Dhaka is always on the run. If there is any place that badly needs a spot for people to simply unwind after a day’s work, it is this city of workaholics. Jatra Biroti has been creating some noise since November, 2014 – with music serving as their selling point, this little project has made quite a name for itself in a very short time.
Initiated, organized and managed by four passionate musicians Seth Panduranga Blumberg, Don Donadoni, Zunayed Sabbir Ahmed and Yameen Khan, Jatra Biroti is now an art and music lounge located on Banani Jatra outlet's rooftop. The words ‘Jatra Biroti’ refer to the break taken in a journey in Bangla.
Jatra Biroti was originally planned as a simple coffee shop. The name was thought of by Buno long before the place grew to what it is today. All Don has to say about the name is “The name was given by Buno and we loved it!”. The story of the four musicians behind Jatra Biroti spans all the way from the West to the East. Pandu came to Bangladesh in 2009 and in an event titled ‘Baul ‘n Beyond’ he met Sabbir, one of the organizers. Sabbir was already involved in the local music scene, doing various gigs around the city on his time off.
Pandu and Sabbir hosted number of blues workshops arranged by Anusheh Anadil and Shadhona, in early 2010. In one of the workshops, the duo met Yameen and immediately hit it off. Don, a Turkish Electro musician by origin, was looking for people to jam with at the time. He followed Pandu, Yameen and Sabbir’s work.
From left: Seth Panduranga Blumberg, Don Donadoni, Zunayed Sabbir Ahmed and Yameen Khan
“We were doing this electronic music event, Dhaka Electronica Scene (DES), in Goethe Institute Dhanmondi. We were looking performers back then and Pandu saw my post on Facebook and reached out to me. I already knew of him from Cuppa Coffee jam sessions and I knew I needed to meet these people. So I was overjoyed with the offer; that is how we met and since then we have been playing together”, reminisced Don.
“We were jamming at places like Kozmo and Cuppa Coffee; but we wanted to do weekly gigs which weren’t happening in Dhaka back then. We wanted to build a community. So one day, hanging out here (Banani Jatra), Buno’s abandoned studio, it hit us. We wondered if we could bring our guitars and amps over and use it as our jamming pit, maybe invite people over too. From there, we planned the whole thing, and since then we have been trying to perfect this project”, explained Sabbir.
Jatra Biroti got off to a good start with a solid audience back in November 2014. Currently, it hosts three shows every week of folk, fusion and electronic music. Thursdays are dedicated to folk music where the crew seeks out and features folk artists. Fridays are open mic sessions. Saturdays are in-house Electro/Acoustic sessions when the musicians experiment with different techniques and instruments paired with digital sound technology. They also hold movie screenings on Mondays.
When it comes to featuring artists, Jatra Biroti has no-hold-bars. This one of a kind art center caters to all kinds of musicians, with a soft spot for folk music, as it is highly underrated in Bangladesh at the moment. “We want to bring a rock musician and a folk artist together, and see what happens”, said Sabbir.
The Music scene in Dhaka is quite developed with a lot of organizations providing platforms for upcoming and existing musicians. When asked what makes this platform unique, Don asserted that Jatra Biroti is unique not because of the place, or location, but because of the idea it represents.
“Jatra Biroti is more of an idea. It is not limited to this place; if this place is broken down by the owner, we will take it elsewhere. We are not some restaurant or cultural center. We are just four people who are doing something and trying to do it right. We know what we are doing; right now, if we go to a field and start Jatra Biroti, we know how to get 200 people to show up. Jatra Biroti is bigger than just money or funding, it is purely for music, and that is what sets us apart,” explained Sabbir.
Sabbir attributes Jatra Biroti’s success to its fortunate timing. 2007-2009 was a dark period for Bangladesh’s music industry. Local labels exploited artists and music piracy shot up to a whole new level. Music wasn’t appreciated, it was demeaned. But things got better sometime in 2010. Artists started to work independently, sold their music on iTunes instead of local labels. It ushered in a new era in the country’s music scene, which saw an entirely new generation of musicians taking control. Jatra Biroti was formed precisely during this phase and capitalized on the audience’s need for good music.
Presently, Jatra Biroti and its events are limited to the Banani ‘Jatra’outlet. However, followers can look forward to events on other parts of the city starting with Dhanmondi outlet in sometime next year. More great news from the Jatra Biroti crew is that from November onwards, until February, they are planning week-long events, one on everyday of the week! The platform also plans to release albums under their own label. A compilation album of all the performances held here till date is also on their to-do-list.