A trumpet hung up by a musician after practice for an upcoming wedding ceremony.
A trumpet hung up by a musician after practice for an upcoming wedding ceremony.

In Raja Bazaar and on Murree Road, boards advertise the services of wedding bands to play at baraats and mehndis in the city, but a trip to their offices finds several empty. At some shops, band musicians are practicing or cleaning their instruments, while others sit on wooden balconies and gossip to pass the time.

“The business was thriving in the past – we were busy 10 months of the year and we closed the shops in Muharram and Ramazan. Times have changed now,” Master Ahmed Ali, the leader of a group of drummers and trumpeters in Raja Bazaar, says.

The absence of trumpeters and drummers is a notable change from weddings in the past. Before DJs and electronic music systems replaced live music, brightly dressed and turbaned musicians, who often led the baraat, were a staple part of weddings that could be heard from a ways away, announcing the ceremony.

A band’s drum, trumpet, dhol, flute and uniforms at an office.
A band’s drum, trumpet, dhol, flute and uniforms at an office.

Now, the musicians who are a part of the tradition have limited work. Most people invite musicians to perform at wedding halls when the groom arrives, and band musicians are still invited to weddings in smaller towns and villages, but the demand for their performances has fallen.

Mr Ali said his grandfather opened the shop where he now works, and established a band. “We belong to a family of musicians and received and army and police band training, but the work is nearing its end,” he said. He said that in the past, more than 20 people worked at the shop round the clock; now he would contact them over the phone if a customer arrived.

Musicians wait for customers at their offices.
Musicians wait for customers at their offices.

He added that his children also refused to join the profession. “I was also in the Pakistan Army, but my profession was playing music,” he said.

Mohammad Sardar, another band member, said people now invite pop vocalists to their wedding ceremonies, or simply opt for electronic systems, while the work of the traditional band baja has almost ended.

An advertisement for a traditional band in front of a band’s office in Raja Bazaar.
An advertisement for a traditional band in front of a band’s office in Raja Bazaar.

“We earned a handsome amount during the wedding season because people gave extra money to band walas who played beautiful music. Now they pay just Rs2,000 to Rs3,000 to play music inside the compound of the wedding hall for an hour,” he said.

A wedding hall owner, Mushtaq Ahmed, said they do not recommend that people hire the services of the traditional band baja as “they create noise instead of music”.

A drum and trumpet hang outside a band’s office. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad
A drum and trumpet hang outside a band’s office. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad

“Traffic on the road is choked, and the noise from the vehicles makes it impossible for people to hear the music. And most baraats are late if they are accompanied by a band,” he added.

He said most people now simply select the music that will play on the hall’s sound system, and make arrangements for songs and lighting effects to make the arrival of the wedding couple special, in addition to inviting live musicians.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2017

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