Friday, April 26, 2002

Bangladesh Music: Condemned to extinction? - PART 2

The Bangladesh Music 'industry': Of pirates and Patriots

The Bangladesh music market generates an annual revenue upwards of Tk. 200 crores (Source, Bangladesh Cassette and CD Manufacturers Association - BCCDMA) or roughly US$34 million. Unofficially the figures may be more than double if not triple. The 'industry' provides employment to well over 1 million citizens of the country, from artists to musicians, producers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, cassette and CD manufacturers, pan-cake tape importers, inlay designers and printers, label manufacturers, audio- and video-recording studios, ancillary support systems like sound and light companies, entertainment and even management companies, decorators, banner and stage makers, etc.

Audio-cassettes are the largest sources of software that reach the common man, followed by a now burgeoning CD industry that has grown over 200 per cent in the last three years.

There are only two major players in the entire industry who control almost 80 per cent of the total business, and the rest is divided between ten to twelve minor players.

The average profit on a single cassette is between Tk. 14 to 24, depending on quality, based on the wholesale price of blank cassettes at between Tk. 11 to 15, that are sold to finished cassette wholesalers at between Tk. 28 to Tk. 32, while the retailers sell them from anywhere between Tk. 40 to Tk. 45.

There is no legislation or system in place to offer royalties to artistes, who are compelled to sell their works one at a time, all copyrights surrendered, and for flat payment.

The cost of production and margin of profit in CDs is almost three times higher than audio-cassettes for producers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers.

Of the total software sold, 60 per cent of the music is pirated Indian Hindi music, 25 per cent Bangladeshi music and original rendition of artistes and the rest miscellaneous.

Despite the huge size of the market and the number of audio-cassettes and CD?s sold, the hard truth is that the Bangladesh audio industry thrives on piracy of Hindi audio music, due to the unrestrained demand created by:

  • The overbearing Indian satellite television channels that have unrestricted access to the Bangladesh.

  • The easy availability of original recordings across the border which more than a dozen pirates immediately start recording and distributing with no major expense other that the cost of blank cassettes and the negligible cost of duplication and inlay cards.

  • No cohesive policy against open marketing of Indian music, its piracy or smuggling.

  • Role of the Bangladesh print media that glorifies Indian artistes at the expense of Bangladesh artistes and at no extra cost to the marketing company in India, or their pirates in Bangladesh.

  • No legislation to recognise the music industry as an industry, and therefore no effective guarantee for the future growth, sustenance and/or protection of burgeoning entrepreneurs, or Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of singers, musicians et al.

  • No guiding law banning copyright infringement of Bangladeshi music. The ones ratified by the previous government are aimed at protecting the interest of foreign music marketers, without guaranteeing protection of the Bangladeshi audio-cassette industry, its artistes and others involved in the trade.

  • No abiding law that protects the pecuniary interest of Bangladesh artistes, nor any law to ensure that their works are not plagiarised in other countries.

  • No law to offer royalties for Bangladeshi singers and musicians, through transmission or telecast in state-run or privately owned television or radio channels.

  • No Bangladeshi music company affiliated with the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) that guarantees royalty distribution.

  • No pressure group or body in Bangladesh to protect the rights of singers and musicians.

  • No infrastructure in place to promote and market Bangladeshi music abroad, though the Bangla language is spoken and understood by over 200 million people in Bangladesh and West Bengal with an expatriate community of another two million overseas, making Bangla the seventh largest spoken language in the world.

  • No legal representation of any major foreign or Indian music marketers. For instance, the largest Indian music marketer -HMV/Sa Ray Ga Ma have two local distributors, or 'official pirates' who supposedly look after their interest.

  • In the dispute last year between these 'official pirates' and BCCDMA that resulted in a stay order from courts, HMV did not give a public clarification of the locus standi of these distributors, nor any indication as to how profits are to be repatriated to India.


