(Image taken from zazzle.com)
WE come across them everywhere ― at hi-fi parties, in concert halls, at record stores, on Facebook and Twitter, in airport toilets, at trendy literature fests, or even writing newspaper reviews which only they can understand. They are essentially music lovers like most of us, the only scary difference is that they belong to that ever-increasing breed of ‘music snobs’.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet these movers and fakers. Very obviously, they suffer from a syndrome called IKE, short for ‘I Know Everything’, or in more incurable cases IKMTE, or ‘I Know More Than Everybody’. At the slightest pretext, they begin to boast of their in-depth knowledge of music, and they do that with such conviction and passion that ordinary people like you and me suffer from a lifelong inferiority complex. Best-selling albums, radio hits, party anthems, bubblegum pop and Kola-viral sensations are things they are naturally allergic to.
Now, one would presume these music snobs would listen to only the highbrow classical genres. However, that may not necessarily be the case. Rock and jazz, Hindi film and ghazal, techn-oh and torture-oh, you’ll find them everywhere. Let’s check out a few prototypes, beginning with international music and then getting into Indian music:
The western classical snobs: For them, legends like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are passé. Such bland music is heard only by those new to the genre, or those who are seriously musically-challenged. The names they like to drop are Stravinsky, Sibelius and Stockhausen, whom the average follower of the genre barely knows.
These characters will attend a concert in their black tuxedos, if male. If female, the typical attire is a Hollywood styled red carpet gown showing off mammoth mounds of upper arm flab and VVS-E diamond solitaire earrings dangling to their ankles. Their Habit Rouge or Issey Miyake perfumes are strong enough to make the musicians on stage faint.
Before the show, they will talk of how they stopped listening to Mahler, Mussorgsky or Mendelssohn, or whoever’s music is to be played that night, and will quickly rattle off a laundry list of politicians, industrialists, film stars and opera singers they have had breakfast with. During the show, you better not cough, tap your fingers or worse, clap between movements, or these folks will give you the kind of glare that your spouses have never managed all their lives.
The jazz snobs: They hate western classical music, which they find too structured and boring. For them, music has to be improvised and spontaneously created, and the weirder and more incomprehensible it gets, the more ‘avant garde’ or ‘experimental’ they find it.
Compulsorily, these aficionados would have visited New Orleans, the cradle of jazz, some 750 times in their fictitious past, and attended each and every international jazz festival at least 50 times. Naturally, they find these Indian jazz concerts downright mediocre, and believe the people who attend these shows are huge ignoramuses.
Referring to the most popular names, they are most likely to say: “How can you people listen to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald…? You must hear Bix Beiderbecke, Artie Shaw, Django Reinhardt, Herb Ellis, Arturo Sandoval.” Or when it comes to the piano: “I just can’t stand Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock. I only listen to Thelonious Monk.” And being serious jazz addicts, they like to improvise their show-off sentences every minute.
The blues snobs: You’ll see quite a few of them in Mumbai next month, at the next edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival. Their breaths will reek of Glenfiddich single malt whisky and Montecristo cigars, their fingers will constantly play an imaginary Fender Stratocaster air guitar, and their tongues will lash out names of bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Son House and Leadbelly. As for the biggest blues artistes Muddy Waters, BB King and Buddy Guy, sorry, they are too commonplace. And today’s lot? “Blaah, they’ve massacred the blues!!”
To show off their knowledge of the blues, they begin each conversation with the line: “The blues had a baby and they called in rock n roll.” These muddy buddies, guys and kings are also deep into serious lyrics, their favourite being: “Woke up this morning, and my baby’s gone away… she’s gone with another man, leaving me here to play. A-hooo. A-hooo.”
The rock snobs: Their world begins and ends with the Woodstock festival held in 1969, even though they might have been barely three months old at that time. A few months ago, some of them would have attended Santana’s concert in Bangalore, and come out with a PhD thesis titled: “He was awful compared to Woodstock.” Never mind if they didn’t even know when Santana played the song ‘Soul Sacrifice’ that night. Similarly, they would have skipped the Guns N’ Roses show because guitarist Slash didn’t come, even though he left the band 16 years ago.
Meet these people at record stores, and you’ll find them confusing the sales staff with names like Long John Baldry, Steeleye Span, Bad Religion, Spencer Davis Group and Mott the Hoople. And when the staff offers them something as simple as Rolling Stones, the Doors and Pink Floyd, they feel seriously insulted and humiliated.
They keep boasting about how they’ve seen Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Grateful Dead live in the 1970s, and the original Pink Floyd unlike today’s lot which has only seen splinter groups. They carry their own dictionary, filled with words like ‘Hammond B3’, ‘shredding’, ‘wah wah’, ‘distortion’, ‘Fender Rhodes’, ‘Zildjian’, ‘a cappella’, ‘Moog’, ‘progressive’, ‘post-punk’ and ‘grindcore’, and are very quick at changing topics when asked to explain these terms.
The world music snobs: Among the more recent tribes to invade Mother Earth. These people stopped listening to classical, jazz and rock in the year 1980, and are now hellbent on checking sounds from any part of the world except the US, the UK and India. They have no understanding of Japanese, Swahili or Finnish, but will listen to that music devotedly, crying at happy songs, and merrily dancing to tunes that talk of despair and devastation.
