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It may be the end of the note for this village of wedding musicians

There are 90 bands based in Kabirpur, UP. Changing wedding trends and noise norms are seeing demand for their music dip. ‘We can’t sleep at night thinking of what will happen,’ says an elder.

art and culture Updated: Aug 19, 2018 10:07 IST
Oliver Fredrick
Oliver Fredrick
Hindustan Times
Wedding band,Village,Kabirpur
‘Young couples today want instrumental music and soothing tunes at their weddings, which we can’t play,’ says bandmaster Gurucharan Lal Sahu. This means there is little work and incomes are plummeting for the village’s 1,200 musicians. (Dheeraj Dhawan / HT Photo)

You’re as likely to have a DJ at your wedding as you are to have an asli wedding band, and this is not music to the ears of Kabirpur’s villagers.

This village in Uttar Pradesh is also called Band Baja Gaon. Almost every household here is engaged in the brass band business. Elders say the tradition goes back about 200 years, to the era of the nawabs.

There are 90 bands based in Kabirpur; the highest tally for any village in the state, they add. In a village of just 2,500 people, that’s about 1200 musicians.

“Our day starts with music and ends with it. It’s what made our village famous,” says Gurucharan Lal Sahu, 58, one of the oldest bandmasters here.

Now, changing wedding trends are threatening their way of life. Traditional songs are no longer in demand. “People nowadays are more interested in soulful numbers, rather than the ones we are well-versed with. People want more instrumental and soothing songs, which our self-trained-musicians can’t provide,” says Sahu.

A UP government order on noise pollution issued in January feels, to them, like a final blow. The order outlaws, among other things, the conical speakers mounted on trolleys that have been the pride of Kabirpurs band-baja-walas. With a heavy heart, the Band Association of Kabirpur directed all bands to remove the high-decibel speakers from all trolleys.

New noise pollution norms have outlawed the conical speakers mounted on trolleys that were the pride of Kabirpurs band-baja-walas. ‘Their sound would travel almost a kilometre,’ says bandmaster Sahu, wistfully. (Dheeraj Dhawan / HT Photo)

“Their sound would travel almost a kilometre,” Sahu says wistfully. “Since we took them off, customers have been saying our trolleys are missing the thump they used to have. We don’t have any answer to give them.”

Sahu, who is also president of the Band Association, is joined by another bandmaster who points out that the trolleys have been banned entirely in cities like Delhi. In May 2015, the Agra district magistrate banned the movement of band trolleys on traffic-prone routes. In 2010, the Delhi traffic police issued strict rules for marriage processions, banning them on busy roads, and at roundabouts.

“Our village has more than 90 trolleys. We can’t sleep at night thinking of what will happen,” says Bahadur Ali, 52, owner of Mastana Band. “Besides Lucknow, people from neighbouring districts like Unnao, Kanpur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Hardoi and Sitapur would come here to join the business.”

BACKWARDS / FORWARDS

Initially, Kabirpur used to have ‘sada bands’, made up of a small group of musicians, on foot, playing a handful of instruments. By the 1920s, the brass bands with speakers and trolleys came into vogue.

“Bands are not traditionally part of Indian culture,” says Roshan Taqi, a historian and author of several books on Awadh’s culture and heritage. “They were introduced by British and some nawabs and kings who admired the British and their way of life began to form Indian versions of their bands.”

After independence, these musicians returned home to their villages and some began rendering their services to commoners, Taqi adds.

The practice of hiring bands for Indian weddings had already taken hold in the previous century, along with many other practices associated with Western weddings, such as printing invitation cards. And so the wedding bands became a status symbol and thrived.

“I still remember the times as recent as 2005 when commoners, bureaucrats and government people would queue at Kabirpur to hire a band for wedding functions, and they were ready to pay hefty sums,” says Master Parmanand, 55, owner of Rangeela Band.

Until 2009, booking a trolley used to cost around Rs 25,000 to 35,000. “Now, you can get one for just Rs 6,000. By the end of a wedding or function, each person earns barely a few hundred rupees,” says Munna Lal, 50, bandmaster of Afsana Band.

Beneath the angst over the fading of the music, is a larger concern that they are being left behind in other ways.

There has been little development here. The village has no secondary school; the nearest hospitals and colleges are in Lucknow, about 25 km away. Though the village is on the bustling Sultanpur Road, it has few roads of its own.

“Ours is one of the most backward villages” says Master Parmanand. “Many governments have come and gone but nothing in the village has changed. We don’t want this life for our children, so we don’t try to stop them when they go to cities far away to live and work.”

First Published: Aug 18, 2018 16:22 IST