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Indian music through the decades- 1995-99



In March 1995, Mani Ratnam’s film Bombay was released in Tamil, with dubbed versions in Hindi, Telugu, and Malayalam. The music had already become a rage, and it was music director A.R. Rahman’s second hit in Bollywood after Roja. Till the end of the decade, he played a major role in creating a new sound for popular Hindi music.

Yet, Rahman wasn’t the only factor. In 1995, Alisha Chinai’s album Made In India became a huge seller. Released by Magnasound, the title track also attracted attention with its music video, directed by Ken Ghosh and co-starring Milind Soman. Soon, more players entered the field of Indipop, and we had albums by Daler Mehndi, Colonial Cousins, Lucky Ali, Mehnaz, Anaida, Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, super-seller Altaf Raja, the sibling duo of Shaan and Sagarika, KK, Sukhbir, Euphoria, Silk Route, Models, Sharon Prabhakar, Shweta Shetty, Suneeta Rao, Aryans, Aslam-Shibani and a host of others.



Sunidhi Chauhan, then a young teenager, released the children’s album Aira Gaira Nathu Khaira. Sonu Nigam’s Deewana and Shankar Mahadevan’s Breathless boosted the genre. Bhangra-pop became popular. Besides the established Gurdas Maan and Daler Mehndi, artistes Hans Raj Hans, Sukhshinder Shinda and Malkit Singh were in demand. Fusion-rock band Indian Ocean rose in fame, and Pakistani outfit Junoon captured Indian hearts.


Rise of music channels


Hindi film music, Indipop, regional music, and international music got heavy rotation on Channel V, and in 1996, on MTV, which returned as a full-fledged channel. Other channels like etc, B4U and Zee Music were in the race too and general entertainment channels like Zee TV, Sony Entertainment Television and Star TV had their own music shows.

The refrain was that “music was now being seen, and not only heard.” The trend opened up more avenues for musicians. In the past, artistes were mainly heard in the audio format. Now, they became heroes and heroines of mini-films. Video directors, cameramen, models, choreographers, and dancers got more opportunities, and brands advertised subtly through this medium. Video jockeys became role models of teenagers, who also chose sartorial fashions and mannerisms they saw on MTV and Channel V.

Live performances were part of the promotion package, and event management companies like Wizcraft, DNA Networks and Fountainhead did roaring business. In 1996, Magnasound and BMG Crescendo were the main Indipop players. Over the next few years, Saregama India, Universal, Sony Music, T-Series, Tips Industries, Venus Records, Virgin Records, Times Music, Plus Music and Archies Music began paying more attention to Indipop.

All these led to a growth in organised music retail. By 1997, the compact disc had arrived as strong form of music consumption, and the sale of CD players grew. Looking for better sound quality, people started building their collections, buying discs or even albums they possessed on cassette. People also bought concerts and song compilations on video compact disc (VCD).


Music stores and magazines in India


In Mumbai, besides old-timers like Rhythm House and Hiro Music, there were new stores like Planet M, Groove and the short-lived Hi-Hat. In other cities, the Music World chain became huge. Some stores were large, encouraged browsing, had special zones for customers with ‘refined tastes’, had listening posts and even sold music magazines, concert tickets, and merchandise.

Newer job roles were created across the industry. The artists & repertoire (A&R) manager played a dominant role in the growth of a pop star. The changing technology required sound engineers adept at the latest trends. Specialists were needed in the fields of marketing, sales strategy, and public relations. Music magazines RSJ, Raga To Rock, AV Max and The Record looked for writers who knew the subject.

multi percussionist


There was a boom, no doubt. Yet, some areas were affected. Despite the growth in unit sales, classical music didn’t get much TV airplay. In ghazals, only a few love songs were promoted. A record company head even went on record to say “classical music and musicians don’t attract the younger generation, which is our main target audience.”

Piracy remained a problem, as people sold duplicate copies of cassettes, CDs or video material. The Internet was still to make inroads but when it did at the turn of the century, there was an increase in illegal downloading and file sharing.


