Last week, we focused on the period between 2000 and 2019, and talked of how technology has changed listening habits, besides mentioning the important developments in Hindi film and popular non-film music. This week, we wind up this series ‘Indian Music Through The Decades‘ by discussing a few other genres.
The stars from abroad
Most rock fans are excited about the forthcoming show by U2, to be held in Mumbai on December 15. This will obviously be one of the biggest acts India has seen, something that may parallel Michael Jackson’s Mumbai show in 1996 and the Roger Waters Bengaluru gig in 2002.
Though foreign rock acts have played in India regularly since 1980, the early 2000’s provided the much-needed boost. The Scorpions, Waters, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Santana, Metallica, Slash, Megadeth, Coldplay and Dream Theater did the big outdoor venues in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, whereas Def Leppard, Foreigner and America played indoors. Jethro Tull came three times, for shows with flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, the band Alms For Shanti and sitar player Anoushka Shankar.
Many of the early concerts were organised by DNA Networks, but later, other players joined the bandwagon. Bengaluru was the preferred city, because of lower entertainment tax rates. In Mumbai, the Jazz Yatra was discontinued, making way for Jazz Utsav, Jus’ Jazz and the NCPA International Jazz Festival. Many guitarists, like John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Scott Henderson and Mike Stern played, besides violinist Jean Luc-Ponty, pianist Herbie Hancock, singer Al Jarreau, keyboardist George Duke, drummer Billy Cobham, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Stanley Clarke and the band Spyro Gyra.
Western classical fans in Mumbai witnessed amazing shows, featuring the Symphony Orchestra of India with international conductors and soloists. Conductor Zubin Mehta’s 80th birthday in April 2016 was celebrated with a series of concerts. However, other cities did not see much major activity in this genre.
One of the most popular events was the Mahindra Blues Festival, organised annually since 2011 by the Mahindra group and Oranjuice Entertainment in Mumbai. It has featured well-known names like Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Jimmie Ray Vaughan, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite, Beth Hart, Jonny Lang and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Before this, there was the One Tree Festival, which hosted rock acts Uriah Heep and Alan Parsons, and bluesmen Buddy Guy and Robert Cray.
Regarding rock acts, some cynics cribbed that many musicians came when past their prime. But the fact is that most of them gave the crowd its money’s worth.
The same complaint could not be made in electronic dance music (EDM), as the top international disc jockeys played across India. The list included Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk, Sasha, David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, DJ Snake, Marshmello and Martin Garrix. The Sunburn festival attracted DJs from across the world, and Goa became India’s EDM paradise.
In short, barring a lull in rock activity over the past six or seven years, India has hosted the best international stars. The recent show by young British sensation Jacob Collier received a tumultuous response. Hopefully, the U2 show will boost the scene further.
The local scenario
Following the popularity of YouTube, the trend of releasing singles and the opening of new venues, new musicians got opportunities to showcase their songs. Besides Hindi music, we had many English acts, rendering pop, rock, jazz, blues or electronic music.
Nightspots had a huge role to play in promoting live music. Sadly, some of the biggest venues shut down. Not Just Jazz By The Bay was the first to go. Hard Rock Cafe’s flagship at Worli, Mumbai, and Blue Frog Mumbai hosted many acts, but eventually closed down. The iconic Rang Bhavan was shut down by the Maharashtra government. The Quarter barely took off. These were the Mumbai venues. The latest casualty is B-Flat in Bengaluru. High rentals and irregular footfalls are said to be the main causes.
Some venues continue to promote the live culture. The Piano Man Jazz Club in New Delhi is loved for its jazz shows. For many years, Someplace Else in Kolkata had fixed rock and blues acts, but of late, it is also having some EDM nights, much to the disappointment of old-timers.
Besides original music, there has been a spurt in cover bands. Tributes to the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen, Elvis Presley, Dire Straits, Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC are now commonplace.
One good sign is the increase in the number of festivals, with NH7 Weekender, Ziro Music Festival, Kasauli Rhythm N’ Blues festival, Sofar Sounds, Magnetic Fields and Sulafest drawing crowds. Special days like the International Jazz Day, Mumbai Drum Day and Piano Day attract young musicians.
There is no shortage of acts. What one needs is more venues, affordable rates and friendly laws.
Music for connoisseurs
Though Hindustani classical and Carnatic music have a smaller following in terms of numbers, the genres have a very dedicated set of listeners, specially among the middle and older generations. However, because of inadequate media promotion, lesser industry support and peer pressure, fewer youngsters are listening to these styles.
Older listeners benefited from the availability of vast content on streaming platforms. For a while, the In Sync television channel devoted itself to classical music. But by and large, both TV and radio have neglected the classical forms.
Most festivals give priority to the star names, and the number of concerts for young artistes is relatively low, attracting small audiences. However, organisers like Pancham Nishad, Banyan Tree and Art And Artistes are doing their bit to promote deserving musicians.
Carnatic music has seen the rise of many vocalists like Sudha Raghunathan, T.M. Krishna, Sanjay Subramanyam, Abhishek Raghuram, Sikkil Gurucharan and Sunil Gargyan, and violinist Ambi Subramaniam, who have been admired by young listeners. In Hindustani music, Kaushiki Chakraborty, Jayateerth Mevundi, Rahul Sharma, Rakesh Chaurasia, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, and Niladri Kumar have had a huge fan following, and many others under 50 have shown immense potential.
One saw many new names in ghazals and Sufi music. For a while, the ghazal world was ruled only by Jagjit Singh, who passed away in 2011, and Pankaj Udhas. The latter, who helped start the prestigious Khazana festival in 2002, continues to fill up halls. On an increasing level, many younger artistes are making a mark, with some doing both ghazals and Sufi music. The list is too long, and these singers need more opportunities and the ability to stay focused in the long run.
To attract more listeners, many musicians got into fusion. For a long time, this genre was restricted to impromptu jamming at live shows. Shakti had a new avatar in Remember Shakti but did not record new material. The untimely death of 45-year-old mandolin wizard U. Srinivas in 2014 came as a huge shock.
Of late, there has been an increase in the number of artistes playing structured fusion, with the group Namo Fusion, sarod duo Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan and tabla exponent Bickram Ghosh releasing fantastic albums. Siddharth Kasyap’s show Perfect Amalgamation was an example of great live fusion.
Sufi, ghazal, regional and folk music forms are getting exposure through festivals like Ruhaniyat, Khazana, Rajasthan International Folk Festival, Jahan-e-Khusro, the Kabir Festival and Paddy Fields. Music labels and promoters are talking of increasing their focus on regional music, but what’s required is a more serious approach and larger corporate support.
Once again, the Indian music scenario finds itself at the crossroads. The next couple of years will determine the shape of things to come.
The three obvious priorities are clear. One is to revive film music. The second is to create non-film music stars with long-term appeal, and not just resort to quick and temporary successes. The third is to expose millennials to the richer and diverse forms of music available across India.
All this revolves around quality. There’s no point talking big numbers when these last only a few weeks. A long-term vision is the need of the hour.