Thursday, April 25, 2002

Alaap: The FEER Cover: A response to Jamal Hasan

Thu, 25 Apr 2002 18:09:45 -0700 (PDT)
From: Maqsoodul Haque
Subject: [Aalaap] The FEER Cover: A response to Jamal Hasan [fwd]

Moderators: Our member Maqsoodul Haque has participated in some interesting discussion on some other forums. Below is his response to some tangential remarks from an expatriate, which appeared on 'sonarbangladesh' recently.

Dear Mr. Jamal Hasan,

I have not read your article - but since you corroborate what the FEER smear propaganda against Bangladesh has already said, can you be so kind enough to let us know your exact source of information, i.e., exact locations in Chittagong and the who and how details of these so-called Talibans?

Reminds me the Awami League Govt. while in power once mentioned a huge Taliban and Harkatul Jihad location in the Sunderban, yet with all the power at their disposal could not trace them out. Later it turned out that this was a plot of an Indian RAW backed NGO to make sure that the Sunderban world heritage site we have is put to waste by firepower through imaginary fire fights between the Govt and the Talibans!

I have a sizeable support group in the Chittagong University and when my anti-Islamic fanatic song 'Parwardigar' was released in 1997 - students played it full blast with speakers pointed towards the Islamic Chattra Shibir quarters for two full days. There was no retaliation. Yet here in Dhaka when our 'chetonized' lot heard 'Amee kichu Bangaleer Mrittu Donder daabi tultay chai ' - in the same album, my life was threatened. Who are more tolerant is for you to find out.

Therefore, your support to the theory, of Bangladesh becoming another Taliban Afghanistan shows not only the power of your over heated imagination - but also your total illiteracy and ignorance on the rudimentariies of guerilla warfare.

If 'support and supply base' is an important factor in any guerrilla uprising there are no so-called 'Islamic ummah' in some three thousand miles around Bangladesh to do so. In Afghanistan it was quite the opposite, and not to forget that the Talibans were a US creation to condemn Afghans to the Stone Age.

Chittagong will always remain a flash point because the US supports the military regime in Myanmar - while offering lip service to Human Rights abuse there, and offering tokenistic support to the oppressed people of that country, in the form of a Nobel Prize to Aung Sang Su Kyi. The important thing for the US and the sidekick Indian RAW interest, are Myanmar's gems and the Golden triangle drugs - the ultimate market being China and the US.

Let's not be so simplistic and blame Bangladesh - which can only but wait and stare back at whatever is happening there on their border with Myanmar.

When was the last time you heard about the US declaring a drug war on Myanmar - like they did in Columbia? I guess you have an answer? I am waiting! I for one don't feel threatened by any mullah - real or imagined!


Maqsoodul Haque (Mac)

Friday, April 19, 2002

Bangladesh Music: Condemned to extinction? - PART I

In a three-part series, Maqsoodul Haque, popularly known as Mac in Dhaka's Band circle, writes about the crippling ailment of Bangladesh's music industry. Outspoken to a fault, Mac's diagnoses and recommendations are worth pondering over both at the policy level and the industry shop-floor. First part of the article was printed on April 19. Editor

"The Peoples Republic of Bangladesh will ensure the protection of its cultural tradition, heritage and inheritance, by nurturing the development of its national language, literature, arts and fine arts, ensuring its enrichment through the participation of every citizen of the country." The Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, Volume II, Para 23

Our Extinct Cultural Commodities - The Muslin Story

It was a story we had heard as children from our doting grandparents that our history textbooks in school would later confirm. It was the story of Dhaka muslin, the finest 'man-made' textile known to man, so translucent that if spread over a vast field one could walk over, it oblivious to its presence, betraying its invisibility if only on the surface, as if a fine mist had fallen on green grass on a winter morning.

It was so fine and sheer and diaphanous that we are told that more than ten yards of the fabric could easily be stuffed into a matchbox. From the grand courts of the Mughal Empire to the Queen of Persia, and on to the royal courts of Europe and even in China, muslin was a precious commodity, comparable to gold, diamond or platinum, and treasured by those that could afford it, i.e. only the richest.

