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Military-style bands

Shariq Majeed, SKILLAGES - How a Punjab village is making music and money at big, fat weddings, June 14, 2017: The Times of India

Punjab loves the big, fat wedding. And the longing for the glitzy band-baaja that accompanies every baraat is sweet music for a village, about 25 km from Ludhiana town. Pohir village of Sangrur district has around 30 pipe bands. And the number is growing, just like their reputation, across the north Indian state and beyond.

Also known as military-style bands, the pipe band generally consists of four pipers, three drummers, a bass drummer and a band master. Without musical instruments like shehnai or trumpet, they have a distinctive sound which separates them from the other wedding bands.

“It is perhaps the only village in Punjab with so many military-style Punjab with so many military-style bands. Our village is popular across Punjab due to these musicians. Out of a total population of 4,500, more than 300 villagers are into this profession,“ said Sukhdarshan Singh, sarpanch, Pohir.

Music is now Pohir's USP . The bands have catchy , colorful names: Muskaan Fauji Band, Heera International band and the likes. One of the groups, Lovely Khalsa Pipe band, was also invited to perform at the tercentenary celebrations of the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib as the Sikh Guru at Takht Hazoor Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra) in 2008. They also performed during the 350th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh at Patna Sahib (Bihar) in January 2017.

It all started about 30 years ago when one Gurdeep Singh retired from the Army and came home. He was a member of a regimental military band and became the village's pied piper. Literally . He trained the villagers to play the instruments and formed Pohir's first pipe band.

“My band has performed at 125 marriages in the last seven months, and that includes weddings in cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Chandigarh. We charge Rs 6,000 per day ,“ said Manjinder Singh, manager, Lovely Khalsa Pipe band.

Gurdeep, 61, says that he joined the army in 1973 and learned to play the pipe from another Punjabi soldier Gurmeet Singh Maala Chaliyan. “From 1980 to 1988, I was part of band wherever I was posted-Hyderabad, Ladakh, Patna, Mizoram and Sri Lanka. I retired in 1988 but the piper in me didn't leave me,“ he said. His son Manjeet Singh is also a musician.

“In 1997 I put together a band with 10 villagers. It took me around four months to train them. Punjabis love royal weddings. Soon my business picked up. Since then we have performed in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, apart from the cities and towns of Punjab.“

Their success inspired other villagers with an aptitude for music to learn the skill and has led to a proliferation of such bands. Gurdeep said most bands play a cocktail of martial tunes, Punjabi numbers, including those of slain singer Amar Singh Chamkila, and Hindi film songs such as Pardesi, pardesi jaana nahi (film: Raja Hindustani) and Yeh desh hai veer jawaano ka (film: Naya Daur).

Musicians said that playing at weddings is a profitable side business for them. “I was into life insurance but I wanted to earn more to support my big family: parents, wife, daughter and two sons. That's why I joined the band in 2003,“ said 44-yearold Beant Singh who has played at over 1,000 weddings.

“I earn 500 per day for at least 12 days in a month during the wedding season: October to April. I love the uniform, its vi brant colours and the instruments which is pro vided by the band man agement,“ he said.

The clients say mili tary-style bands lend a royal touch to the wed dings. “We Punjabis are known for flashy weddings and don't mind spending extra for the music. The brass bands add a royal touch to these marriages. During the times of princely states such bands used to perform for rajas. I had enlisted the services of a pipe band from Pohir and my guests were happy with their performance,“ said a satisfied NRI Amandeep Singh Dhanoa, now in Ludhiana.

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