Banshi and Labu Mian's vision | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 02, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 02, 2008

Banshi and Labu Mian's vision

Labu Mian playing banshi at IFA premises. Photo: Mumit M.

In days gone by, young rakhals (cowherds) playing banshi (bamboo flute) under banyan trees was a common sight in rural Bengal. Today the scene has changed. One exception, however, is city dweller Labu Mian who 30 years ago embarked on his mission to acquaint urbanites with the instrument of the rakhals.
Over the last two decades, Labu Mian has been selling his banshi on the sidewalk in front of Institute of Fine Arts, DU. Taking up his forefather's profession, he has travelled all over Bangladesh to promote his banshi. In Labu's words, "I've been doing this since 1975. I've been to many districts with my banshi."
Labu's father, Heku Mian, is 104 years old. According to Labu, his father fought as a soldier in World War II. Labu Mian has three sons and a daughter. One of his sons is a first year student at Tejgaon College. Labu wishes to educate all of his children further.
Labu Mian supplies banshi to almost all major music outlets in Dhaka city. He also supplies flutes to shops in other big cities, including Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi and Rangpur. Over the years, the musician-craftsman has branched out; his flutes are now exported to several countries, including India, Pakistan, Japan, Kuwait, England and Norway. Besides the flute, ektara is also available at his shop.
Labu Mian makes his flute at his Elephant Road residence with the help of his family members. To craft his instrument, he uses bamboo collected from the hilly regions of Chittagong and Sylhet. According to him, these bamboos are locally known as 'Benuka,' 'Mittinga,' 'Torai 'or 'Dhulu'. To make a good flute, the bamboo should be over three-years-old.
Labu says that the quality of Bangladeshi bamboo flute is superior to that of other sub-continental countries. The price range of his instruments vary from Tk 10 to 3,000. Sales are at their peak prior to and during festivals such as Pahela Baishakh or Pahela Phalgun.
The craftsmen but also a skilled flutist. He learned to play flute from several gurus. "My first teacher was my father. I also learnt from Sikim Ali of Bikrampur. My other gurus were the late Abdur Rahman and prominent composer the late Dhir Ali.”
Labu Mian has worked at Radio Bangladesh for several years and regularly performed at stage shows. At present, he is scheduled to perform at the ongoing talent hunt, "Close Up 1: Gao Bangladesh Gao."
He also trains some music enthusiasts. "Students of DU and Fine Arts randomly come to me to learn to play the flute. I also have some regular students who train at my residence."
Labu Mian believes that more steps should be initiated by the authorities to promote banshi. "My initial mission was to acquaint the youth with the melody of the flute. I'm optimistic about the future of the instrument," he concludes.

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