Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Celebrating World Music Day


fete

FOR the past few years, India has witnessed an increasing level of activity on June 21, to celebrate Fete de la Musique, also known as Make Music Day or World Music Day. Now, hardcore music fans will happily state that for them, every day is a music day, and some will say that we also have International Music Day on October 1, besides genre-specific days like International Jazz Day on April 30 and International Blues Day on the first Saturday of August. Others may insist that this day is meant only to celebrate the ‘world music’ genre, and wonder why everyone else who doesn’t belong to this genre is making a hue and cry.

Whatever the objections, the fact is that World Music Day, as celebrated on June 21, is getting increasing prominence in India, just like it is in many other countries. The good thing about this is that more musicians get a platform to perform and thus reach out to their audiences. From classical and folk to film and pop, one has been noticing an increasing participation. This year is no exception, and below, we list some of the things happening.

Before that, a bit about this World Music Day business. The concept of an all-day musical celebration on Summer Solstice Day was initiated in the late 1970s by American musician Joel Cohen, who spent two seasons as a producer for the France Musique radio station. In 1982, French minister of culture decided to make it a national celebration, and ever since, it has been celebrated in 120 years across the globe.

As conceived in France, the objective of this festival has been two-fold. One was to encourage amateur and professional musicians to perform in the streets. The second was to organise free concerts, making various genres of music accessible to the general public.

Times have, of course, changed. Today, the celebration of World Music Day has gone on to include paid concerts, shows at clubs, appearances on radio and even mobile phone promotions. There are no street performances, in India at least. The bottomline, of course, is that the music community has accepted the changes, simply because it helps spot new talent and gives performance or media appearance opportunities to those already established.

Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the activities taking place this year:

Radio City: The radio station actually began its celebrations on June 19 with a three-day musical affair. Now in its third year, this series on Radio City 91.1 FM will feature both established and upcoming musicians. Artistes like Kailash Kher, Raghav Sachar, Neeti Mohan, Akriti Kakar and Shibani Kashyap are part of this, besides acts like ‘a cappella’ teams Chai-Town and Penn Masala, and YouTube acts Shraddha Sharma and Hanu Dixit.

Radio City outlets in Chennai, Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam will have special events the coming week. In Chennai, artistes like G V Prakash Kumar, Anirudh, D Imman and Sean Roldan will be on air from June 22 to 26. The Hyderabad and Vizag stations will be graced by music directors RP Patnaik, MM Srilekha and Koti.

Besides this, the web radio station PlanetRadiocity.com will run a different range of specials across their 21 stations. On Radio City Freedom, RJ 2Blue will talk of 10 popular acts like Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Faridkot and Papon.

Artist Aloud events: This year, ArtistAloud.com has got into a partnership with vH1 India to have a simultaneous event in five Hard Rock Cafe outlets across India. The event will feature Papon in Mumbai, Indiva in Pune, Parikrama in Delhi, Swarathma in Bangalore and Avial in Hyderabad.

The opening acts in each city were selected after online contests.

BB King tribute: In Mumbai, Blue Frog is hosting a tribute to blues legend BB King, who passed away on May 14, Organised by Mahindra Blues, known for its annual two-day festival in February, it will feature the Blackstratblues, the blues-rock project of guitarist Warren Mendonsa. Vocalist Tejas and keyboardist Loy Mendonsa will be among the musicians performing.

The Ragas Live Festival, New York: This unique 24-hour Indian classical music marathon will feature over 60 musicians. To be held at the Central Park, it is set to be broadcast in New York over the weekend, and streamed live on the Internet for listeners around the world.

The event will be streamed live on http://www.wkcr.org and it will be archived at the station’s website and at http://www.nycradiolive.org for listeners to hear it later. The performers include vocalists Mashkoor Ali Khan and Tripti Mukherjee, sitar player Krishna Bhatt and sarod players Aashish Khan and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. Mailan kora player Yacouba Sissoko will perform with Jay Gandhi on bansuri and Ellenbogen on guitar. The Arun Ramamurthy Trio will play jazz interpretations of Carnatic compositions.

