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The start of a new year might be the right time to acknowledge a set of people who have so far not found mention in Music Matters. These are the crews who regularly provide audio equipment for events, concerts and performances.

Usually, they are among the first people to reach a concert venue, to set up equipment that could make or break a performance. They are probably among the last to leave as well, because the often elaborate equipment they provide needs to be dismantled and transported back safely. They are also the people who get glared at and hissed at by performers and listeners the moment there is any feedback from the mikes. Unfortunately, they are also the set of people who hardly, if ever, get thanked or acknowledged publicly either by performers or event organizers.

And perhaps that is one of the reasons why they have evolved their own ways of branding.

In the past, well-known audio equipment providers were known to strategically affix on microphone stands a metal plaque with white lettering on a black background, ensuring that everyone who looked at the main artiste or speaker could not help but notice the equipment provider’s name. Every photograph of the artiste and event that appeared subsequently in the media naturally carried the same branding, thanks to some clever thinking and manoeuvring by the audio equipment providers. How else could you get Mahatma Gandhi himself to endorse your services (! More recently, vendor crews in black T-shirts with the provider’s name and logo printed on it make for a less in-your-face form of branding.

By and large, my interaction with providers of this service has been extremely pleasant and satisfying, with little cause for complaint. More often than not I have found crew members to be highly committed professionals with great expertise and often a keen interest in music, with many being proficient musicians themselves. Imperious calls of “ay mikewaale" are therefore best avoided. But as with any other aspect of performing, there are the odd incidents now and again that in retrospect can be laughed at heartily.

I remember a concert not so long ago in the Capital. As I took my place on stage, two staff members who performed multiple duties, as guards, stage attendants and beleaguered mikewaale, plodded up and placed microphones before each performer. Since I was also playing a tanpura, I made a polite request for a second microphone to amplify the tanpura. Staring wearily at me, the gentleman asked: “Tanpura ke liye mike chaahiye?" And promptly proceeded to snatch away the vocal mike placed before me and bend it ruthlessly towards the bridge of the tanpura!

A few nights ago, I was performing at the second edition of the Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival in Chhattisgarh. Staged against the backdrop of the magnificent seventh century Lakshman temple, the challenge of organizing the festival in such a remote area must have been a logistical nightmare. A brochure sent to me by Mukund Radio, a Raipur-based service provider set up in 1960, informed me that the gear for the festival had been provided by them. A selection of black and white and colour photographs was evidence of the company having provided audio equipment for some of the country’s greatest leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, godmen with cult followings, of whom at least one is known to be languishing in jail, and of course musicians, like the legendary Begum Akhtar. The inclusion of photographs of eminent personalities is understandable, but the inclusion of photographs of two employees who have worked with Mukund Radio for 44 years, and whose contribution they acknowledge with due respect and regard, is truly creditable—and a lesson for those among artistes and audiences who have been impatient and irritable with the mike men.

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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