Band—Baaja, but no Baraat

Wedding bands are struggling in the post-lockdown period as well against online competition. Even catering to additional events haven’t improved their plight

DRUMMING UP: Dhol remains the most popular equipment in a baarat

Music is a significant feature of a wedding in Delhi, and an important part of wedding music is the band.

People dancing to the band at baaraat is one of the most anticipated moments for the groom’s family, with the dance sequences prepared well in advance.

These days, however, the tunes are not so happy for the bandwaalas in Delhi as they struggle to do business in the National Capital Region.

Deepak Rawal, 62, owner of the famous Baldev band in Karol Bagh, says that although things are slowly improving and that they are performing in 5-6 functions a day, it is still insufficient given the enormous market of Delhi.

“Even though bandwaalas constitute a very small portion of the large wedding market, it is still something that cannot be ignored, whether in a middle-class wedding or an upper-class wedding. Wedding bands are mandatory, but we don’t know how long this trend will last.”

TOUGH TIMES: Master band used to have around 250 bookings in a season but now, it receives 150-160 bookings

Rawal adds that this season, they are not able to hire the number of people that they used to hire earlier.

“We recruit individuals on contract, particularly during the winter season. We used to hire 150 people earlier but this year, we’ve been able to hire only around 60.”

These are then divided into groups of 10 to 11 people, which is much fewer than what an average group would comprise in previous years, and are sent to different events.

“Not just the wedding season, but other occasions that included bands have been hampered,” explains Rawal.

“The trend of Pandit sahir (religious event held to honour pandits), which were extremely relevant a few years ago, is slowly fading. In a season, our band used to have 50 to 60 events of pandit sahir, which has now been reduced to roughly 20 to 30. Over half of our business has just evaporated.”

Ghanshyam Yadav, who lets out wedding equipment like drums, trumpets, drumsticks, red hats, skirts and other musical instruments, from his shop in Noida sector-15, has also been struggling due to the lukewarm response.

“My grandfather and father used to work as band musicians, and I’m the third generation, but I’m not going to let my kids continue in this industry,” Yadav, a migrant from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, told Patriot as he lifted his face from his mobile on which he was watching YouTube videos and killing time.

“Covid-19 has ensured that our firm, which was already on the verge of failing, doesn’t recover. There are days when we have no customers and have to sit through the day idle,” he adds.

While the lockdown saw little to no business, things haven’t improved even after lockdown.

“It started with the lockdown. Even after the restrictions were lifted, the weddings comprised only a few guests. That hampered our business. However, we managed to retain hope then, thinking that it is just a phase and things would return to normal soon. But now though the restrictions have been fully lifted, there’s no work at all, which worries me about how I’ll manage everything,” adds Yadav.

He says he has no clients.

“I had to shut down one of my stores. Earlier, I had two shops but I had to let go of one since the rent was too much for me to handle at the time,” he explains.

The closure of one shop saved him Rs 15,000.

CUT-DOWN: The owner of Baldev band has cut down on the number of contractual employees by more than half

“I had to let go of about 50 of my employees because I couldn’t afford to pay them,” he says further.

It is not just the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the business. People had to use online for purchasing services and goods during the lockdown and they have now got hooked to it.

“Weddings are becoming more sophisticated. Everything is being done online. The conventional market is slowly fading away, and very honestly, we don’t have the resources or manpower to compete with the online market,” he laments.

He concludes by saying, “Ab to bas kismet ke sahaare baithe hue hain, wo bhi pata nahi kab tak (At the moment, we are just relying on luck. Don’t know if we will have it).”

Sushil Waqif, who has worked at Master Band in Karol Bagh for the last 12 years, says, “The work has been going well since November, but the ongoing talk of the return of Covid has pushed us back again. People are now willing to wait and assess the Covid situation. However, the dates of the weddings are limited, we know that the patience will run out and they will have to perform the weddings with or without fanfare.”

There used to be around 250-300 bookings in a wedding season earlier, but now there are only around 160-180 bookings for Waqif.

“Corporate performances are the only things that have kept our business afloat during these difficult times. We’ve done programmes for media houses Times Now and Navbharat Times during festivals like Holi and Diwali. We used to perform in political rallies, as well as canvassing events in the elections. Besides, we used to be invited to a few art and cultural events here and there.”

But the recent MCD elections turned out to be a damp squib as there wasn’t much work for them.

“There were not so many work opportunities in the recent MCD election held in Delhi. We hired a bunch of people but we didn’t get the number of orders, we were hoping for, which is sad considering the volume and grandness of this year’s MCD election. Everything was bigger except for the number of orders we got,” he complains.

The only hope for the likes of him are the festivals.

“Nowadays, we wait for festivals like Durga Pooja, Navratri, Holi and Diwali since the wedding market does not have much to offer. We’ve also started receiving orders for Ganesh Chaturthi over the last 2-3 years. So, festivals have become our favourite events. But you also need specialists, who may not be accessible on short notice. Therefore, we continue to pay them something so that we may ask them to perform as per our requirement. These are occasions in which only a few services, like those of drummers, are necessary.”

Waqif is also trying to build an online presence.

“We are also aiming to build an online presence that will allow us to react to our clients’ evolving needs. The number of services that we offer have risen, as there are musical evenings and shehnai musical nights to go with the weddings. But it all appears to be a fruitless attempt,” Waqif concludes.

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