Wednesday, July 09, 2003

The 'Indefferent ANAM-using' on music!

'Indefference' aside - Mahfuz Anam, Editor and publishers respectively of two so-called 'national dailies', part time 'commentator', self proclaimed 'patron' of those that sorely need patronization, and weekend 'muser' in his 'very own' Star Weekend Magazine - a name the powerful in Bangladesh hold in supposed awe and admiration.

News, any news in either of his publications is lapped as the highest honor imaginable for sides of the hypocritical political or cultural cause celebre divide. After all there are only two sides in Bangladesh - and the bottom line is, if you have made it to the pages of his publications, chances are you have got it made - in other words you are IN the 'poor mans' substitute for The New York Times or The Washington Post - whoa!

To the purpose of this piece readers, I make it a point to savor as chutneez whatever Mahfuz writes for no other reason, other than it serves as a barometer for me to appreciate whatever macabre storm is ongoing in the minds of our construed 'doyens of thought process' as also to have a laugh in an otherwise placid existence in boring Bangladesh. The exception and no 'laughing matter' is his latest 'offering' in the 1st August STAR 2003 Weekend Magazine - Weekend Musing - Why are we so Indefferent towards Our songs and music' :

Digression my spell-check came in with a solid red line under the word INDEFFERENT - and as of now I have been unable to find its meaning in any dictionary. Could well be a new 'Mahfuz addition' to the English language - congrats!
The INDEFFERENT ANAM-using in a nutshell:

"Mahfuz's steps into a music store in Bangladesh for the first time in his life - to listen to music in his 'CD cum cassette player' which Mahfuz has purchased - FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE - and Mahfuz describes his shock and awe - and Mahfuz does his usual patronization sermonizing - end of the story!"

It also goes to prove that he has no CD player in his PC at home or office, or perhaps does not own or have a need for a PC…… and explains the state of English or its spelling in the DS?

Giving him a benefit of a doubt as this piece is no '14 Generation Rescue' (choddo gushti uddhar) exercise on Mahfuz - it is more than likely that he has suddenly been visited by the Muse Goddess, and that readers is no crime, indeed it is a belated blessing of sort. His rambling of the kind of music he likes to hear, while a clear indicator that he relates to the soundscape of the 'fashionable sixties' while queer in the millennium context - is acceptable and again NO CRIME or a big deal.

But I am more than certain that the 'big-shop' the 'big-Editor' went exploring for the kind of music to suit his rusty ears, was as crappy as his 'big newspaper' - for what I find very hard to believe is the apparent absence of ANY Bangla 'songs and music' - (Q: do you get songs without music - A: yes you do hamd o naath?) in the outlet he visited.

A 20 minutes rickshaw ride to avoid the 45 minutes it would otherwise take in a car thanks to the jam from The Daily Star's obnoxious precincts to music stores in Elephant Road - would have well found him discovering more than 50 stores with ALL kinds of music to 'check-out' in his new 'CD cum cassette player' contraption. The Eastern Plaza complex at 5 minutes rickshaw ride would have also given him atleast 20 shops to choose from in air-conditioned comfort!

His disdain for Hindi music and its wicked proliferation in Bangladesh is a domain of thinking where I agree with him ninety-nine percent, yet it is more than a little amusing to note that he has suddenly woken up to this hard reality - made all the more irritable in his 40 minute ordeal at a barbershop blaring 'appropriate' (read Hindi) music. The truth is almost all barbers in Dhaka are Bangladeshi-Biharis whose lingua franca is Urdu - not Bangla, and explains their love for Hindi, which is again a derivate from Urdu or vice versa.

In our excessive LOVE INDIA sycophancy of 32 years we have done ourselves a great service by standardizing the acceptability of India's national language to the 'cross section' of our population - butchers and barbers, students and sweepers, housewives and hustlers, Editors and hawkers…….so there is hardly any point making such a huge noise as we on the other hand - see absolutely nothing wrong with India or it cultural imperialism and 'patronize' them 'free of charge''.

After all India is a 'powerful friendly neighbor' - our inspirations live in Kolkata and Mumbai not in Dhaka and doing them a favor even when they don't want one - is albeit doing ourselves a favor: that is until we buy a 'CD cum cassette player' and wake up with a jolt to see that the bottom beneath us is …….well, not quite where it used to be!

'Bottomless basket' ala Henry Kissinger?

Mahfuz writes:

"The point I am making here is that there is in an inexplicable indifference among us about our own music. The truth is we do not promote our musicians or our music as vigorously as our rich heritage and our artistes deserve."

The point I am trying to make here is, while Mahfuz huffs and puffs about Hindi music he conveniently forgets the role of his very own publications over the years to promote and popularize them?

I am for instance reminded of a time when The DS had the misfortune of my ungraceful presence in one of their Conference at the British Council in 1998, where I pointed out in front of a gathering of more than hundred individuals that it has a full page every week entirely devoted to recent Hindi or Indian music releases, when the fact of the matter is more than twenty new Bengalee releases a week from Bangladesh are conveniently ignored. I also raised the question of the legality of the shops that sell Indian pirated music and The DS advertises 'free of charge'. I wanted to know if those shops are registered agents of any Indian music company - which we know they are NOT and said 'that means The DS is also promoting pirates and smugglers?'

