Wednesday, June 09, 2004

BAMBA - the way it all happened - Part 4

8. Working our way around insurmountable odds

At the vanguard of the revolt against Ershad were NOT our politicians but a renegade combine of student's wings of all major political parties that swore not to listen to their leaders and not to return home till the dictator was ousted. They made that public allegiance by touching the dead body of Jihad, a fellow student of Dhaka University, gunned down brutally a few days earlier.

Called All Party Student Unity (APSU) or Chattra Oikya Porishod in Bengalee, the student front had fought pitched battles with the Police, BDR and thugs of Ershad and it was common knowledge that there was a proliferation of illegal weapons all across the campus. All of 8-9th December, at the Mall Square in Dhaka University students were photographed armed to the teeth and openly brandishing weapons.

Yet here we were just a week later and it was Khalid's idea that the Mall Square is exactly where the BAMBA concert was going to be held? The country did not even have an effectively functional Government. How was I going to take a decision? Who would ensure security when things were this insecure? Importantly will BAMBA members be willing to take on the challenge?

A BAMBA meeting was planned at the Elvis Studio the next evening, and I gave a green signal to Khalid (who himself was a member of Chattra Oikya Porishod) to go over and talk to the leadership and see if they could assist us. Khalid immediately revved up his bike and went off, promising to let me have the result the same night, which he did over telephone:

''Mac - they are all with us, they want a concert, don't worry'.

Next morning Bogey probably hit the ceiling when I called to inform him our plans. Terming this an 'insane idea' and that all of us would be killed, he told me ever so firmly that the situation inside the campus was far too fluid to do anything as major as an OPEN-AIR ROCK CONCERT (he screamed).

I had to believe Bogey: he was then as he is to this day, a teacher of the Dhaka University.

By the evening of 14th December 1990, the reaction among BAMBA members to perform in the concert was mixed. Not so much as a desire not to perform but whether things would work out okay. The young Turks withion BAMBA gave me all the strength required to keep head and mind together. It was Shumon (then of Chime and now Pentagon) who grabbed me tight in a bear hug saying - "one life Mac, either we live to see history, or die for BAMBA". I had known and understood music all my life, this was the first time I learnt what a Musical Revolution can be, and I knew every member in BAMBA that day stood like a ROCK and was ready to ROCK Bangladesh.

Added to that was a hard decision we had to take: since it was BAMBA's as well as Bangladesh's first open-air concert; would it for instance be the right thing to perform English songs?

Would we NOT have problems with the culture-vultures that have since laid siege to the campus and who have till then remained merciless in their denouncement of rock-music as 'reactionary counter culture' and 'alien infiltration' if we allowed bands to sing in English? Above all what do we do with bands that did not immediately have a Bengalee repertoire - important fellow bands such as MILES and Warfaze?

I guess for the very first time we had a decision on the English-Bengalee divide and all agreed. ONLY Bengalee songs will be permitted - and while MILES obviously could not perform they were generous in their offer to lend their sound system as did all other bands and sound rental companies - FREE OF CHARGE. As always Hamin assured me he will be with me in the concert to assist- which he did.

Warfaze however were in a fix, and wanted me to give them some ideas, 'can you not somehow squeeze us in, just one English song Mac' they pleaded.

I countered this by saying 'okay guys do an English song - just translate the lyrics to Bangla - that's no big deal is it'?

'Heavy metal Bengalee songs'?

Tipu, Sanjoy and Komol's eyes literally popped out, but they weren't out to disappoint me - IF I promised to introduce the band to the audience as also this new genre in music, which surely was to begin that auspicious day - they will risk a 'GO'.

Without batting an eyelid I said 'no problem at all guys'. They went off for rehearsal.

By the evening of 15th of December 1990 almost 14 bands were up and ready for the blast the next day. Sound equipment's came in the truckloads and by 8 p.m. the humongous stage and bamboo scaffolding was ready.

I went home at about 8:30 p.m. for dinner, promising to return before midnight. Fanty assured me that he would start the sound check once everything was hooked up. On the drive back home I took a detour around campus. Between Doyel Chottor and the National Museum eleven small stages were erected with 'chonga mikes', and most of them were very backward looking 'natok' dais.

Typically, the Sammilito Sangskritik Jote meantime decided to ignore our concert completely and all the publicity materials we sent them were heaped into the dustbin. The press release sent through the newly erected Sammilito Press Kendro never made it to any newspaper even on the 15th of December 1990. I was anxious if we were going to have a crowd at all. Our show was to begin at 8 a.m. less than 8 hours away on an Independence Day - the first one in a long time without a dictator ruling our destiny.

There was some panic too, which I had to hide from the rest of BAMBA.

We received secret information of a plot to destabilize our concert politically. Khalid and I had a quick meeting. We had to let the public at large know what BAMBA's philosophy was all about, without being asked? I drew out an outline design on a piece of paper that would eventually be the large backdrop banner.

Other than BAMBA etc etc, we proactively wrote out a terse message "Band shongeet Oposhonskriti Noi - aye Bangladesher shongskritiri choloman dhara", translated to mean Band music is not counter culture but a continuation of the flow of Bangladesh's existing culture.

Not one among us had any doubt that this message was going to be effective. It was. By 6.a.m the next morning the banner was up for the world to see.

I returned back just past midnight and parked my car inside the PG Hospital, deciding to walk the short distance to the Mall. It was bitterly cold and I had Dio my then 5 year-old son, for company. His mother was not at all happy about his tagging along with me this late at night - but Dio was adamant with eyes in tears "Ameeo jabo tomar shathay" -- I had no alternative!

As we crossed the Fine Arts College near the rebel Poet Nazrul's grave, sound of 'canon fire' shook the ground beneath my feet. At first I thought that this was the ritualistic post midnight canon fire on Independence Day, but then a chill descended my spine. The sound was coming from the vicinity of the Mall Square - has somebody blown up the stage with all that equipment?

Holding Dio's hand tight I carried on towards Madhu Canteen, my heart thundering in fright - but suddenly a microbus crossed us and from inside Lokman Hakim the reputed music director craned his neck out to scream 'oyee Maqsood HIT HIT HIT, TOP TOP TOP'.

His mischievous grin told me we were onto something BIG - good or bad, I had no way of knowing.

I sweated in the cold air.

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