How does the sound of Gujarati music find itself reconfiguring the commercial music narrative and reclaiming its meaning of success?
The recent February 2021 release of music composer duo Sachin-Jigar is a moving, mellow, independent Gujarati song Kehva De starring Jigar Saraiya himself in the video. Soon after, in the first week of March, comes their sassy, shimmering video for Na Nai Sunna, a fresh Hindi release for Sony Music India with a splash of vibrant, bohemian visual aesthetics in collaboration with international music producer R3HAB. In so many ways, Sachin Jigar is contemporary India’s most beloved musical ambassadors and by India, we mean, both the Hindi and Gujarati music industries.
Jigar opens up about their balancing act between film and non-film releases,
“Our independent releases are original, old school Sachin-Jigar songs with a very subtle contemporary twist to them. They come straight from our hearts and I am glad we are able to explore both film and non-film music, because it allows us to draw a fine line between what a director, a producer, or the overall film requires from us, and what we wish to share with our audiences independently through our personal channel.”
The Gujarati Cultural Movement, a homebound, digital initiative of Sachin-Jigar, is here to magnify the varied artistic talents emerging from Gujarat. Their zest for Gujarati sound is contagious,
“Honestly, this is our vibe currently, to modernize, and to revive Gujarati folk music. The treasure of Gujarati folk music is waiting to be unveiled and slowly we are catching up. Today, we are able to reach a section of the audience which is completely unaware of the richness of Gujarati music and how it can be interpreted in so many ways other than Garba music.”
Where Change Begins
Due to the multiplicity of genres within the Gujarati music industry, market segmentation becomes troublesome, especially since the engagement ratio is dependent on factors like the wedding season, festive season, film releases, each of which differs dramatically across different regions of Gujarat. For instance, North Gujarat enjoys a more Gujarati pop sound, whereas the region in and around Saurashtra continues to revel in the folklore of Dayro music, a form of devotional singing and poetry.
Much like the emergence of a Punjabi pop music consciousness, Gujarati music is now realising that a distinct folk-pop semblance is its core potential and is will fully utilising the digital space to establish its cultural presence. The reigning stars like Osman Mir, Jignesh Kaviraj, Bhikhudan Gadhvi, Ramesh Barot of traditional, devotional Dayro geet, celebratory Garba music, and soulful Sugam Sangeet continue to enthrall audiences with viewership charting in millions.
“The difference today is in the song treatment; the essence of music stays the same. Unlike recorded music, during a live concert, a verse is sung once and it’s gone forever. The thrill of a traditional Gujarati live music concert is unmatchable with over twenty thousand people coming together. But due to Covid19, we instantly connected with our audience online using live digital platforms. Ironically, even though music is our professional need, our audience has been craving for concerts a lot more than us!” narrates Kirtidan Gadhvi, one of the most revered traditional Gujarati music artists, who was also featured in the MTV Coke Studio soundtrack Ladkee, which gained nationwide acclaim.
A massive portion of the Gujarati music industry thrives on live devotional and traditional music which translates into an extensive digital following too.
“If it doesn’t matter whether we understand Punjabi to enjoy a Bollywood track today, why should Gujarati language act as a limitation?”
a pertinent question raised by him, when asked if Gujarati music will find an audience beyond the borders of its home state. The simplicity of the argument lends an altered gaze at reflecting on one’s own music culture and being cognizant of long-held fears and prejudices against audience acceptance.
New Wave of Youth
“Age is no bar when it comes to relishing Dandiya and Garba music, it is a part of every person’s life. Recreating Gujarati folklore in an experimental fusion rock genre is how we identify our music and give it an original flavor,” says Jainam Modi, the lead vocalist of MeghDhanush, a promising young band from Ahmedabad.
A distinguishing characteristic of their music is its upbeat and dance-heavy rhythmic progression.
“We have performed in Istanbul, Sri Lanka, and across India in Mumbai and various other cities: the crowds love it when we perform Gujarati folk songs in our characteristic style. They go absolutely berserk!”
