The eastern states of India carry a rich musical heritage. The contributions of artists from these states have received national as well as international recognition. The Odia music industry had a golden era not too long ago. It is now at what one may describe as a transitional period.
National award winning film maker Amartya Bhattacharyya feels, that lack of exposure and various limitations has led to the downfall of the Odia music industry.
“Because of the minimal exposure and influx of foreign culture, the original Odia music is now confined only to the tribal and folk music,” said Bhattacharyya.
Where Bollywood is now scaling international standards, Odia music is still at a very nascent stage. In the case of production, design and arrangement the budget does play a major role. To put in context, in most cases the budget of a Bollywood song exceeds the one for a Odia movie.
“When I recorded my first song ‘Panthasala kebe pachari bujhena’ in Mumbai, technicalities of music were yet to be introduced in Odisha. By 2000, Odia music industry was at a high, but towards 2007-08 it started declining. Changes were taking place and slowly independent music was lost by 2010,” opined Sitaram Agarwal, Founder, Sarthak Music.
The independent music scene
Agarwal is known to be one of Odia music’s biggest supporter. Alongside his music company he also owns 91.9 Sarthak FM. His company follows a policy to play Odia songs and to make an independent Odia song daily. But it has been tough for him to get independent Odia artists on board.
Recently as a panelist, at the All About Music conference for regional music, Agarwal made a very interesting observation.
“I noticed, except the Punjab music industry, everybody else is running behind film music and not independent music. We are doing a great job. But artists in other regions ask and approach to work in your label whereas here we have to drag people to perform.”
One of the biggest problem Odia music faces is that it has not been promoted well across platforms. That could be because of financial issues except the ones which are produced by big banners and production houses.
“We need to promote, encourage, and produce originals to get the connection back,” feels RJ Smita.
“Bringing back the Odia music’s originality looks tough but not impossible. For that musicians have to come together without competing with each other. It has to be consistent as well.”
The Bollywood factor
Odia music has always relied heavily on its folk and classical music culture. Even the Odia film music drew a lot from it. Unfortunately this is changing drastically. The youth do not feel connected to it and have moved on. The lure of Bollywood and the fame that comes with it is too strong to ignore.
As Agarwal pointed out, Odia music does have its superstars but they are still locals. Their time is spent in running between studios and stages because of which they are unable to explore beyond their geographical boundary.
But not every Odia artist is in the queue to break into Bollywood.
Humane Sagar, a leading playback singer in Odisha, asserts that he will never give up Odia music to pursue Bollywood.
“I am able to earn my livelihood by imitating Arijit Singh. The biggest issue lies in people not supporting Ollywood. We have got more haters than lovers for the Odia music industry. Singing copied songs is not in my hand. Producers invest money and want composers to get their things done,” quipped Humane.
What artists like Humane are doing is laudable but at the same time their leaning towards the ‘Bollywood style’ of music has been detrimental to Odia music. While being influenced by current trends is not the problem, the style of adaptation is important. A lot of the new Odia music is heavily ‘inspired’. Bollywood went through a similar phase some years back and the aftermaths were strongly felt.
“Copied content could sound good, but long run calls for originality. But at the same time from where do we fetch fresh projects to showcase their voices? For an independent initiative, the requirement of a well-constructed team and proper management comes to the forefront.” said music composer, Prem Anand.
Another worrying aspect has been the usage of Hindi words in Odia lyrics. The ‘need’ is to create an appeal for the song among the millennial.
The way ahead for Odia music
A strong believer in the Odia folk music, leading Odia actor Siddhant Mohapatra, feels using Hindi language in Odia music is degrading to the vast vocabulary of Odisha.
“We are very strong in our folk music and culture. Bringing our folk music to the forefront will increase our visibility on the musical map. This will help enhance the originality in our music” asserted Siddhant.
While speaking to these distinguished individuals of the Odia music industry, it was obvious that most are running in different directions. This can never be helpful for any industry. Most of them have remained restricted and have not explored other genres. Embracing change and imbibing it into the cultural landscape without demeaning it has been a challenge the world over.
“Nothing much is left in the Odia music industry, which is unfortunate. People who are considered as legends here, if put in comparison to the greats of the world then they barely stand as average. For betterment, the first thing that calls to be done is to listen to different genres of music, explore and expand your taste. Sticking to the grandfather’s era will not bring any change for real,” asserted Bhattacharyya.
Saugato Roy Choudhury