. The administration is quick to blame us, but it is the inebriated baraatis who fight among themselves and create a nuisance,” says Darbar.

Bands should not be singled out for causing noise pollution, says Solapurkar. His family has been in the business for four generations. “There are other forms of noise pollution too. Around 25,000 people across the country depend on this profession,” he says.

For the bandwallahs, the wedding season — April, May, June and December to January — is the most propitious they get to e most. Dar- band has n leading e procesion at Dagdusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple during Anant aturdashi the past 80 ncomes being seasonal, it is difficult for musicians who get jobs for only a few months a year “I am on contract for three months a year. When my contract ends, I return to my village in Beed and work on farms or do some odd jobs,” says Sheikh Jamal, a thapdhol player.

Most musicians are paid between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000 a month, depending on their skill and experience. They come from Solapur, Belapur, Buldhana, Beed and other areas, drawn by the prospect of an urban income.

But their numbers have dwindled too. Solapurkar says that the steady supply of musicians from villages around Pune has reduced. “We get musicians from Karnataka and other southern states,” he says, hollering at his troupe to get ready for practice. The men quickly slip into costumes, ready for another day of music.


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