Dhaka is the Detroit of Bangladesh. But it took some time. In the second part of his story, Khan Mohammad Faisal describes how Dhakas mainstream scene undermined the cultural values of the alternative scene.
The First Wave – 2000s
«Fusion at its best with Habib Electronic music era» – Faizul A Tanim (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
The first wave of electronic sounds in Dhaka can be traced to the time when the Asian Underground hit the British Market. In 1999, Talvin Singh won the Mercury Prize. The Asian beats influenced the hip hop sounds in America as well as grime in East London. In the early 2000s, Habib Wahid, the then 23 year old son of prominent Bangla pop singer Ferdous Wahid, was in London studying Audio Engineering at School of Audio Engineering (SAE). During his time, he was part of the Asian Underground clique led by DJ Ges-e of Nasha Records. In his final academic year, he started working on the album «Krishno» with the british bangladeshi vocalist Kaya. For the very first time, Hason Raja’s songs (read Bangla rural folk) were combined with drum & bass and breakbeat elements which became an instant hit in Bangladesh selling more than 300,000 copies.
Habib’s new sound became the de facto pop sound of Bangladesh as it influenced the sounds of all the pop artists that followed. While his first album clearly showed his british influences, he did not continue that afterwards as he switched to produce more listener-friendly music with pop sentimentality similar to Indian pop music of the 90s and 2000s. When this fusion form of electronic music was making a mark in the mainstream, the underground party scene remained in its den where DJs would play the most popular global hits (including Bollywood club music) for an elite crowd in the affluent areas. A man from Pabna, (a small city in Bangladesh), later known as DJ Rahat, entered the scene in 2004 as a DJ for Fantasy Kingdom. He single-handedly turned DJing into a successful venture which brought it into the public consciousness. While there were other veteran DJs in the club night circuit, DJ Rahat’s ambitious plan made him quite a recognizable national figure as he opened the first DJ training institute called «Garage» in 2007 and single handedly turned it into a profession but there was an ideological problem for this establishment.
In a few years DJ Rahat and his army of new DJs from Garage were sweeping the nation. Some of the students from Garage opened their own schools and it kept on growing as a phenomenon. In spite of dominating the national scene, this community by and large failed to capture the attention of the global electronic music scene and these group of artists had no interest either because of the cash cow effect of the scene. Impoverished Dhaka’s elite were excited by the bling and glitz. In less than a decade since Garage, the DJ market became saturated; from novelty it became a joke as people realized that they only propagated a single dimension of electronic music which did not include production. The generic training produced DJs who had the exact same sound and did not fall into any of the many categories of the global electronic music cliques.
By the turn of the millenium the overall scene lost its cool factor and were largely seen as a comedy of errors for people who will spend anything for a party with alcohol, some parties even paid women to dance with the middle aged clients. The secrecy maintained by the majority of these club nights is perceived negatively by the middle class dominated Bangladeshi society. It is apparently less of a religious nuisance but mostly a cultural one. But gradually these communities of DJs had been successful in capturing not only the corporate market in its entirety but also Dhaka’s middle and upper class weddings. While the club nights were associated with free mixing of genders and use of alcohol, the weddings were entirely a family thing and hence is well tolerated. Some of the prominent DJs in this circuit are DJ Rahat, DJ Prince as well as female DJs such as DJ Sonica and DJ Rita.