Many museums across the globe today bear testament to the skill of our weaver ancestors. There was no dearth of effort to replicate this high-class fabric elsewhere in the world, but they failed. Other than the skills of our ancestors, the country's topography, environment, water of the river Buriganga and numerous other factors unique to Dhaka contributed to the production of world-class muslin, at a time when much of world to us was an unknown entity. Bangalis were river sailors, never a sea faring race.

Tragically the capacity to produce this superb fabric did not make our ancestors any richer than we are today, for Bangalis had not then, as today, learnt to draw the line between art and commerce, preferring to harbour 'emotions' that fuelled their creativity and made them somewhat indifferent to the bottom line 'profit' that would ensure survival. The reward for their creativity was minimal because it was the middlemen that made the profits, dominated the market and thereafter decided the fate of the muslin trade.

Come British colonialism and the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which saw large fabric plants established across Manchester and other European cities, the option for cheaper 'machine-made' alternative fabrics and the wish to capitalise on a ready market in the new colonies was the ambition of our new masters, who had 'innocently' entered our part of the world to 'trade' at the outset. Political dominance and economic control came in quick succession, and when it did, 'cultural genocide' of the most heinous kind perpetrated by our colonial masters sealed the fate of the muslin trade.

In our folklore and recorded history is vividly documented the brutal subjugation through amputations of fingers of skilled muslin weavers of Dhaka. The muslin industry initially went underground, and finally became extinct, as did a very important and significant part of our cultural heritage.

Music as a Cultural Commodity

I have drawn the muslin fabric analogy to give credence to my hypothesis that a similar tragedy washed away, and may again render extinct, a much larger and no less richer Bengali heritage - music.

Unlike muslin, music was an 'intangible cultural commodity' in the bygone era, and was limited to essentially two areas of expression and/or sustenance, i.e. patronage of royal courts and the feudal nobility and aristocracy on the one hand, and diffusion through the oral tradition in our folklore by sincere efforts of bards and minstrels - often the poorest of the poor - on the other.

The royal courts and feudal nobility employed musicians skilled in recognised 'high art forms', specifically the rich and rigorous Indian classical music, with emphasis on instruments and vocals in particular. It was an elitist exercise, which saw the birth of 'gharanas' or 'regimented musical schools' and created a pseudo-nobility that endorsed preservation through constant practice of ragas, passed on from generation to generation in 'guru shishwa parampara' or student-teacher interaction.

Conscientious efforts to preserve or retain the 'mass culture' of the common man in the bygone era, which was in no way less valuable than the classical tradition, was unfortunately ignored.

Research in the field indicates that in the realm of our folk music, from Jaree, Sharee, Bhatiali, Murshidi, Marfoti, Kirtan among others, and perhaps the oldest form, i.e. Baul music, there were as many as four hundred different tunes, reverberating across the length and breadth of Bengal. Their rustic flavour, philosophical implications and the spectrum of a knowledge base are hard to fathom even in today?s cultural context.
Yet it was while researching for my album 'Bauliana', with my erstwhile band 'Feedback' (Soundtek Productions, Bangladesh, 1996), that I was faced with a grim reality. I discovered to my horror that the entire gamut of Bangali folk music had been whittled down to a minimum of 25 different 'tunes' only.

Lest we forget, those were the times before recorders or other means of preserving or 'archiving' tunes had been invented. The International Staff Notation (ISN) has only recently made its appearance in Bangladesh. There are no institution(s) in Bangladesh till date that archive or publish musical scores.

In other words while 'lyrics' of hundreds of songs, painfully preserved by folklorists, give us an idea of the thought process of those times, how these lyrics were put to music and sung is lost to us - FOREVER. Great lyrics are usually supported by great music, but in the case of forgotten Bangali music, it became a lyrical or word-based intellectual exercise, not a musical endeavour.

It is a loss that was inevitable, as the court and feudal nobility, that patronised classical music, relegated folk music to the level of a 'subordinate culture' that were unfit for the refined (or effete) taste of the affluent.

