Pindi’s traditional ‘brass’ musicians giving forth sad tunes!

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Zubair Qureshi

Rawalpindi—A few groups of brass bandmasters and musicians, despite time’s heavy blows, are there in the Raja Bazaar carrying forward their family’s dying art.
These drum beaters are determined that one day they would produce such tunes from their rusty and old-fashioned instruments that would earn them their lost respect and status in the society.
Against a figure of 50 brass band groups are left only 10 now and they too are finding it hard to make a living and run their families. Ashiq Band, Babu Band, Hero Band are some of the brass band groups which are bracing the onslaught of increasing demand for military bands (pipe band groups), roadside performers and she-males.
“Brass band, contrary to the military band, is a traditional band that plays happy tunes at weddings and functions and delight people. On the contrary military band was first introduced to produce sad tunes when someone was laid to rest,” said Azmat a bandmaster who inherited the art from his father.
“This is a dying art and our earning is uncertain as people prefer military bands due to their publicity and because of the fact that the musicians and bandmasters in those groups are ex-army personnel,” he said. Azmat attributed the ‘disappearance’ of brass bandmasters, who once spellbound large audiences with their performance, to changing trends in society.
“One reason may be the people cannot afford hiring the brass band groups. Another reason may be the influence of military bands and roadside performers on society,” he said. He, however, rejoiced in the fact that still there are some families and communities which can recognise the difference between the brass band groups and the rest. “Christian community is our major customer and we perform at their wedding parties, during Christmas celebrations and other like events,” he said. To a question, Azmat said brass band was 150 years old band and it was played at historic events throughout the subcontinent.
There was a time when the bandmasters had got a written schedule fixed on the walls of their offices and used to give many performances in one day. Now they give one performance after many days.
“The government especially the city government of Rawalpindi should take steps to protect this ancient art as it is the part of the city’s rich heritage,” said his colleagues Tasawar Abbas and Ghulam Shabbir. They said they earned around Rs200 to Rs300 after one performance and there are about 15 to 20 performances in a month.
To a question, Shabbir told one group constituted a bandmaster who started a tune and 12 other players who joined him as chorus on various musical instruments.
These instruments include band, cornet, horn, baritone, tuba, euphonium, tenor trombone and bass trombone etc, he said. Ask a young musician or member of today’s mushroom musical groups about these instruments, they would just give you surprised look instead of an answer, he said. Asked which are the popular tunes these days, he said they play popular Punjabi, Indian and Pakistani numbers on their traditional instruments. Our group members are well-trained and can play all the popular tunes, he claimed. Tasawar regretted that Rawalpindi was once a city of culture, cinemas and traditional musical groups and people came in large number to attend to their performances or hired them to their functions but “cable culture has deprived us of all the healthy entertainment and we remain glued to TV screens watching useless talk shows.”
He urged various NGOs working for the protection and revival of Rawalpindi’s culture to move in this direction too and protect the dying art of brass band groups by safeguarding their financial interests.

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