All in the audience including Mahfuz nodded and had a round of applause going to approve of my heresy - and that is not all. To my horror I saw my most unattractive mug on The DS cover the next morning - with the audience in rapturous state of laughter - and my spoken words printed bold, verbatim!

Nothing however changed since that hallowed wintry day in 1998 in The DS attitude to promote Indian culture, indeed I have only seen its shamelessly spiraling - enough for me to refuse an interview to The DS Weekend Magazine last year 'until and unless changes were made to the current status quo'. That is the least I can do to do in all that needs to be done to fight this archaic chicanery of The DS as a protest for their 'all game' attitude to promote Indian music at the expense of our own.

Last if not the least the PATRONIZATION bug:

Mahfuz writes:

"But there are some superb voices whose songs are comparable to the most talented anywhere. But they are not getting our support. I have heard some fresh new voices who can easily make enchanting records given the due support. They definitely need our patronisation……The real answer lies in large-scale societal patronisation of our music. We must support music institutions and our newspapers must promote our artists. Our corporate world must sponsor big national musical events so that artists can perform in them and receive national recognition"
Let's be honest about something - "patronization" of the arts is a regal heritage and The DS or its Editor are neither music aficionados nor any kings or nawabs to do Bangladesh music any great favor. The purpose of such public sermonizing is to capitalize on the buoyant and thriving local music industry, a business just like any other business and one Mahfuz does not have to be an apologist or 'patron' to 'cash in' on.

Having said that, music in Bangladesh has come a long way and all of it through intense hard work of practitioners. Newspapers as such, do not necessarily make or break musicians for listeners do not go out and buy music based entirely on what has been written. In the final judgment, they would much rather let their ears and intangible sixth sense decide music that is good or awful, and there is a fair share of discernable listeners who know what to accept or reject.

The DS in the English language, or its sister publication the Prothom Alo in Bengalee in its 'patronization' have only lapped up and honored musicians and artists that have 'sold' albums - yet we know all too well that actual selling numbers are unknown to them or the musicians in the first place. The 'honor' to musicians is a 'payback' to the music marketeers who have advertised in their publications and the 'lobbying' that has gone behind the scenes to become Daily Star's STAR is not unknown - period.

The publications themselves have not shown any interest in the more complex issues that bedevils the music industry - questions of Intellectual Property Rights, royalties to artist from marketeers, exploitations, and importantly music criticism is an unknown domain because you simply cannot criticize music in the pain of not receiving advertisement. 'Music journalism'? Well ……..they still haven't quite got that figured out, not yet.

Ironically the publications themselves and their 'music journalist' are victims to marketeers of music, fizz and tobacco companies that fake 'talent search contest' in the guise of 'Star Search Contest' and in effect all they do is splash the photographs and sashay the egos of star wannabes, who thereafter recede to oblivion after the tamashas are done and over with.

Meantime so-called 'sponsors and patron' make a post event killing by selling video footage to TV channels, where artist do not get a cent in the deal. They are after all been 'patronized and promoted' - beggars cannot be chooser's! No STAR by the way, from any 'Star Search Contest' is a star in Bangladesh today.

It is a shame that the role of the Media is not one of promoting (patronizing?) any of the talents, but falling victims of tobacco companies to help sell couple of more packets of poison to the young - or fizz drink manufacturers making more money in 'organizing' concerts by selling bottles or cans of their 'generational' drinks in venues - all the more 'comfortable' if the parent company of the publication are the fizz makers Bangladesh distributor?

To add it all up.

The DS makes more money advertising concerts and bottles of fizz or cigarettes than it does selling their newspaper - and while any concert draw upwards of thirty thousand audience in the Army Stadium it does not in any way qualify for front page news or any NEWS at all. The 'tragedy' on the flip side is Mahfuz's cronies from the advertisement industry who also masquerade as 'cultural activist' find themselves in the front page of their publications even if there are just 10 curious onlookers to witness a dozen grey haired artist rendering closed eyed, nose flared version of Tagore music organized by Sammilito Sangskritik Jote (Combined Axis of Culture Vultures) at the Shaheed Minar!

Hypocrisy is not a cultural component, it is human idiosyncrasy, yet the underlying tragedy of Bangladesh's mainstream culture is - you can only be SOMEBODY if you are 'somebody's somebody', and 'talent' as such, is not a fundamental criterion to be in that lascivious position. Anybody can be a STAR in Bangladesh - but it makes good sense if one has the Editor of The Daily STAR (the STARS newspaper!), think you are STAR material and if you have the 'talent' to somehow suck up to him and his cronies and solicit their innate 'patronization' - You've got it MADE!

Last if not the least Mahfuz should not have woken up from his deep slumber.

Given the damage that has been done to the music industry in Bangladesh by his publications, perhaps it is time we should be mobilizing public opinion and promoting open import of Indian daily newspapers and periodicals. If free promotion of Indian music is no crime - neither should it be our endorsement or ratification to this proposal. Atleast we will be spared of horrific English and 'Indefference'….Yawn.

POST SCRIPT: The print version of DS yesterday Friday, August 08, 2003 i.e. 7 days after Mahfuz's 'indefferent' sermons - once again has these blatant pirates and smugglers advertised free of charge. Only 2 Bangladeshi releases were covered and the rest 18 or so?

Your guess is as good as mine - INDIAN.

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