The rich/poor divide is as old as mankind, and in our cultural context and due to the constant downgrading of the mass, what we have lost and will lose constantly, whether that be muslin or music, stem from a singular human obsession - GREED.

It is ironic, but the twenty-five odd folk tunes, that survived in our folk culture, did so by piggy backing on the 'ragas' preserved by the 'gharanas' and we, in our ignorant naivety, have no clue whether the songs we pride ourselves on today as an 'inheritance' are truly 'authentic and original', or are recycled versions of somebody's imagination, somebody that could well have been from the feudal nobility or from the 'gharanas'.


Friday, April 12, 2002

'Spooky Stench’: Light a Matchstick or two!

Response to: "Musharraf Chasing Terrorists In Chittagong" of 29th July 2002 in

It is always a ‘treat’ to have pieces like this one from Mr. Saleem Samad or his fellow ‘co-scoopist’ Mr. Subhir Bhowmick, for they have this amazing knack of weaving facts, fiction and fabrications which, combined, makes for excellent ‘toilet reading’ or is it ‘toilet necessity’?

For those with dreadful constipation these stories works as a miracle drug as it scares readers to a state of ‘defecating in fear’ - the stench, no ‘minor aberration’! However, for those of us not afflicted with the cruel bowel malady or are ‘not so very scared’ this is a chance to ‘light a matchstick or two’?

Readers, it works!

If any of you have had the misfortune of an access to ‘heavily overused’ public or private toilets in Bangladesh and are ‘force majeure’ compelled to SIT (or crouch) on the ‘throne’ immediately after somebody has ‘eased’ him or herself OUT - try burning a matchstick or two, and blow them OFF right away. Relief to the ‘senses’ is guaranteed, and I stake my reputation or the lack of it to this claim. Even in the inadvertent situation when one ‘breaks wind’ in public, the result is just as effective. Let me know!

Despite knowledge of such ‘native miracles’, we Bangladeshi have an obsession for anything ‘foreign’ and it has all to do with our rather long colonial legacy. While our generation might not have tasted this, it remains nonetheless, firmly ingrained in our psyche. Therefore, our ‘first port of call’ on Mr.Samad’s ‘story’ is the TIME report of Al-Qaeda fighters and Taliban being shipped into Chittagong port from Karachi.

Guidance -- it has to be ‘an American news magazine’ to give Mr.Samad this very important ‘chin up’ to lunge into his fairy tales, for benefit of readers in yet another very important ‘foreign (read Indian) website’:

Let ‘s ask ourselves?

Are reports in TIME sacrosanct? Mistakes can happen and do happen - whether willingly or unwillingly is quite another matter. However, there seems to be some cohesiveness in the TIME report and Mr.Samad’s hallucinatory fairytale, especially in the use of the word ‘source’ that he often conjures at a drop of the proverbial hat. It was of course nameless, affiliation-less ‘Bangladesh intelligence sources ’ that neither TIME nor Mr.Samad will ever reveal and came up with this very ridiculous claim. That is well within the domain of what is termed ‘journalistic prerogative’, or so we think. Hang loose!

But what about common sense?

Anybody with the most basic knowledge of the workings of transport industry’s (I was in it for 15 long years) know for a fact that the romantic notion of ‘stowaways’ in ships is now history. Any International transport company, whether aviation or shipping, has to produce a mandatory ‘manifest’ of its cargo, human or otherwise, to the authorities at every port of call. Therefore, to assume that ‘a Saudi-owned vessel smuggled 150 Al-Qaeda and Taliban out of Karachi to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong’ is nothing but a ‘seaway heist’ on our cumulative imagination.

With computerized reservation and tracking systems in place worldwide it is now, not only possible to let the public at large know about the contents of the cargo of a vessel, but exactly when, where, why and how and importantly to whom, consignments were discharged at any given time and this can be done on a minute by minute basis anywhere in the world, including SURPRISE Bangladesh. Any takers?

