Saturday, March 12, 2005

Amp Fest!

Think yesterday was the coolest offday Jess & I have had in weeks... We went for a day-long Rock Concert/Carnival thingy called "Ampfest"... It was held at the National Stadium at Mirpur... (Reminds me of a smaller version of the Singapore National Stadium.) Although it started at 10am, we didn't arrive until about 2pm. Not that that really mattered. The good bands only performed after we arrived.

It was very cool... We got complimentary tickets to sit at the invited guests sections... Because of the special invites, we skipped the long queues... We managed to take pictures of everything happening even though we weren't from the press... (Cameras weren't even allowed in the stadium!) And I even got to go quite close to the stage... (Closer than most of the audience at least... sitting with the police...) As usual, I promise the pictures will be coming… But dial-up is such a pain!

You must be wondering how we managed to get such a good deal... Answer: Danny.

Danny is the guy who works at Ikon, the one who helped me the night before the BIG REPORTAGE SUBMISSION, the one who bought the Nikon D70 my sister brought from Singapore (that was supposed to be for me... but I don't mind at all... He loves the camera to the end of the world! And his lady boss, Snigdha, got to use it for the Int'l Women's Day exhibition... She's a wonderful lady! But she's fallen sick lately. Poor thing...), and Danny is the one who used that D70 to help me take pictures of me in my green Salwar Kameez.

Dan's got very cool contacts, on top of having a very powerful piece of paper: His Press Pass. The organizer of the Ampfest was his good friend. That's how he got enough invites for Jess & I, and for four other friends of his: Baul, Raymon, Salim & Salim's girlfriend. (They're all new people we met, so don't expect too much info on them for now.)

Everything was an adventure... When we arrived, we sailed past most of the queues but got stopped because Jess & I had brought our cameras along. They didn't allow anyone to use cameras except press. (Danny didn't bring his camera because he wanted a personal day off so he never thought to arrange for cameras to be brought in.) The security wanted us to leave our cameras behind. Or at least leave the batts behind. Jess opened her camera to show that she didn't have any film. And they let us go. Even though I had both batts and film in my camera. (Haha!)

Danny told us that is the trick of the trade. Just go into the events with the camera batts and film kept separately from the camera. Show them you don't have any film or batts and then go in... And you can put in the batts and film once they are out of sight... Now, how cool is that?

Danny showed us another trick. The security wanted to let him go to the press box. But he didn't want to go there. He later told us that it's very boring there and no one ever goes because you can't get any good pictures that way. He told the security that he didn't want to go there. And pretended to make a phone call. They let him come along with us. Chalk up another point for the Press dude!

There was just a tiny little problem with the invited guests sections, the seats are near the stage, but the view is still really bad. We sat down in our alloted sections for a while… To take in the whole atmosphere of the event, and to cool off. But after that, we left the section and never went back.

The stadium was really exciting. First thing that you'll notice is B&H. Benson & Hedges. Brand of cigarettes. It's excellent marketing I can tell you that. They are not allowed to advertise in Bangladesh so instead, they sponsor all these youth events. There were tons of banners around with their name splashed on it, all in yellow & orange (Benson colours). The emcee of the whole program would give little speeches about the sponsor. (Good thing he spoke in English. Or otherwise, Jess & I would have no idea what he was saying and get really bored. His English was quite bad too, but it was better than nothing.) He once talked about the 3 characteristics of B&H. I laughed. I told Jess what I thought the 3 characteristics were: Cigarettes, Cigarettes, & Cigarettes.

The stage was set up on one side of the stadium, boasting a bright backdrop with "Ampfest" (in Benson colours, of cos), and a huge sound system and a few projection screens. Several stalls were set up under tentages. There was food, ice cream and beverages, art, music, fashion and a little information and medical centre. Didn't walk around by myself. There was just too many people there. If I needed to go someplace and the others didn't want to go, I was accompanied by Danny (he became my fixer... journalistic term... person who helps to set up access for a journalist to do their assignment) and Jess would be protected by Raymon and Baoul. Salim took care of his own girlfriend of cos. The couple left after a little while. For their own private time.

There were some very good food stalls. Grill & Chill and Boomers (a music cafe in Anam Rangs Plaza… also sponsored by B&H... also introduced to Jess & I by Danny...) both had stalls there. I recognized one of the vendors at Grill... He's the guy who always served us at the restaurant! He even asked us how we were! Haha! I bought a chicken burger. It was nice but I like the beef burgers better. The Maggi mee stall was surprisingly very popular. There were always very long queues. Either the instant noodles tasted really good or it was cheap. Have a strange suspicion it's the latter.

