Wedding band artists lose rhythm of life amid Covid19 pandemic

Band artists look for alternate jobs as government limits number of guests at wedding

Culture

September 16, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Wedding band artists lose rhythm of life amid Covid19 pandemic

Ram, conductor of Aggarwal band, has not earned a single penny since the onset of the pandemic in March (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Due to the ongoing Covid19 pandemic, most of the weddings in India have been postponed or held virtually or with very small gatherings, putting at risk businesses like wedding bands that depend exclusively on people continuing to tie the knot.

“My wife and I have three children and I am the only one in the family who earns. The last five to six months have been the most difficult ones. I have managed to feed my family just enough so that they can survive. I don’t expect to earn much for the next two months either. I have started working as a cobbler & barely earn INR 100 everyday,” says 51-year-old Sagar Ram. Hailing from Samastipur district in Bihar, near state capital Patna, Ram has been working as a musician with Delhi’s Aggarwal Band since 1985. He is the conductor of the band and leads his musicians at all wedding processions and functions where they play. Ram says he has not earned a single penny since the onset of the pandemic in March. Desperate to earn some money to feed his family, he has started working as a cobbler.

Aggarwal Band is located in the south-eastern part of the national capital. Rajan Aggarwal who owns the company, says that he hasn’t been able to provide wages to his workers as the company’s revenues are now only a fifth of what they used to be until the outbreak of Covid19. “I had a team of 200 musicians which has been reduced to just two right now. All the others have gone back to their native places and aren’t sure if they’d ever return. Though I understand that most of them are poor and sole earners in their families, I can’t afford to pay them regular salaries,” Aggarwal told Media India Group.

Even though lockdown has been eased in different parts of the country including Delhi, gatherings of more than 50 people for wedding ceremonies are not allowed and this has been worrying Aggarwal. “Earlier the band we sent to weddings consisted of 40-50 members alone. Now that the government has limited the maximum number of guests to 50, I can only send about three to four musicians. I will have to let go of most of my employees as it is not possible for me to pay salaries and keep all of them while only five or six will be able to play at weddings in near future,” he adds.

Traditionally, Indian weddings are a very lucrative business. With over 10 million of them being organised each year and weddings representing an occasion where even the poorest of the poor outspend their budgets. According to the statistics from Ken Research, about USD 50 bn is spent each year just on weddings.

However, the expenditure on weddings has contracted by 50 pc on an average, in comparison to earlier as the economy and health faces risks. It is also a result of weddings being postponed or even cancelled till the pandemic is curbed and weddings resume.

“If it were not for some NGOs and locals who distributed rations, my family would have starved to death during the lockdown. I have not received any kind of government help and lack regular earning. I hope that I get to play at weddings soon and start earning regularly,” says Ram.

There are about 150 wedding bands operating in Delhi with an estimated number of 20000-25000 artistes employed in them. Most of them, according to Aggarwal, are migrants from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand who came in search of a better livelihood. Ram and thousand others like him, eagerly await return to a more traditional wedding when the wedding season starts in November, to get their livelihood back.

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