There are, of course, individual stowaways and sometimes ship full of refugees, heading out to freedom. Most of the time they are caught and that makes news. To imagine that 150 Al-Qaeda fighters on a US hot pursuit were in one ship and ‘got away’ is really pushing it a bit too far. Also with the high US vigil at all seaports in November of last year, it is very unlikely that such a thing could happen and therefore
this ‘great scoop’ falls flat on its face.

If Mr.Samad believes in the authenticity of the TIME reports, I challenge him to let me only have the name of the Saudi vessel, and the date of its call in Chittagong port, and I will make sure he has the right answers. Also in his overheated narco-fantasia, it seems his geographical sense has also taken a pathetic yet convenient leave.

Imagine a Saudi ship, all the way from Karachi to Chittagong, by sea lapping the entire length of India’s coastline and slipping away without the knowledge of the Indian authorities, is anything but hogwash.

But what is of concern is the manner Mr.Samad, taking a queue from the TIME report and without a breather, rambles on in the next paragraph:

"Diplomatic and official sources said that questioned by Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at several interrogation centres, the Bangla-speaking mercenaries disclosed that they were recruited and trained by fanatic Islamic organizations at 17 camps in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, at the southern tip of Bangladesh."

This is a highly misleading stunt, because anybody reading the report and not the one from TIME will be led to believe that the above is only a continuation of the TIME report?

Time to light the first matchstick!

Read the full TIME report here ... to find out for yourself:

TIME reports:

"According to diplomats, a few al-Qaeda fugitives may have been given money and transport to get out of Pakistan by sympathetic staff at an Arab consulate in Karachi. Bangladeshi intelligence sources say that in the same month, a Saudi-owned vessel smuggled 150 al-Qaeda and Taliban out of Karachi to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong"

Please note the words ‘may have been given money’, preceding the sentence, only confirms that TIME was merely being speculative and the next sentence of ‘Bangladesh intelligence sources’ was only its continuation. There was nothing in the TIME report on ‘Bangla-speaking mercenaries’ and this ISI ‘speak all’ information that Mr.Samad weaves so intrinsically is only to garner validity to the recent propaganda in the Indian media that is an ISI not a RAW outfit.

‘Blowing the cover’ in intelligence parlance was Mr.Abdul Ghaffar Chowhury’s article on these exact same lines in the Dhaka Bengalee Daily Protham Alo on the 2nd of August 2002 making it a signed, sealed, and delivered case that Mr.Samad’s ‘sensational scoop’ was nothing short of a ‘RAW feed’ that wished public opinions in Bangladesh ‘the way to be guided’ - prior or post the Musharraf visit to Bangladesh.

Now on to our second ‘port of call’ - the case of ‘jihadi camps’ in Chittagong.

Who on earth are the ‘diplomats’ that Mr.Samad seems to quote - if not INDIAN diplomats? These stories of ‘clandestine camps’ are well known to him for in his career as an ‘eminent’ journalist, he had managed to infiltrate behind the lines (albeit the other way around), enter, stay over night, photograph, and interview RAW backed Shanti Bahini guerilla’s in their camps in the Indian side of Chittagong Hill Tracts when very few people could. 17 ‘jihadi camps’ in comparison within the territory of Bangladesh should be a piece of cake!

With this great talent at ‘sniffing out’ clandestine activities, why is it that, despite the repeated propaganda about such so-called camps circulating for as long as our memory can serve us, {even during the long Awami League tenure, when the Government of the day was part of the propaganda chorus), has Mr.Samad failed to do a ‘Shanti Bahini’ out of ‘ Al Qaeda jihadis’? The answer to that is - they do not exist, period.

If the ‘jihadis’ at all exist in the territory of Bangladesh, it is within the hallowed precinct of the Indian High Commission in the bulging ’disinformation files’ of Mr. Mathur, the Dhaka station chief of the RAW, whose selective contents - Mr.Samad has been ‘commissioned’ to disseminate.

Time to burn the second matchstick. Ummmmmhmmmmhn!

