Brass band may be the rage among youth but ‘Arabi marfa’ still holds its own in Hyderabad. Few celebrations are complete without the Arabic band, particularly in the old city. The high price commanded by it is proof of its popularity.
Be it marriage, festival or election time, Arabi marfa is what one turns to for that rhythmic beat which has everyone swinging. The band was introduced to the city by the Siddis, an ethnic group of African descent.
The 6th Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, recruited them being impressed by their physical
strength and horsemanship. The Siddis were earlier believed to be working for the Raja of Wanaparthy, it is said. Their descendants now stay in and around A.C. Guards and a few groups are active musicians.
Those in the profession can be easily recognised as they strut around donning shirts, lungis and red-chequered scarves playing ‘dholaks’, steel pots, a small drum called ‘marfa’ and wooden strips called ‘thapi’.
“Each instrument forms an integral part of the band, and if played together gives a pulsating rhythm,” says Salaam Basher, a second generation musician at Shah Ali Banda.
Now, many locals too have learned it and have set up their shops across old city. Their numbers have increased in the last few years but has not brought down the high rates they demand. They charge nearly two times more than the ‘sheri band’ and ‘brass pipe bands’, says Mirza Sohail, who regularly engages the band.
Generally, the ‘marfa band’ comprises of eight, 12, 16 and 22 members and they play various popular tunes. “On demand we sing a few Arabic and Yemeni songs too,” says Mohammed Ghouse, who plays in band at the age of 55.
However, it is proving to be quite difficult for the musicians with the cost of living steadily escalating. “We get paid Rs.300 for a performance and the only time when income is a little more is during marriage season. If the party is a bit affluent then we get some extra money, he adds.