Music from Odisha: The Orissa government has planned a three-day festival featuring the essence of Odissi music at the Bhanja Kala Mandap, Bhubaneswar. A seminar on the state of Odissi music on the national and international arena will also be held.

Vocalists Lata Ghosh, Bijay Jena, Sangita Gosain and Minati Mishra will be among the performers.

Aircel promotions:
Aircel is offering its customers limitless music without any subscription charges. On the day, customers can dial toll free code 543213 or 543219 and listen to any music/ song/ album of their choice free of cost. The drive is powered by Hungama.

Aircel has also dedicated a month from June 21 to July 31, 2015 to celebrate World Music Festival. Each week will be dedicated to iconic artists and singers who have made a mark in different genres.

As one observed earlier, there’s plenty of activity this year. Whether or not you’re in a city affected by the rains, this is a great way to divert yourself.

CD review/ Swappnam – Music by Ilaiyaraaja


Ilaiya

Swappnam – Dance, Theatre, Dreams

Music: Ilaiyaraaja

Genre: Classical dance music/ Carnatic/ devotional

Label: Purple note

Price: Rs 150

Rating: *****

ONE of India’s greatest composers ever, Ilaiyaraaja has recently been in the news for providing the music for the Amitabh Bachchan-Dhanush Hindi film ‘Shamitabh’. On a more traditional note, he has also composed ‘Swappnam’, a dance ballet based on a performance by Bharatnatyam exponent Krithika Subrahmanian.

With a heavy Carnatic and devotional base dedicated to Lord Shiva, the 10 tracks take you through various emotions and situations like dreams of the young, adoration, romance, recognition, awakening, realisation, reverence, wisdom, dreams of the old and truth. The presence of talented vocalists like Poornima Satish, Sudha Raghunathan, Abishek Raghuram, Vasudha Ravi, Rajashree Pathak and Bharath Sunder lends variety.

The six-minute-plus ‘Dreams of the Young’ or ‘Aezhisayaai’ is a perfect opener. It begins with an orchestral portion played with a western classical feel and yet including Carnatic overtones, followed by Abhishek Raghuram’s vocal, set to a flute, veena, violin, mridangam and ghatam backdrop. ‘Adoration’, or ‘Kaadhaar Kuzhaiyaada’ is rendered with melodic brilliance in raag Jog by Poornima Satish and Vasudha Ravi. An extract of Adishankara’s Ardhanareeswara Ashtaka, ‘Romance’ or ‘Pradeepta Rathnojwala’ sung by popular Malayalam composer Shareth, Arunmozhi (who is actually Ilaiyaraaja’s flautist who otherwise goes by the name Napoleon) and group has excellent display of percussion.

One of the highlights is the sargam-driven voice symphony ‘Recognition’ or ‘Koovina Poonguyil’, sung by Poornima Satish and group, and beginning with the heavenly sound of birds humming. Sudha Raghunathan, Vasudha Ravi and Sreenivas team up on ‘Realisation’ or ‘Ammaye Appa’, whereas Rajashree Pathak makes apt use of raag Puriya Dhanashri on ‘Reverence’ or ‘Bhajeham’, which has the theme line ‘Bhajeham bhajeham shivoham shivoham’.

Bharath Sunder’s ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Aye Metha Kadinam’, composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, makes exquisite use of the veena. Swati Tirunal’s ‘Dreams of the Old’ or ‘Visweswara Darshan’, sung by Rajashree Pathak, Abishek Raghuram, is a melodic anthem rendered with a Hindustani feel in raag Sindhu Bhairavi with the lines ‘Visweswara darshan kar chalo man tum Kashi’.

The album concludes with a 30-second spoken stretch by Ilaiyaraaja on ‘Truth’ or ‘Anbum Shivamum’. It’s an apt ending to one of the best creations by the master-composer.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

Is rock — or any other musical genre — really dead?


