The life of a musician in Dhaka isn't easy. Starting up, the barriers to enter the industry alone stop a significant proportion of those interested in music. Whether it's the lack of infrastructure to learn music academically, the prospect of the education or just being able to afford the necessary instruments.
When I started playing the guitar in 2007, buying a guitar was not a mean feat for a middle school student with zero disposable income. Add to this the idea of buying a good instrument — one that will not only get you through the preliminary learning stage but also function as something you can use for the long term — is extremely daunting.
The first mistake many musicians make is investing in subpar instruments just to save on cost. While the urge to just buy something inexpensive is always there, it's not always a good thing. Investing in an instrument that can last you for years to come is always better, as otherwise buying cheap usually leaves you with an instrument that is nothing but deadweight in a few short years, sometimes even months, says Neo Mendes.
Neo Mendes, the founder of Omni Companies, started Omni Music back in 2002 with the intention of bringing quality musical instruments at an affordable price. Initially starting out as the local distributor for Yamaha, Omni Music kept adding to its line over the years, bringing in more and more brands that cater to the various needs of a musician.
Recently, Omni has brought Fender guitars to Bangladesh, which is a first. As a guitarist myself, it has always been a dream to own a Fender, specifically a dark sunburst, Mexican Telecaster. I think, as a guitarist, the quintessential guitars that most people want are either the Stratocaster and Telecaster line from Fender or the Gibson Les Paul. The fact that people can buy a Fender guitar in Bangladesh, that too at an affordable price, is an idea people would not have been able to conceive a few years ago.
However, Omni is more than just a music shop. Mendes is a founding member of one of the pioneering rock and roll bands formed in the pre-Liberation days, called "The Lightnings". His understanding of our musical heritage and culture, as well as his perspective from having been a musician himself is why the place doesn't feel like any other store. It feels like a landmark of musical history waiting to be discovered. Those who have visited the store in Genetic Plaza on Dhanmondi Road 27 and have met Neo Mendes will know what I mean.
One of the first things you'll notice as you step in is a picture of Mendes with English rock guitarist Jeff Beck. Next: a band photo of "The Lightnings" from late 1960s; the young drummer Mendes standing with an original Ludwig drum set emblazoned with the band logo.
Meeting Mendes face to face feels like a moment in a story that you know is special. There is a certain aura around him, like the presence of a fabled character that you only read about in books and stories, but never meet in real life.
As he shows us around his store, discussing music, instruments, the local scene back in the 70s and his travels around the world, it all comes together. He passes us a picture of a letter signed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, signing off on their 1972 fundraising tour to India.
We spend the rest of the morning chatting about guitars, music festivals, Bangladeshi music and a variety of other topics. As we discuss more of our music ideologies and dream gear, something he says really stands out to me.
"I am involved in a lot of different businesses, but this is the one I'm most personally invested in. As a young musician, I know exactly how it feels when you're looking for good instruments and gear, but cannot find an affordable solution. Omni Music was built with that vision. To give a place for musicians to come find any variety of musical instruments or equipment that they need in one place, at an affordable price."
Whether you're looking for an instrument, music workshops, lessons, music certification courses, or just a place where you can go and have a conversation with someone to figure out what you need to get started in music, Omni Music can be all of those places bundled into one.
As for myself, I'm returning with my next paycheck to get me a Fender.
Find your music fix at Omni Music / Omni Concept at Level 3, Genetic Plaza, Dhanmondi Road 27. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OmniMusic