Craze for musical instruments dying out | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 18, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:14 AM, May 18, 2021

Craze for musical instruments dying out

Lack of encouragement from soceity to blame, pandemic deepens the crisis

A once vibrant musical instruments business has slowly lost its lustre, according to traders, musicians and market analysts.

The decline in sales is due to a host of factors, including a lack of interest among youths and fewer fairs and other cultural events across the country.

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As a result, musical instrument retailers such as Surasree in the capital's Science Laboratory area have registered poor sales over the past couple of years.

"We once had good business but those days are gone," said Dulal Sarkar, proprietor of Surasree, which has stood for about 50 years.

Besides, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has only deepened the crisis, he added.

Surasree, one of nearly 500 musical instrument sellers in the country, sold 20 to 25 guitars daily around a decade ago.

Now though, only 4 to 5 guitars are sold per day, Sarkar said.

The sector once employed hundreds of workers but their numbers are slowly shrinking as people are leaving in search of better paying professions.

A section of musicians say that they now purchase their instruments from reputed international companies through online platforms.

Faruq Mahfuz Anam, popularly known by his nickname James, said many musicians directly source their instruments from international brands at prices lower than those available here.

"This is one of the reasons behind declining sales of musical instruments," the singer-songwriter added.

According to various traders, 85 per cent of the musical instruments sold locally are imported from countries such as the US, China, UK, India, Japan and so on.

Nearly half a dozen local companies are engaged in the import and sale of musical instruments.

Ishmamul Farhad, assistant product manager at Yamaha Music Bangladesh, a concern of ACI Motors, said their sales have increased by 150 to 200 per cent despite the measures imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Products with the highest demand include acoustic guitars and digital pianos.

Since the local market for musical instruments is small and informal, there are few corporate players in the business.

ACI Motors was the first corporate company in Bangladesh to enter the music industry.

"Our targeted age group is 12 to 25 year olds who are interested in music," he added.

On the other hand, Tonmoy Sarkar, owner of World Music, said his firm has not imported any instrument since the end of 2019.

"Business is too bad to survive. Sometimes, we cannot avoid thoughts of shutting down the business," he added.

Sarkar went on to say that his firm's sales reached Tk 20 lakh per month before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, products worth just Tk 5-6 lakh are sold per month.

Rahul Ananda, a musician of Joler Gaan, said the practice of music at family levels is reducing due to various social factors.

"Once upon a time, we would hear the melody of our neighbours practicing music. Such practices appear to be fading and are affecting instrument sales," he said.

As business continues to decline, some artisans have left the country while others have changed professions.

Ananda visited Manoj & Company, a musical instrument maker based in Kolkata, five to six years ago and found that 95 per cent of its artisans were from Bangladesh.

Some traders said nearly 10 instrument makers in Dhaka's Shankhari Bazar had shut down their business over the last couple of years. Some 15 local musical instrument shops are currently operating at Shankhari Bazar.

Jatin & Co, one of the oldest harmonium makers, still sees adequate demand and registers increasing sales.

"People are still interested in our products because of our reputation," said Surjit Mandal, the company's owner.

Eminent academician Syed Manzoorul Islam agreed with the view shared by traders about the lack of interest among youths to practice music.

"If anti-music, anti-culture, anti-Bangla cultural events continue to take place in society, the practice will continue to shrink day by day," he said.

In the past, middle-income families appointed music teachers for their children but now, as the school curriculum has become difficult, they can no longer afford such luxuries in their spare time.

"But if we cannot start practicing music or cultural activities from primary schools, the industry can not be revived," Islam said, adding that import tax on instruments should be slashed by half.

"We should keep in mind that culture is an investment," he said.

Prof Nehal Karim, a professor of the department of sociology at the University of Dhaka, said there had never before been so much diversity in people's lives.

Many things have changed as a result of modern science and technology.

The harmonium and tabla have been replaced by other instruments.

"And when it comes to family practice, if no one in the first generation practiced music, none in the second will either," Karim said.

If you conduct a survey in Dhaka city, you will see that the practice of Rabindra Sangeet, or songs from the Indian subcontinent written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore, has almost vanished.

"A lot of things have changed over time and that is why we see the change in sales," he added.

 

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