The craze for musical instruments is dying out

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

The decline in sales is due to a host of factors, including a lack of interest among young people 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 lab district have seen weak sales over the past two years.

“We used to have good business, but those days are gone,” said Dulal Sarkar, owner of Surasree, which has been around for about 50 years.

Furthermore, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the crisis, he added.

Surasree, one of some 500 musical instrument sellers nationwide, was selling 20 to 25 guitars a day a decade ago.

Now, however, only 4-5 guitars are sold per day, Sarkar said.

The sector once employed hundreds of workers, but the number is slowly dwindling as people leave in search of higher-paying professions.

A portion of musicians say they now buy their instruments from reputable international companies through online platforms.

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

“This is one of the reasons for the decline in sales of musical instruments,” added the singer-songwriter.

According to various traders, 85% of the musical instruments sold locally are imported from countries such as the United States, China, United Kingdom, India, Japan, etc.

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

Ishmamul Farhad, deputy product manager at Yamaha Music Bangladesh, an ACI Motors business, said their sales have increased by 150-200% despite measures imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The most popular products are acoustic guitars and digital pianos.

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

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

“Our target 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 company hasn’t imported any instrument since late 2019.

“Business is too bad to survive. Sometimes we can’t avoid thinking about closing the business,” he added.

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

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

“Once upon a time, we heard the melody of our neighbors practicing music. Such practices seem to be fading and 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 Kolkata-based musical instrument maker, five or six years ago and discovered that 95% of its craftsmen were from Bangladesh.

Some traders said nearly 10 instrument makers in Dhaka’s Shankhari Bazaar had closed their businesses in the past two years. Some 15 local musical instrument shops are currently operating in Shankhari Bazar.

Jatin & Co, one of the oldest harmonium manufacturers, still sees adequate demand and records an increase in sales.

“People are always interested in our products because of our reputation,” said company owner Surjit Mandal.

Prominent academician Syed Manzoorul Islam agreed with the view shared by marketers on the lack of interest among young people in playing music.

“If anti-music, anti-culture and anti-Bangla cultural events continue to take place in the society, the practice will continue to decline 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 luxury in their spare time.

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

“We have to keep in mind that culture is an investment,” he said.

Professor Nehal Karim, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Dhaka University, said there had never been so much diversity in people’s lives.

Many things have changed thanks to modern science and technology.

The harmonium and the tabla were replaced by other instruments.

“And in terms of family practice, if no one from the first generation practiced music, none of the second will either,” Karim said.

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

“A lot of things have changed over time and that’s why we see the change in sales,” he added.

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