In the early 2000s, Gujarati film music mostly catered to a small town population with its imitative version of Bollywood’s remixed song sequences. Then a decade ago, when Gujarati cinema had completely wilted away from people’s imagination, a new movement with icons like Amit Trivedi, Mehul Surti at the forefront began seeking a more honest sound. Today, we hear that echo amidst young artists.
“Now the options to explore independent music, international music are endless on streaming platforms. Listeners are not ready to settle for mediocre, repetitive music, precisely because they have access to much more content. This is why we want our generation to add Gujarati music into their playlists, we want them to take Gujarati music along as we move ahead towards a global sound.”
The band has given a quirky twist to the title track from the famous Hindi TV show Shaktimaan amongst other songs and released their EP Folk Rang in 2018.
Another major shift in the industry is visible within the live music sector. Live music of Gujarat has almost always been about devotional or traditional music but that’s not the case anymore. Rising star Jigardan Gadhvi, also known as Jigrra corroborates this transformation with his personal success story.
“I can proudly say that I am one of the few artists in the state to do full fledged concerts of my own Gujarati film songs, without any traditional dance folk pieces, something that has been the norm for any live music show until now.”
Private functions, big-budget corporate events, wedding shows are all open to a more modern, popular, young sound which essentially opens up a lot more opportunities for new-age talent.
“The shift from the live to digital space was exemplified by the number of releases of independent music during the Navratri festival. It blows my mind as to just how much new music erupted last year when it became impossible to perform live.”
Jigrra’s rendition of Krishna Bhajan mashups released in 2020 reflect a truly contemporary approach to devotional melodies and received an immensely positive reception from his followers.
The Numbers “Streaming” In
A major surge in the recorded music industry of Gujarat is courtesy of a deeper penetration of audio streaming and OTT platforms in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. The one-of-a-kind streaming platform Jalso App is a true game-changer when it comes to offering all kinds of Gujarati audio content like podcasts, dramatised stories, film and non-film music, spoken word poetry, literary pieces, and more. The audio streaming app, partnered by Music label Saregama is rapidly gaining prominence.
Naishadh Purani, Head of Digital Programming and Content at Jalso App delves deep into the dynamics of the audio streaming industry:
“If I was to compartmentalize, the majority of listeners are here for Ghazal or light music. But the most exciting part for us is that almost 25% of our listener base is here for the non-music category. This opens doors to a plethora of parallel content – we have over 400 literary stories presented in the form of dramatic readings, poetry recitals by eminent poets, Kavya Sangeet, a kids’ section, a Dayro music section, ‘Mehfil with Naishadh’ hosted by me and so much more. It is an ode to our mother tongue, Jalso App is an audible hug to our motherland, if I may say so.”
A combination of innovation and technology is integral when deciphering growth in any business and the music industry is no exception. The medium is as integral as the message, and a steep rise in music consumption on mobile devices makes the Gujarati digital space flourish in leaps and bounds.
Eventful Road Ahead for Gujarati Music Artists
The social perception towards the music and entertainment industry has garnered more liberal and positive connotations, allowing today’s generation to push boundaries away from yesteryear’s conventional ideologies. Parthiv Gohil opens up about his journey as a performing artist, turned producer,
“A great deal of jam rooms, technologically equipped music studios have opened up and I’d like to mention The Music Club, Ahmedabad, in particular. It is extremely important for an artist to be versatile onstage while simultaneously being in a position to have his music produced in good quality. A fine balance of studio life and gig life has been the mantra for most part of my life.”
Gohil began a creative endeavour “Gujarati Jalso” way back in 2013, including live music showcases, concerts, music video releases, a canvas encapsulating myriad shades of Gujarati literature and music culture.
Soni Gujarat Ni alongside Mika Singh went on to become the love anthem of 2020 and his presence in live concerts has been winning hearts across Gujarati households for decades now.
Gohil gives valuable advice to youngsters seeking to enter the music world,
“I’d say, creating content consistently, maintaining your niche and giving your best shot – is the way forward.”
Jigar Saraiya’s advice is poignant,
“Now is the time. Do not wait. Do not depend on a composer or a movie. If you have a song, if you have a feeling, just go on YouTube and release it. Right now is the best time to share your music with the world.”