They also had Igloo ice cream and Movenpick. Jess & I always eat Igloo ice cream so we didn't bother getting any yesterday. It's a very nice brand. Cafe Mango uses Igloo ice cream for our brownies. Our favourite ice cream from the convenience store across the street from Pathshala is the Igloo vanilla one with a chocolate coating on it. The ice cream cake that Danny and Drik Topu bought for my sister's birthday, was also the Igloo vanilla one... Making me drool just thinking of it now.

The art section was very strange. I appreciate art, I love going to galleries to learn about the artists and see the work they do. But I didn't know what to make of all those paintings. They were all done in B&H colours! They were in all shades of orange and yellow. Some of them looked very nice and all. but I was uncomfortable with the stamp of sponsorship and commercialisation that I was seeing through these paintings. Didn't stay long.

Music section had a few Music CD shops. The CDs were a total steal! Tk50 for every CD. and they were all rock bands. Danny bought 4 CDs, and I bought 1. a soft rock group called Subconscious. Danny's promised to let me hear his soon and introduce other CDs of very good Bangla rock bands. In return, I'm going to introduce him to Power Station and chinese music in general He's very interested in those. Did I also mention that he plays the guitar very well? He's cool at that.

There was also a very interesting Karaoke thingy. Instead of singing to a TV screen as you would normally expect, the people would sing to a small live band. It was a very popular corner. I could hardly see a thing with all the crowds around the stall. Was telling Danny that I would invest in a hardy but portable little chair. In a situation like that where I'm caught in a crowd, i would stand on the chair and see above everyone's head and get a cool pic. But i didn't have a chair. I got around it, literally. I went to the next shop, went behind their shelves to peek back into the Karaoke shop. And got a few really cool shots! I emerged from behind the shelves with a huge sense of satisfaction... Danny could tell I was satisfied... and gave me a hi five!

I went to the fashion tents to do a little shopping, bought 2 nice little scarves. Turned out I was just in time for the fashion show! It was one scary experience. We were quickly surrounded. The men were totally excited and were cheering and woof whistling when the female models came out. The catwalk was very high so that none of the men could get up and jump the models or anything like that. I was a little afraid for the models though. The crowds were so rowdy that if they fell off the catwalk, they'd be in serious danger of getting raped or something. I only dared to take pictures because Danny was with me, giving me advice on how to take a good picture in a situation like that. We got caught in a stampede too! Nearly lost my footing and my camera and didn't know what was going on but Danny helped to get us out. I'm quite sure some guy touched my butt in all that, but I couldn't stop to whack him... Getting out was the first priority. Oh well....

Now for the performances. It was a real rock band marathon. Band after band would come up to give performances. (The main problem was the sound. Despite the size of the speakers and the large number of sound engineers, the sound kept going awry. Spoilt the experience a bit.) The two most popular foreign bands, Strings and Junoon arrived amidst a lot of fanfare, in a chopper. When the helicopter came near, Dan & I started running towards the landing area. I wanted to get as close as possible to the chopper. But we were stopped by the flying grass and sand that got swept up by the chopper. I got some shots though. Some when it was landing, Some when it was leaving. I was all poised for the leaving one. Hope it turned out all right.

The crowds last night were fantastic. There were so many guys wearing black teeshirts with the names and faces of famous rock bands and heavy metal bands and the like. Many times you can hear the crowds singing along with the bands. Danny & Co included. At times, during some of the popular songs, guys would start dancing and doing the little train thing and run in circles. I got some good pictures among the crowds. At other times, all of us would go to the top of the audience stands, to look at the whole stadium. Rock music is really alive and kicking in Bangladesh.

I really liked the local bands. I thought the foreign band Strings was ok. Didn't manage to hear Junoon because it was too late. But the local Black and Artcell were nice! LRB lead guitarist was the coolest! His playing is superb! And you know the best part? I was sitting right in front when he went into his solos. I was sitting in front of all the crowds, and I could see him on stage and on the projection screens. That's really good cos the projection was not powerful enough to be seen further away.

Danny managed to get me into that restricted zone on his press pass. The security guard was a little reluctant but Danny assured the guy it would be ok. After that, we just acted cool walking among the police. My foreign face and camera helped too. Made us look like we were journalists on official business. Haha!

I think it's so cool that the Bangladeshis are so big on their own local bands. I don't see that in Singapore. It's also really nice to hear good rock music, even if you don't understand the words. Not that it would make much of a difference. I mean, sometimes I can’t even understand what the English rock bands are singing about. I'm going to seriously learn about Bangla rock bands and rock bands from other countries, and look out for Singaporean upcoming bands. Maybe even do a comparison of their image and their music. That would be cool.

There's one thing that saddens me about the scene. It all seems so testosterone-driven, like rock music is only for men. A lot of the ladies who went for Ampfest didn't look like they even knew what rock music was. They were all dressed in their dainty salwar kameez and were sitting next to their cheyley bondhus (boyfriends), their reason for being there. That discrepancy became very apparent when Strings asked the ladies to sing. First time they did that, the stadium was silent. Only at the second time, was there an audible feminine murmur going through the crowds. When it was the men's turn, the response was thunderous.