The musicians they like to boast of are Edith Piaf from France, Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Ali Farka Toure from Mali, Sikiru Adepoju from Nigeria, Nana Vasconcelos from Brazil, Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico, Carmen Consoli from Italy, Hevia from Spain, Umm Kulthumm from Egypt and Sevara Nazarkhan from Uzbekhistan. Ironically, if you check their school records, most of them would have flunked in geography.
The Hindustani classical snobs: The magic word is silk, whether it’s a kurta or a saree. While the women will wear an assortment of flowers and a full moon-sized bindi, the men will have two extreme hairstyles ― either very long hair like Zakir Hussain or no hair at all.
Whatever, their primary mission is to prove how much more they know than everyone else in the nearest 10,000-km radius. If you say you’re a fan of Ravi Shankar, they’ll try and prove why Vilayat Khan was more soulful. And if you say you admire Vilayat Khan, they’ll explain why Ravi Shankar was more innovative. Basically, they were born to prove everyone else wrong, and this was actually written in their birth certificates.
The Hindustani classical snob has mugged up the names of all the ragas ever created, though he honestly doesn’t know which raga contains how many notes. But if you talk of common ragas like Yaman, Puriya Kalyan and Piloo, he will flaunt his knowledge of rare compositions in Malti Basant, Hanskinkini and Khambavati. The moment he sees an actual musician, he’ll disappear.
The Carnatic music snobs: They can’t stand any music created in the west, east and north, and even south of Kanyakumari. But unlike the snobs from other genres, they don’t belittle people who listen to Carnatic music, but instead focus all their energies on telling everybody else how this genre is far superior to everything else.
They have their reasons, of course. No other form of music has 72 parent scales and makes such intricate use of microtones, they inform you. And if that goes above your head, they’ll proudly say that India’s first music Bharat Ratna was given to a Carnatic musician, the divine M S Subbulakshmi. Once you show some understanding of their statements, they will take you into the world of Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, the holy trinity of Carnatic composers, claiming they are direct descendants of one or all of them.
Their biggest enemy is ‘fusion’ music, which the newer generation of Carnatic musicians is so blindly practising. “How can anyone replace mridangam with tabla, and play violin with guitar?” is their question. Scared of hearing anything remotely close to fusion confusion, they have stopped attending concerts totally, and prefer to hear music only through their vast CD collection. But call them music snobs, and they will smile back: “I am a purist, that’s all.”
The ghazal snobs: The men and women of words, literally. If you thought the ghazal wave took place in the 1980s, these people believe ghazals died in 1979, when singers tried to popularise the genre with simpler words, pop tunes, and most ridiculously, singing about alcohol to ensure their songs could be played in bars.
These linguistically bright people brush their teeth to Ghalib, shampoo their hair to Mir Taqi Mir and button their sherwanis to Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Day in and night out, they’ll attack you with a volley of shers in chaste Urdu, and etiquette demands you say ‘Kya baat hai’ and ‘Irshaad’ even if you don’t follow a word they utter.
Most of them believe in only two ghazal singers – Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan. Mention anyone else, and you risk yourself another round of poetry, followed by technical jargon like ‘matla’, ‘makta’, ‘kaafiya’ and ‘radeef’. Never mind, it’s always fun to see two ghazal snobs in conversation ― with both trying to prove who knows more, they almost end up in fistfights each time, with good poetry turning into foul language.
The old Hindi film music snobs: These are people who you’ll find in every nook and corner. Half of India loves old Hindi film music, and 80 per cent of them think nobody else appreciates it as well as them.
Put out a Facebook fun poll on ‘your 10 personal favourite Majrooh Sultanpuri songs’ or ‘your 10 favourite songs picturised on Shashi Kapoor’ and chances are that these people will attack everybody else who’s answered the survey because his own favourites are missing. “How can you miss this song and this song?” they’ll sneer. Then, they will put out their own top 10 which will consist of totally unheard songs which even the composers would have forgotten, or even have regretted making.
These masters at IKMTE are very likely to creep into online RD Burman fan clubs and wax eloquent about how Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanj- Anandji were better. At a party, if you mention you are a Madan Mohan fan, he’ll name 25 other music directors till you regret making that claim. And their worst target is the radio jockey ― no matter what they play, they’re accused of populist taste.
The new Hindi film music snobs: The happening dudes and divas. The people who keep up with the Joneses and Jennifers.
They have a very refined choice of music, filled with songs like ‘Fevicol’, ‘Munni badnaam’, ‘Sheila jawaan’, ‘Chammak challo’, ‘Chikni chameli’ and ‘Jalebi bai’, and they know the dance steps to all these anthems. And they seriously believe anybody who listens to classical, jazz, rock and ghazals has absolutely no taste in music, art or life.
Finally, the eclectic snobs: The latest of the lot, thanks to globalisation, YouTube and party conversation skills. People who listen to all types of genres without knowing the difference. They’ll talk of Beethoven, Bach, Brubeck, Buddy, Beatles, Bad Company, Bismillah, Bade Ghulam Ali, Balamuralikrishna, Burman, Badayuni, Balasubramaniam, Bhupinder, bhangra, be-bop, Bollywood and Bob Biswas in the same breath. They are the true wanna-Bs, and their tribe is increasing by the day.
Well, these were only a few random samples. The more you try and get deeper into music, the more you’ll interact with these music snobs. And though they probably know much more about specific genres than you and me, they are totally unaware of the basic principle that governs the art of listening – that all music is made from the same notes, and that no two sets of ears are the same. Hope they learn to enjoy and appreciate music as much as the lesser-talented lot. If they don’t, good entertainment for everyone else.