Mr. Samad refers to ‘contemporary history’ to further elucidate his point on the existence of ‘jihadis’ when he says:

"After several plots by the hard-line Islamic fanatics were unearthed to assassinate former prime minister "Shiekh Hasina, the security was further tightened. The parliament last year passed a bill to provide elite bodyguards, Special Service Force (SSF), to protect Hasina even she is voted out of the government."

(Typos are Saleem Samad’s not mine!)

But is that the truth?

Sheikh Hasina’s paranoia on security had more to do with her hunger to hang on to power and reduce Bangladesh to an Indian backed ‘dynastic fiefdom’ - something her father had attempted and had to pay a price with his life back in 1975. That story of an attempt on her life in Kotalipara, Gopalgunj by a time bomb, turned out to be a dud and the well-woven ‘conspiracy theory’, fizzled out in due course. To give a ‘foreign nod’ to my above contention - a FBI team that came to investigate the incident left Dhaka without making any comments. No one has tried to find out why - not even Mr.Samad.

What Mr. Samad very sinisterly, has tried to conjure up this instance is nothing more than a by now hackneyed attempt, to once again vilify Bangladesh, assuming that each and every of its citizen has somehow slipped back to collective mass amnesia.

Irrespective of whose interest he serves and his ‘Ashoka fellowship’ on counter intelligence in India notwithstanding- I do hope that Mr. Samad is a patriot. Without sounding unpatriotic on my part, I for one will not dispel the fact that Bangladesh militants had ‘not gone’ to fight for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or to Kargil, and Chechnya. Yes they have and they will continue to do so as it was none else but the
Americans who, back in the eighties, helped preach the sermon of ‘obligation of Muslims’ to volunteer for any ‘jihad’ call.

There is yet another reason. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Bengalees are a martial race, and in the eighties, in the ‘US backed jihad’ in Afghanistan against the Soviets, thousands of Bangladeshis perished without a trace, as they did in the Israeli siege of Beirut when they fought shoulder to shoulder with the PLO. Back then despite their Islamic identity, the world snapped its finger and tapped its feet and considered them ‘heroes’ even when they fought under Usama Bin Laden.

Today they are ‘necessary villains because again it is the Americans that wants us to believe that way. Fair enough, beggars may not be choosers we have no choice. Lest we forget in 1971 our Mukti Bahini guerillas were also ‘miscreant terrorist’ in the US/Pakistan schemes of things.

The information’s provided by Mr. Samad is nothing new nor authentic, but to espouse propaganda fed by ‘intelligence’, ’diplomatic’, or ‘informed sources’ that Bangladesh has somehow become the training and breeding ground for ‘global jihadis’, and that a blueprint for Pan Islamism is being designed here, is not only untenable but outright treachery. Toeing that line for any Bangladesh citizen means that the ultimate price has to be paid is by none else but its fellow citizens already condemned to being amongst the poorest in the world.

What is hurtful is when apparently responsible citizens of Bangladesh get involved in pre-emptive propaganda exercises for one or the other side never ever thinking once for the interest of Bangladesh. They have all the time to ‘inform the world’ through a notorious Indian intelligence website the existence of ‘jihadis’ out to make massacre when they themselves could become part of a slaughter. Can Mr. Samad furnish proof that he has informed the authorities in Bangladesh the privileged information’s he seems to habitually receive? No he has not - because the interest of his sponsors will not be served by his so doing.

On the so called ‘jihadi camps’, just a few months back the Bangladesh Foreign Minister not only vehemently denied their existence he volunteered to provide helicopters to help locate them! I guess for responsible journalist, suffering from ‘fear psychosis’ of the Saleem Samad variety this is an opportunity that could be well seized upon and one up for grabs even as I close this piece.

Should Mr. Samad consider a helicopter trip for a ‘jihadi camp sighting’ mission at GoB expense, I would very much like to hop in to the seat next to hi. I have never flown a whirly bird!

‘Fasten your seatbelts Ladies and Gentlemen don’t burn matchsticks and remember there are no toilets in this helicopter'!!

‘That smell Mr.Samad...... must be the ‘jihadi’ pilot"?