Monday, August 01, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 4

To soothe us with ‘alternative music’ came whole bunch of ‘flower power’ American kids with acoustic guitars called Children of gOD, (COg) with messages from the reclusive Moses David in tiny beautifully packaged and illustrated books that we could hide in your wallets. Warning us about Free Masons, 666, World Bank and the CIA, they were passed on hand-to-hand and became pulp in no time.
My friends Larry Barnaby, Tukon and Muna (read the later two as Hamin and Shafin Ahmed of today’s MILES) recorded a wonderfully harmonized, haunting ‘Shine Like The Sunlight’ at the USIS in Dhanmondi, which went on to feature big time on COg radios all across the US and on to the Philippines. The brother-sister duo Zaid and Rizwana Kabir who hosted the daily afternoon Radio Bangladesh special World Music, and the Sunday ‘must-listen’ interactive Your Choice gave our then ‘underground’ BIG airtime. The mysterious Moses David wrote a two liner commending the song – and just as suddenly, Cog’s disappeared?

An Army intelligence bloke who questioned me about them (why me?) gave a lecture that they were ‘loose characters’ from the US ‘Cultural Intelligence Agency’ (w.t.f. not the ‘evil’ CIA?) sent with a ‘mission to corrupt the moral of our youth’? Cinema and TV Watchers Association (CATWA) who screened wonderful movies and rock concert footages also met the same fate.
1977 was a landmark year for me. I joined the English Department of DU in January, and by March of the same year, passed an audition to become Feedback’s lead vocalist in the only 5-star hotel at the time, The Intercontinental. Thereon it was no longer partying to others music with my dear friends, but music that me and my band would play, and only the richest in town would ‘pay to party’ – once a week. Within the next 2 months time it became thrice a week. Our boss at The Chambeeli Supper Club was French, the General Manager American and there were 3 Italian chefs. On Saturday nights we had to wear ties, and on other days, frilled shirts, waistcoats with bow tie that made us look like bellhops – not musicians!
Back at the DU, friends (specially the girls) would flock around me taking in all the latest gossip I had ‘privileged access’ to as it was all unfolding right before my eyes. Things like, who was dating who, who was cheating on whom, who was splitting, who puked publicly at the Cheshire Ball and got thrown out, or worse; ‘what the hell were you doing after the show in the hotel room?’
They were not convinced that because of the Martial Law in force for years, a curfew would be imposed after 1 a.m. and rooms were thus allocated to the band to ‘overnight’ free. It was all the more difficult to explain this ‘foreign looking’ girl seen in my company in the first car I bought – a reconditioned Toyota Publica – ‘oh that’s Iman a Lebanese aircrew working for Saudia’.
In fact at any given time the Intercontinental would have crew from at least five foreign airlines and during the Hajj came Jumbo jets, so we are talking about more than a very big bunch of beautiful ‘foreign girls’ to have as ‘friends’ here? We looked up to Kemal Mohiuddin the drummer earlier for Windy Sides of Care and later MILES, who had the looks and charms to represent the in-house musicians fraternities honor roll of a ‘Ladies man’ and none of us even meagerly qualified to be his ‘side kick’…. end of the story! Feedback had a ‘hard drinking’ reputation, other that that ‘not much as such’?
On the more serious side, we had serious problems – NO NEW MUSIC. After Saturday Night Fever, came Grease and a profusion of disco fever, with Village People and ugggh Boney-M (the Arab aircrew loved them), and we were starving for good, quality music to the do cover versions, but there were none available in local shops.
It was early 80’s that my now departed friend Sheikh Ishtiaque the singer, introduced me to Dora and Roummy of Cats Eye. They were Canadian and had opened shop at the Green Super Market, and I felt blessed to have met them. They were not only selling cassettes that they would personally record for us from a collection of nearly 5,000 LP’s we could chose, their customized ‘cool shirts’, the like of which we never set our eyes on until then made me confident. Their Beef Burgers with real beef was like something I had never experienced to this day.
When Feedback held its first concert at the WAPDA Auditorium in 1977, Cats Eye was the only outlet for tickets and all 500 were sold out in 2 days. Roummy told me ‘Mac you guys are on the verge of doing something fascinating’! In the years to come new music was never ever a problem, Dora and Roummy had regular loads coming from the US and Canada. So we are talking about the first music shop in town as well, are we?

In 1985 The Intercontinental was sold and became the Dhaka Sheraton. With it came renovation of the lobby and all the restaurants on the ground floor. The most painful day of my life was to witness the Chambeeli being taken off piece by piece, the desecration of music a ‘temple’, second to none in South Asia. It was replaced by the grotesque Bikthika, neither a restaurant nor a supper club – its ambience more of a pricey fast-food joint.
By time it was ready to welcome guests and the band – we found the fine acoustics that saw musicians before us perform in its hallowed precincts from all over the world, totally destroyed. The new bandstand was next to the buffet table – and we began to feel like chicken shashlick for people to eat! Leave listening aside, no one was even looking at us.
By July of 1987 Feedback quit, and LIVE music as such has never been heard there since. We nonetheless played a full eleven-year with unbroken regularity – from 1976 to 1987

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