Film music and remixes


There was an overdose of remixes. The trend began with albums like Roop Inka Mastana, and artistes Bally Sagoo and Instant Karma. Their remixes were well-executed but later in the decade, there was a surfeit of shoddy stuff. In many cases, the original creators of songs weren’t given credit or remuneration.

In film music, plagiarism increased. The trend of lifting songs had existed for years, even among well-known music directors, but now it became rampant. The story goes that in many cases, filmmakers would insist on copying tunes as the chances of getting a hit were higher.



Finally, the sudden boom of Indipop led to clutter. Many youngsters wanted to become pop stars, whether they could sing or not. Looks were preferred over voice. Albums started flopping badly, and labels didn’t make the profits they expected. In the early 2000s, only a few artistes like Shaan and Adnan Sami created an impact. Girl band Viva, heavily promoted by Channel V, had a good initial run but didn’t last long.

Despite numerous instances of plagiarism, Hindi film music was overall much better than a decade ago. Rahman had hits like Bombay, Rangeela, Dil Se and Taal. He did have a repetitive phase which he overcomes. In Tamil music, people started comparing him with the legendary Ilaiyaraaja, who remained the favourite of old-timers.

Anu Malik was prolific yet inconsistent. He had the hits Akele Hum Akele Tum, Virasat, Border, and Soldier, but also earned a reputation of copying songs. Jatin-Lalit had Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, Yes Boss and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Nadeem-Shravan had Raja Hindustani and Pardes. Uttam Singh composed Dil To Pagal Hai. Ismail Darbar was successful in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Vanraj Bhatia, a favourite of director Shyam Benegal, had a classic in Sardari Begum.


Singers in the late 90s’


Among the singers, Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan topped the popularity charts, but Kumar Sanu and Anuradha Paudwal got lesser work. Sunidhi Chauhan made her film debut with Mast in 1999, under music director Sandeep Chowta. Sukhwinder Singh had the hit ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ in Dil Se. The industry had a major shock when T-Series chief Gulshan Kumar was shot dead on August 12, 1997.



Classical music continued to attract a dedicated audience. One highlight was the entry of star children. Rahul Sharma, son of santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, sons of sarod exponent Amjad Ali Khan, and Anoushka Shankar, daughter of sitar great Ravi Shankar, arrived on the scene. So did flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia’s nephew Rakesh Chaurasia. Sitar player Niladri Kumar and vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty got breaks.

The first two music Bharat Ratnas were from the classical field. Carnatic doyenne M.S. Subbulakshmi got it in 1998, and Ravi Shankar was honoured the following year. In ghazals, Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas were the big draws. Thanks to Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sufi music got a fillip, and Sangam, his album with lyricist Javed Akhtar, was well-received. Sadly, the maestro passed away on August 16, 1997, and Abida Parveen and the Wadali Brothers took the genre forward.

Many fusion acts came up, and Remember Shakti was formed as a follow-up version of guitarist John McLaughlin’s Shakti. In London, the Asian Underground movement, involving a blend of Asian sounds with club music, became a rage, thanks to artistes like Talvin Singh, State of Bengal, Nitin Sawhney, Joi, and the Asian Dub Foundation. Apache Indian popularised Indi-reggae. Trilok Gurtu became a celebrity drummer in the international jazz world. Local rock and jazz acts blossomed, many performing at Not Just Jazz By The Bay in Mumbai or Someplace Else in Kolkata.

Thanks to music channels, international music got plenty of exposure. The latest dance hits, chartbusters, and the alternative rock got the most footage.


International music acts in India


More and more international stars visited India. Mumbai saw shows by Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Savage Garden, and Shaggy. The Channel V Music Awards from 1996 to 1998 attracted Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Roger Taylor of Queen, Bryan Adams, Air Supply, Spice Girls, No Doubt, Sting and Aqua.

Three concerts remain memorable. In 1997, keyboardist Joe Zawinul of jazz-rock band Weather Report wowed Mumbai, with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain as a guest. The Agra show by new-age star Yanni, also in 1997, was just out of the world. But the pick of the lot was the Michael Jackson show in Mumbai in 1996. India had never seen a concert of this scale, and probably never will.

There were some great concerts in the early 2000s too. The remainder of this series will talk of them, and also other developments that led us on to the current times.



Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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