KUWAIT: While high-fidelity systems rule supreme over how people enjoy music nowadays, ‘Al-Bishtakhta’ – a name given by Kuwaitis to the phonograph – was the mainstay of audio entertainment in the old days. Historians in Kuwait differed on the origin of the word Al-Bishtakhta with some saying that it originated from the Hindi language. But the most compelling argument was that the word was derived from the English word pickup. In any case, the Bishtakhta was created by prolific American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison in 1877.
The box-shaped device mainly consisted of a turntable, a needle, and a horn. People in old Kuwait used to place their vinyl records of choice on the turntable and then press the device’s needle on the record, an action which resulted in sound being emitted by the horn. Back then, the Bishtakhta came in various shapes and types and was imported from Iraq and India.
Various models were imported to Kuwait with the European ‘Swan Bishtakhta’ arriving first in the country around 1909. It was followed by the ‘Edison,’ ‘Columbia,’ and ‘Victoria’ Bishtakhtas in 1918. They were sold in the aptly-named Bishtakhta market. The device was not widely spread amongst the populace, but was commonly found at wealthy households and coffee shops.
Stories about the Bishtakhta were very common back in the day with European travelers, who happened stop in Kuwait in the early 1930s, saying that one of the few aspects of western civilization was the usage of the phonograph. Perhaps one of the most humorous accounts connected with the Bishtakhta came from the book “from here Kuwait began” by author Abdullah Al-Hathem. The author said that one of the first times the phonograph was used in Al-Safat Public Square in 1915 had led to panic amongst the people who feared that the device contained evil spirits singing from the box. This incident led to the temporary ban in the era of Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah. In modern times, the Bishtakhta is consider as an antique item owned by old Kuwaitis yearning to days gone by. – KUNA