Tuesday, June 08, 2004

BAMBA - the way it all happened - Part 3

5. Heading the 'cultural renegades': Condemned to President!

Amidst shouts of 'yeah, yeah' and 'right-on, right-on' Bogey defiantly declared that I was to be the President of BAMBA henceforth? No amount of persuasion on my part to the contrary, even to be given time to think this over, worked.

So there I was- I found myself heading an organization that had no office, no bank account, no constitution, no registration, no address, no phone numbers - indeed lumped in together we were a rag tag non-entity with the infinite enthusiasm and attitude amongst its member to take on the world by its tail and giving it a right spin?

The future of band music and BAMBA was never in doubt; we were destined for the musical history of Bangladesh. In the youth it represented, BAMBA then had the force of a guerilla army and a determination that could be the envy of any political party anywhere in the world. There would be no turning back.

Between 1988 and 1990 BAMBA had been at the forefront of many social advancement and charitable causes, raising funds at any given opportunity, yet all said and done BAMBA could not find itself a firm footing in positioning itself as a business endeavor and had no money to do anything on its own. Subscription was basis for its membership, which basically covered nothing. To top it off, in our inexperience whatever we decided upon was going to be standard fare thereafter, and we continued to improvise. It wasn't easy.

At that stage we were not too keen on this becoming a 'money making proposition' either. All we wanted was to promote Band music in Bangladesh - and BAMBA was the ideal venue for launch of our philosophy and showcase our talents, which by then had evolved to blend a lot of concerts with a mix of English cover versions with some very hard hitting Bengalee original penned, composed and performed by its members. It was good time and 'party' time period.

Bands like Souls, Chime, Obscure and WINNING and Feeling's were drawing more response and crowd with their Bengalee originals. MILES with Shafin back from the UK were only months away from their first Bengalee album. Feedback was already a Bengalee phenomenon.

6. Newer trends: The English-Bengalee Divide in Band Music

An English-Bengalee divide was therefore inevitable, as there was also a shift in the demography of the audience of concertgoers. Most of the new audience had no orientation with Western music, indeed if at all, the only Western music they had probably heard and were growing up with, was the fare of Bengalee rock that we were churning out. I felt then as much as I feel now - that we simply could not be the best examples. Remember I am talking years before cable, MTV or the Internet came to influence our lives.

It was at this stage that Feedback was perhaps the first band in Bangladesh to make a public announcement to say that effectively we were OVER with our English repertoire of some 500 cover songs of over 12 years.

We already had more than a dozen original Bengalee songs to our credit that was lapped up by crowd in any concert we played and while we lost a major audience (and money) segment thanks to that decision - we knew all too well that we were on the right track as far as the future was concerned.

Personally my feeling was somebody among us had to hazard sticking necks out, and so convinced was I about the future of Bengalee rock, that I was quite prepared to have mine chopped off! I have believed in leading from the front, and was willing to 'dare', for I knew I was going to win, and it didn't matter at all when some very senior bands of the day called our move 'suicidal'.

Ironically the first murmurs inside Feedback about me being 'dictatorial' had also started.

I remember telling an audience at a concert "There is no point making Michael Jackson any more popular than he already is by singing his song - might as well do our own stuff - if we are to have an existence"! A whole lot of clapping and a few boos told me what a voting would not.

The English-Bengalee divide also raised some very fundamental problems among BAMBA bands. Those that did Western covers were somehow inclined to have this preposterous notion - that they were better and more knowledgeable about music than the 'Bangla bands', as would be referred to snidely!

The Bengalee only bands (or Bangla bands for the lack of a better expression) on the other hand were convinced about their own superiority because the majority of the audience was coming in to see them perform - and hence the gates depended on them; not on these 'bunch of English medium upstarts' they would retort.

And it went on and on.

Between concerts I was getting more than an earful, and try as I might, it continued to create frictions, something an organization like BAMBA could ill afford. We tried shuffling the time slots - allowing English bands to perform ahead of the Bengalee bands. Complaints filled in from the Bengalee bands that the LOUD English bands were driving away their audience before they could even settle down - and there was some truth to it. Bangladesh's soundscape was not ready for Iron Maiden or Metallica way back in 1988?

Yet try telling that to the English bands? They would come around saying that the audience would leave immediately after the 'khyat Bangla bands' finished - and they were usually left with a dozen or so 'hard core' fans to play for.

The English-Bengalee divide in BAMBA continued till circumstances intruded and provided us with a workable solution.

7. BAMBA Open Air Concert - December 16th 1990

The summer of 1990 were politically restive times for Bangladesh and the anti-Ershad agitation's were at its peak. BAMBA did not have much activity year long, other than a few meetings and organizational formalities - and sorting out a major dispute over ownership of a song claimed by both Chime and WINNING, and later an ugly split within Chime that saw claimants for the band by two sets of musicians.

We had gotten ourselves terribly bogged down on these trivialities.

In between a committee was selected on an adhoc basis and the post of General Secretary went to Khalid of Chime, and there were several other posts allocated, significantly Fanty from Feelings was to coordinate BAMBA in Chittagong and Tipu of Obscure in North Bengal. I grudgingly continued as President.

By 10th of December 1990 the then President of Bangladesh, the military dictator General H.M Ershad was overthrown in a massive public revolt against his tyranny and the mood all over Dhaka was very electric. The next day hundreds upon thousands of people poured into the street in rapturous celebrations and every street corner in the city was besieged. Cultural ceremonies of one kind or the other were being held in every nook and corner of Dhaka. The spirit of democracy and freedom was suddenly rekindled.

The party of all parties however awaited Bangladesh and I had no way of knowing that I would be honored to be a part of it all!

It was on 13th December 1990 that Khalid barged into my office and wanted to know very brusquely if BAMBA would 'just sit tight and do nothing' while so much was happening around us. I wanted to know what he planned on doing - and when he said 'an open air concert in Dhaka University on 16th December' - I had beads of cold sweat around my forehead. So scared was I that I remained speechless for about a minute.

I had good reasons to be worried.

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