BAMBA - the way it all happened - Part 1
It seems like only yesterday that Faisal Siddiqui Bogey came up with this exciting idea of forming an association of rock musicians in Bangladesh, but wait a minute - this was in 1985 - and I am talking about nineteen summers ago when we were still grappling with the very concept of how and where we are, music wise in a genre that we all loved, yet knew, there were few takers.
Bengalee rock music had all but faded away in 1975 and we were pretty much stuck eking out a musical existence by playing cover versions of Western tunes to unemotional diners in fashionable clubs and hotels across town. Some of us by that time had a Bengalee album or two to our credit, however we had no way of knowing if we had an audience, because there were hardly any LIVE concerts where anybody played Bengalee music. The media by and large was unaware about our existence.
Back to Bogey: for a starter I had no inkling as to who would be interested in an association, and bands then were only a handful, and not everybody seemed to be all too excited about the idea. Bogey remained persistent and made it a habit of sauntering over to my office then in Dilkusha 'just for some gup-shup' as he would put it, and ever so candidly drop the idea over and over again.
He felt is was 'do-able' - 'after all we are friends, aren't we' ? No denying that.
In a bid to avoid his routine pestering, I kind of half agreed - and in about two weeks time he called a shingara and tea adda at Hotel Blue Nile in Elephant Road (made popular by the Chittagong band SOULS using it as their jaunt whenever they were in the capital). Two dozen of us enthusiasts jammed into a small corridor and formative steps were taken; first the naming.
Bogey has had a life long penchant for Latin music, and instantly suggested BAMBA, the acronym initially for Bangladesh Amateur Musical Bands Association. While we all liked the musical ring to it, none of us were entirely 'hot' to be perceived as a bunch of amateur musicians. So, out went Amateur and we turned around the BA to mean Bangladesh and thus Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA) was agreed upon.
Nothing was decided on formation of a committee or elections etc, as those were things furthest in our mind. All we wanted were gigs where all bands could play together. Naming over, we once again rolled back to another round of lethargy and that's the way it stayed, with the exception of Bogey's relentless pestering whenever we met. I was beginning to avoid him!
2. FLOOD AID '87: The First Gig - The evolution of BAMBA
In 1987, came this huge flood, and in town then on vacation from the UK was Rebecca Haque. She and her sister Naomi had formed Flood-AID Committee for Bangladesh and by the time she caught up with us, had already organized a matinee concert of new bands and had several press clippings to her credit - all of this transpired without anyone of us knowing.
Bubbling with energy, Rebecca had an infectious dynamism about her. She wanted to hold a three-day rock festival with 'all the bands in town' she could get her hands on at the Sheraton Ball Room (then the Hotel Intercontinental). She succeeded in persuading the hotel authorities to donate the ballroom free and all she wanted was all of us to agree to play free. As if we would charge?
Then came a series of meetings and heated debates limited to Feedback, MILES, SOULS and Renaissance and all said and done the 3-day festival were a massive success. Other than playing together we discovered that it was possible for all of us to work together (and tolerate each other!) for a common goal, and leading the way partially with his cool composure was Hamin Ahmed Tukon of MILES. However at that stage Hamin like me was unenthusiastic about forming an association.
The proceeds from the concert went to the President Relief Fund, and Rebecca and Manam Ahmed from MILES were shown on BTV handing over the cheque to the then President Ershad.
Post Flood-AID we slowed down considerably, and despite many efforts by Bogey we could not sit for a proper meeting and sort out the egocentricities that had cropped up during Flood-AID '87, and continued to divide us unnecessarily.
Part of the misunderstanding was due to a press report (in the now defunct Dhaka Courier) on our post concert partying at Rebecca's house in Gulshan. Suspicions were it was an 'inside job' as other than the musicians that performed there were no outsiders, and the press wasn't even invited.
We found it hard to believe that anyone amongst us could be this malicious, but then we had no way of knowing the source of the report which till today remains a mystery and therefore wild guesses and 'whodunnits' continued.
The magazine did print our angry rejoinder, but the damage was done.
On the flip side however, there was something very positive up in the air.
There were many replications of the Flood-AID Concert all of 1987 and on to 1988, and those crudely organized events gave us the first indications that it was possible to hold concerts with many bands playing at the same venue. It had become by the time, sort of a small-scale business by young enthusiast cum would be entrepreneurs, and none of us could be happier.
Then came the flood of 1988 - more devastating than the previous year and Dhaka itself was deluged.
One evening while trying to return home to Mirpur in a boat (this is true!) near Rokeya Sarani, I saw another boat coming from the opposite direction. It was different from boats used by displaced people because its cargo had drums, keyboards, guitars and amplifiers and faces I thought I knew from somewhere.
There was Biplob, Shelly and Tipu (then belonging to the band WINNING) and they were evacuating their equipments from their practice pad in Mirpur which had also gone under floodwater!
As we crossed there was jubilant shouting between boats much to the chagrin of the affected people in the vicinity. There was however one sentence that rang out loud and clear from the trio: "Maqsood bhai BAMBA must hold a Flood-AID concert."
Unhesitantly I gave a thumbs-up and carried on. Little did I realize that I had unwittingly made a public commitment for a concert in the thick of a tragedy, in the dire realities of flood waters and little did I know that all of us rock musicians of Bangladesh were on the verge of making history.