Staying The Path: How Bangladesh’s Music Scene is Evolving with the Help of Dedicated Grassroots Movements
Image of Embers In Snow by Siam
If you’re looking for an institution that can help you trace the evolution of Dhaka’s independent music scene, look no further than Rainbow. Founded in 1982 by Abdul Kabir Murad, the small store served as a space for young musicians and fans to access catalogues of international and local artists, promote local shows, and according to one report in The Daily Star, get married to their significant others as well. In a state of flux post the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 and with a population hungry to embark on their own cultural journey, Rainbow, and music stores like it, played a pivotal role in the evolution of the city’s music scene – helping introduce their customers to a wide range of western music genres that inevitably influenced young musicians alongside iconic local bands such as Uccharon, LRB, Naga Baul (fka Feelings) and others who were a part of the first wave of independent musicians in the country.
Image of Sunara playing at Pettah Interchange in Colombo. Image credit Malaka MP
Old-timey incarnations of record labels — glitz, glamour, big money and big exploitation — are great to watch in movies, but their relevance has diminished over the past two decades. The music industry, internationally, is in a perpetual state of rebuild. And so new ways forward emerge from time to time.
In South Asia, the young, independent, non-film music communities — the ones with roots in traditional western sounds — remain on the fringes of the mainstream, if at all. They’ve grown almost as countercultures, gradually finding some footing in the culture space of the region over the past decade or so, through dedicated ground work by artists and industry-persons. In such an environment, record labels no longer play traditional roles. Instead, there’s a coexistence of multiple bespoke approaches. What we get, really, are collectives — organisations that, depending on their scale and the interests of the people involved — work within loosely defined capacities within the industry. …
Credit: Magnetic Fields Festival image taken by RC Photography
Image credit: Andrew Charles Edman
There’s a conceptual design to Sasha Perera’s sound. Here, the metaphysical form transforms into an architectural sonic unit: one that sustains emerging tonal patterns and unorthodox harmonies. You can often anticipate the non-sequitur in her sound collages. There are no linear narratives in her sonic movements. “Music is a reflection of our reality. It reflects what’s happening around us. It’s a conversation,” says the London-born, Berlin-based musician, producer and songwriter who goes by the moniker Perera Elsewhere.
Image credit: Royville Media
Fantasizing about a noise that could bludgeon an audience into submission, William Bennett from the band Whitehouse coined the term ‘power-electronics’ in the early 80s. The genre draws on static, screeching waves of feedback, analog synthesizers, warping sub-bass pulses and the high-frequency clamor of screamed vocals. Mostly harnessed through deep meditative improvisation, you could compare the process to spilling ink to see where it lands or furthermore setting the easel itself on fire.
Image: Still of BMR film by Petra Hermanova
A cracked version of Ableton changed the game for Gowri Jayakumar. She was studying guitar and bass at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai, India, back in 2012. She got the DAW so she could record herself — Jayakumar has been for over a decade, and remains, a popular singer-songwriter, often armed with an acoustic guitar and her voice. But then she found herself experimenting with the platform: “I was just making sounds,” she says. “Everything was muddy; it was shit.” A new path, however, had opened up.
Final Fieldlines performance on day 3 of Magnetic Fields Festival 2019 / Image credit – Avirat Sundra
In his exploration of Panchatattva (five elements) — fire, earth, sky, wind and water, and its concepts within a socio-cultural and folkloric context, Komal Kothari wondered how the interpretation of these elements (albeit not from a philosophical or metaphysical perspective) varied amongst folk musicians of Rajasthan. “Throughout my research, I focused on what people had to say about the elements and not what has been written about them in Sanskrit treatises,” he said in conversation to Rustom Barucha as they discussed the significance of water and drought in fables and folklore in ‘Rajasthan: An Oral History’. “On getting to know some singers of devotional music from the Bavari Tribe, I asked one of the musicians: ‘What is akash (the sky)? How do you explain it? And, he said: ‘Have you ever seen a ghara (earthen pot)? Move your hand inside it but don’t touch its periphery. That is akash: A space with no boundaries.”
Image: Still of film by Petra Hermanova
Siaminium – Image Courtesy of Rishova Hayat
The last few years in Bangladesh have seen rapid economic success; the cost of which seems to drown under the voices of the people and the many problems on the ground; however artists continue to take a stance and speak through the language of music.
Image: Karkhana Collective meet at Studio 6/6 Image Credit: Siam
I ended the first part of this article with a few essential questions that shift our attention from training to the practice of audio engineers and music producers, neither of which can be understood in isolation of each other. To answer them, I have to look at the spaces that audio engineers occupy and need, and the markets that they practise in. I also focus on the need for structured programs and initiatives that understand local challenges and gaps not just in the way we produce music, but also in the way our audiences are evolving their tastes and demands as we consume music globally and digitally.