I’d like to see more of a female appearance in this scene. Girl rockers, girl bands, girls not afraid to let down their hair and dance and sing to good music. (They’re not uncommon in Singapore. I’ve seen so many of them.) Perhaps it’s the society. Even their dressing makes it difficult for them to get dirty. Most girls don’t wear western dress. They wear Salwar Kameez and Fortuwahs. It makes them look very grown up because of the flowery prints and soft fabrics. I don’t even wear those types. Mine are cotton and I make sure I can still run around in them, the way I would in western dress. A photographer/journalist really needs that kind of outfits. I dunno how my ah mu (my Pathshala mummy) can go take photos in her dainty salwar kameez… Amazing…

I think it’d be really cool if the salwar kameez could be adapted to be more hardy and convenient for girls to rock and dance in. The kind I would readily wear. The cotton types could have cool prints (no flowers) and the ornahs (scarfs) sewn down so that they don’t disturb a guitarist or drummer. Something more suited for a young girl or a young-girl-at-heart. This way, the girls could still look cool and be very much in touch with their culture. But it might not happen for awhile. It seems that when the girls hit their late teens, they are no longer concerned with youth culture; they’re too busy getting ready for adult life… looking out for their future partners and preparing to get married and start a family...

Such a pity I think… Girls would add a different spice to the rock music scene… But that’s just me… I don’t even think girls should marry until they’re 27 at least… There’s just too much to experience when you’re younger… Married life can be experienced later on… Oh well…


At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think u've been hanging out too much and too long with the Bangalee crowd (meaning those who are more Bengali oriented than western oriented). Your workplace is an activist organization--it promotes that which is Bengali and not western. So, you've been missing the crowd where women/girls wear western clothes outside on streets. If fact it's a very common scene in those ritzy places you once mentioned like Gulshan, Baridhara, etc. Those kids have their own rock bands and girls/women in mini skirts, tank tops, tight jeans or any other obscene western clothes you can imagine are a very common scene. :)One day you guys should go to rock concert over on that side of the city. Experience the West in Bangladesh.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger thebemusedphotog said...

Perhaps that's true... I haven't been hanging around the right places or people...

But I think my point isn't to look for the unique in the minority... i.e. the westernized ppl of Dhaka... They are in fact a very small minority... since they are also the rich and well-to-do... unlike the rest of Bangladesh...

I think i will go and see the ritzier places for myself... Not sure how much I'd like them... Imagine a lot of them to be very snobbish and stuck up... (That's a stereotype just waiting to be shattered...)

But it still doesn't deny the fact that the large majority of Bangladeshi girls my age (middle class and below) do not experience much of the youth culture of the rest of the world... And that's a real pity...

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you've been hanging out with the 'wrong' kind of people. In fact, if you want to experience the 'real' Bangladesh, you are with the right group. :)
You already know the west having lived in the Singapore. There's really not much variations when it comes to 'things' Western, as capitalism and Westernizatin keep succumbing groups, people, nations, etc. :)
I also don't think it's a pity to miss the youth culture of other more western countries. The youth culture of other more western countries (i.e. the US) are rather very 'corrupt.'

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh by the way, Im anti-feminist feminist. Im going abroad (coming to Bangladesh :)) soon, and I've been thinking about blogging and so started reading people's blogs. I simply stumbled on to yours by searching for Bangladesh.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger tpoi said...

Hi Gwyneth,

I got directed to your site from Rezwanul's and am really amazed with your description of AmpFest, which squarely beats anything I've read in the local papers thus far.

Being part of the Rock Fratenity in Bangladesh, what we have always missed is a good Rock Press, and I think somebody out there should be really giving this a serious thought.

Only last night I was with the guys in NEW AGE and was discussing how pathetic the coverage really are. I have seen it all happening and was the firts guy that thought out, planned and organized the first open ai rock concert in Dhaka University, that would be 16th December 1990. So much of water has since flowed in the Bay of Bengal...upto Ampfest 2005!

You may like to pickp up the issue of SLATE (from HOLIDAY) tommorow 18th March - to read how hard it has been to reach where we are today.

Anyway keep up this wonderful blog and do take some time out to check out mine although most of the stuff is 'politically longish' and in most cases BORING... a FAIR WARNING if we may.

Keep in touch




At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey...would u pls upload some pics of the ampfest?? I could not be at the event as I am here at the US studying...didn;t miss any of the concerts when i was at dhk/ctg.

Appreciate it.

At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your site is very clean and easy to get around in – very nice. I have a businesssite. It covers business related things.


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