City Culture – Karachi Awami Pipe & Brass Band, KMC Market Garden

Karachi’s broken hearts. Karachi Awami Pipe & Brass Band is a group of eight, most of them approaching 50s. They followed different trajectories before ending up in a small office in KMC Marekt in Garden. Some of them have worked in Punjab before moving to Karachi. Another one has recently joined from Hyderabad. One of the senior most members had retired from Police Band. They have broken hearts.

Karachi is a difficult city to live in for the poor. However it is not the cost of living which is prime concern for the members of Karachi Awami Band. Rather it is the yearning for self respect and esteem from people they play for.

“We are treated worse than sewerage cleaners, not that their treatment is justified”, explained Master Noor Muhammad, the lead member of the band. Others nodded in agreement. “People would call us names in the street when we go out all dressed up. Band walay has become a derogatory term”, Noor added. It did not seem far fetched. The cultural poverty has made us defame classic dance and traditional music reducing ‘Mirasis‘ to a defamatory term.

There are about 12 bands in KMC Market in Garden. There used to be more but 20 million strong Karachi could not sustain all of them. Some of them shut down or switched their profession while staying in the market. Inflation has eaten up the margins and demand has dwindled in the digital age. Most of Karachi Awami band’s clientele is from poor localities such as Orangi, Lyari and Landhi. There is a lot of haggling on the price people pay which force the band to reduce costs. Almost all of the equipment is purchased second hand. To keep the running costs low, almost all bands in KMC Market save up on laundry. They don’t wash their clothes after every trip, making them sink in their sweat quite literally.

Band member from Hyderabad took his trumpet and started playing a cheerful tune from yore, ‘veer mera ghori chadya‘. Noor explained that they keep copying new songs to their inventory but old favorites are most popular. He said that it was senior member’s responsibility to train others in the team but very few people were willing to join pipe bands now. “They can find better paying jobs so why would they join a band”, he added wistfully.

I walkout of their tiny office. I walked past other offices, different bands with similar stories. Some of the band members were sleeping in the corridor, aloof to Karachi’s noisy traffic down in the street. May best of their dreams come true.

Categories: City Culture

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