KOLKATA: Brass bands synonymous with festivities and celebrations have fallen on bad times due to the pandemic.
Dressed in long colourful shirts and fitting trousers, brass bands playing peppy — sometimes bordering on boisterous — tunes have been a must-have at Indian weddings, festivals and even political functions. The artists who would play instruments like trumpets, drums, saxophones and clarinets are now looking for alternative means of livelihood, with some even driving auto-rickshaws and working in small eateries.
Owing to the pandemic, the government has put curbs on all celebrations, including weddings and festivals, fixing the upper limit of guests to implement social distancing and preventing the virus from spreading. Brass bands, which were a part of these celebrations, have been omitted from the priority list.
The lanes off MG Road strewn with small shops where brass instruments and silken tunics hang from the walls have fallen completely silent. “We missed out on a big part of the wedding season. There are no orders from puja organizers, who themselves are uncertain about the festival. Between March and June, we were scheduled to play for at least 15 weddings that got cancelled. Many of my musicians have left for their homes in UP and Bihar while some others are doing odd jobs in Kolkata, working for small eateries or driving auto-rickshaws,” said Mohammad Nishat Khan, owner of Classic Band.
Brass bands came into existence in India during the early days of British rule by the coming together of the British military bands and the royal Indian procession. In independent India, these bands become an integral part of any festive occasion, from weddings, festivals and even birthdays.
Away from the bright lights of the wedding processions and carnivalesque festivals, it was always a tough life for the musicians, with lots of travel to the suburbs and neighbouring districts, long hours and inconsistent pay. The pandemic has just hit the last nail in the coffin.
Modern day couples now prefer hiring DJs for their weddings. Similarly, even puja committees engage DJs for the immersion ceremonies. But there was still some work for the brass bands. “The pandemic has crushed all our hopes of getting work in immediate future. Earlier, we would at least be hopeful that the wedding season and Pujas would bring some work for us. But this time, even we know that’s impossible,’ said Shaheen Ahmed of Bharat Band on MG Road.
Mohammad Shamim has been playing the shehnai for over 22 years, the mellifluous tunes of which are synonymous with Durga Puja, is now working in a hotel in Mechua as a waiter. “I have a family to look after. If I say no to this work just because I am an artist, we will have to go hungry.”