Ayub Bachchu paved the way for many others to pursue their dreams
Two memories of Ayub Bachchu, AB, are embedded in my mind, and whenever I see someone decide to take up an unconventional profession as a livelihood, the words of AB come back.
When Ayub Bachchu came to Dhaka from Chittagong in the mid-80s, with the desire to take up music as a career, society’s outlook on livelihood was very parochial.
In the second decade after liberation, Bangladesh was under the power of an authoritarian regime, foreign investment was non-existent, and for any 25-year-old, the first priority after education was to get a job by any means.
Of course, if they managed to finish university in time that is. That age was a period of political tumult, with upheavals a common feature in the lives of those who stayed in the Dhaka.
Every now and then, a clash between students and the police resulted in the closure of the universities, and classes were suspended indefinitely.
With “session-jam” at universities ubiquitous and an essential part of life, young people usually chose two paths: either give the TOEFL and go to the US for education, or stay back and try to get some employment.
In between, a few desperados wanted to carve out a new path. With band music at its apotheosis in the mid-80s, working as a potent escapism from the perennial political shenanigans, musicians like AB and others decided to take up rock music as a livelihood.
Guitar brought him fame and money
There’s a saying that states something along the lines of “lucky are those who earn their living with their hobby or passion.” While the conservative, risk-averse, and extremely cautious middle class of Bangladesh injected in the young the importance of traditional earning methods, rebels like AB took the leap of faith.
By 2000, he had made it to the top, along with a few others who had also followed the same path.
And during this time, I met the guitar guru at the wedding ceremony of another budding guitarist who had also come from Chittagong, and was playing with the band Souls.
At the wedding, when AB was asked to wish the bride and groom, he stood up and said: “Today, we are here at the wedding of a guitarist and that shows society has come to accept music as a profession.
“I thank the guardians of the bride for keeping their trust in a guitar player who is with one of the top bands of the country,” he went on to say.
“If you recognize music as an industry which has both a creative and a commercial side, then more people will feel encouraged to make their hobby into their livelihoods.”
AB also said: “If you don’t want your son or daughter to focus solely on music, then allow him/her to keep it as a hobby, but don’t kill the passion.”
AB’s words still strike a chord with countless youngsters who have to fight with their families to pursue a creative field, either in art, music, acting, or sport.
You can have a day job which can ensure security but be insipid, he used to say.
“And after sunset, follow your Bohemian impulses.”
AB’s favourite time, “the night,” has consistently been the core motif in many of his ageless numbers.
When the British envoy was impressed by AB
By 2009, AB was a household name all over the country, and an avowed believer of music’s power to transform the youth of Bangladesh into a constructive force.
At a youth development event, where the then British envoy was present, AB addressed the youth in his typical vivacious fashion, asking them to give up drugs and pursue creative fields, ending with the unforgettable line: “Harness the power of rock and defy the naysayers.”
Clearly, the high commissioner was impressed by the zest and vigour of the rockstar.
Later, the diplomat came up to me and said: “I am really taken by the musician, he knows how to command respect from young people.”
After the event, while taking refreshments, the envoy struck up a spirited conversation with the musician. Believe me, I can still recall the high commissioner leaving the event with a sprint in his step.
AB’s last line to the envoy: “Keep on rocking.” Bet that was a first for any British High Commissioner to Bangladesh.
From pop to metal to hard rock romance
Bachchu’s late album from the late 1980s, Moyna, was actually a pop anthology and then, in 1991, LRB came with a definitive heavy metal sound, influenced by the rising global popularity of bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden.
The result was the LRB double album titled LRB-1 and 2.
The first two albums are still favourites for many music lovers with “Dhakar Shondhya” arguably one of the best heavy metal numbers in the history of Bengali music.
In heavy guitar riffs, periodic screams interspersed with Jon Lord (of Deep Purple fame) style organ onslaught, the number is about the seamy side of the city, where a female sex worker goes out to earn a living while a destitute boy scavenges for food in the dustbin.
So many years later, the song’s lyrics remain a stark reminder of a time in when grinding urban poverty drove many to dive into dirt to look for food.
Not anymore though, with the country’s progress, AB’s style morphed into more of a romantic rock. His style became more melodious, the guitar a lot more soothing.
Ayub Bachchu is no more, but his rich oeuvre remains. Some are saying the guitar has become silent. Well, it’s silent here on earth but surely active on the other side. AB may be looking down on us as the pre-winter season kicks in, plucking to a different audience in a different stage.
He is with BB King, and jamming to thrill the angels!
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka