About 700 musicians of around 110 bands from different villages of Netrokona and Mymensingh are living in perilous economic conditions due to the crisis
Md Rafique would travel around different places of the country with his musical troupe, 'Digital Band Party'. Performing with other members of the group was like a form of divine worship to him.
As the leader of the band, based in Satpai area of Netrokona Sadar, he was invited to remote villages to perform in different festivals, including Jatra-pala, theatre, musical events, religious festivals, wedding ceremonies, and other local rituals.
The band was also invited to play their instruments in a number of shows, rallies and processions of different organizations, product promotions, etc.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has completely halted their trade, with restrictions being imposed on socio-cultural events and public gatherings in the country in an attempt to contain the virus.
"Musicians have been unemployed since March due to coronavirus-induced restrictions," said Rafique.
Other band parties of Netrokona and Mymensingh areas of the country are facing the same crisis – completely stranded without income for the last eight months. Although the government has provided special financial assistance to low-income groups during the pandemic, band musicians were left out in the cold.
Being unemployed for such a long time, musicians have been compelled to change professions, many having resorted to selling off their precious instruments.
Sagar Mia, a drummer of a local band from the Rail Crossing area of Netrokona city, said, "I have been living on loans due to the pandemic. I now owe more than Tk25,000. Now I am a rickshaw puller, having no other options."
Some other musicians from the same area – Mintu Mia, Nidhu Das, Har Kumar and Parimal Das – like Sagar, they have also switched their professions, and are now driving easy-bikes in the area.
About 700 musicians of around 110 bands from different villages of Netrokona and Mymensingh are living in perilous economic conditions due to the crisis.
In Netrokona alone, there are around 100 bands in different areas, including Sadar's Satpai, Pukuria area, Purbadhala upazila's Kaldoar, Narayandohor, Mohonganj's Maghan, Daulatpur Barhatta's Kakura, Telegati of Atpara upazila.
Given that a band consists of around six to 10 members, this would come to more than 500 musicians in the district. Most entered the profession after following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers before them. It is estimated that around 4,000 people are dependent on their earnings.
The Durga Puja festival is one of the most lucrative seasons for these bands. But Covid-19 curtailed the celebrations this year.
"Every year we are invited to perform for four to five consecutive days during the Durga Puja festival. Each team earns Tk50,000 to Tk1 lakh. We wait eagerly for the festival. But this year, Covid-19 has shattered all our hopes," said Shahid Mia, a clarinet player from Kaldoar village of Purbodhola.
Abdur Rahman has been playing the flute for different bands since childhood. He formed his own group, and now supports his family, including his children's education, with his earnings.
But with no other source of income, he was forced to sell all his instruments.
"The money I got from selling the instruments has almost run out. I do not know how we will survive in the days ahead," said Rahman.
Bishwajit Goswami, general secretary of Netrokona Band Party Samity, said, "The District Administration has provided some financial assistance to cultural activists through Shilpakala Academy and other bodies. But band artists have been neglected."
Kazi Md Abdur Rahman, the deputy commissioner of Netrokona, told The Business Standard, "I have heard that the musical troupe members are suffering great economic hardship. A list of artists will be drawn up and initiatives will be taken up to support them."
Musicians of different bands in Mymensing are also facing a difficult time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Akbar Mia, a member of National Band Party, said, "There are about ten famous bands in this district. About 200 people are involved with bands in the district. There are many solo artists."
Abdul Hamid of Sumon & Hamid Band Party in Bagmara area of Mymensingh said, "I am not getting any booking requests because of Covid-19. How long can I sit like this without work?"
"So, I'm now forced to make ends meet by selling lemons on the pavement. If the pandemic does not end quickly, I have to set aside my musical instruments permanently and go to work as a permanent day labourer to feed my 12-member family," he added.
Abdul Jalil of Janata Band Party said, "In the past, one could earn an average of Tk3,000 a day by playing musical instruments in various rallies or processions. During special events such as weddings and puja festivals, one could get Tk10,000-12,000.
But all work has stopped for the past eight months due to Covid-19."
Biplob Sarkar, a flautist from Charsirta area of Mymensingh, said is not engaged in any specific band, but works as a freelancer for multiple groups. But recently, all invitations have dried up.
Despite receiving some support from local government and non-government organizations during the lockdown, he is not getting anything now.
Mymensingh District Cultural Officer, Arju Parvez, said, "Many band musicians have told me about their problems. We are trying to support them as much as we can."