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Gene Simmons

IN a controversial interview recently published in Esquire magazine, Gene Simmons of the 70s band Kiss declared that rock music is dead. Besides talking of how technology-driven practices like downloading and file-sharing have had an adverse effect on the industry, he says that what’s lacking is the presence of iconic musicians in the newer generation.

On the one hand, Simmons points out, the period between 1958 and 1983 had numerous musicians who were “unanimously considered classic, timeless, revolutionary.” The examples he cites are Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Madonna, the classic Motown artistes, Prince, Pink Floyd, so on and so forth. In contrast, in the period after the 1990s, he thinks Nirvana is the notable exception. “Where’s the next Bob Dylan? Where’s the next Beatles? Where are the songwriters? Where are the creators?” he asks.

Obviously, the interview has generated extreme reactions. While the old-timers would tend to agree with his views, the younger audiences would find the statement far-fetched and old-school, and say that post-1985 bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dream Theater and Radiohead are legendary in their own right. To each his own.

But the truth is that as a general statement, what Simmons has said is not off the mark in the sense that the past three decades or so haven’t produced the kind of legends that the earlier period did. After all, most of the new bands just carried forward the sound created by earlier masters like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.

At the same time, to declare that rock music is dead is preposterous, simply because one hears a whole bunch of younger, talented musicians these days – acts like Muse, Richard Hawley, Wilco, Jack White, the Black Keys and John Mayer. They may not be innovators or path-breakers like the 1960s brigade, but they do produce some great songs and highly listenable albums, and that matters more than anything else.

If one were to extend Simmons’ theory to other genres – both international and Indian – the same conclusion can be arrived at.

Let’s take western classical music, to begin with. Most of the innovation actually took place from the late 18th century to roughly 1950. Today, most concerts feature works of older composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, probably ending with early 20th century names like Stravinsky, Edward Elgar and Shostakovich. Though later-day composers like Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten and Karl Jenkins did some amazing work, a majority of the repertoire played belongs to the older creators.

Even among conductors, there is no one in the contemporary lot whose name carries the same weightage as Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Clive Davis or Georg Solti. A violinist like Yehudi Menuhin, a cellist like Mtistlav Rostropovich, a pianist like Daniel Barenboim, a tenor like Luciano Pavarotti or a soprano like Maria Callas is hard to find today, even though there are scores of musicians who play these instruments brilliantly or have an equal depth in their voices.

In jazz, the biggest innovators thrived between 1930 and 1975 – singer-trumpeter Louis Armstrong, bandleader Duke Ellington, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, pianists Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, guitarists John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, and jazz-fusion band Weather Report, to name some.

Today, there are hundreds of jazz virtuosos, each of whom beats the other in terms of sheer technique and wizardry. But will they be able to set the standards of the past masters? Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and singer Diana Krall are among the exceptions, rather than part of a recurring trend.

The blues has a similar story to tell. The game changers included Robert Johnson, Elmore James, BB King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy, who had all peaked before the 1970s began. In country music, when was the last time we had someone of the calibre of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn or John Denver? Or someone like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff in reggae?

A similar argument holds true with Indian music. In Hindi film music, the real path-breaking work was done between 1950 and 1975 by composers like Naushad, Anil Biswas, SD Burman, C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar, Shankar-Jaikishen, Madan Mohan, Ravi and Salil Chowdhury, to be followed by RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. Most composers after the 1990s, from AR Rahman and Nadeem-Shravan to Jatin-Lalit and Amit Trivedi, have had their good phases, but those who have grown up on the earlier masters will know the real difference.

In singing, the contributions of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt and Talat Mahmood are admired even five or six decades later. Likewise with lyricists like Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra, Rajinder Krishan, Harsat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Anand Bakshi and Gulzar.

Move over to Hindustani classical music, and one can safely argue that among vocalists, it’s difficult or even impossible to produce another Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur, Kesarbai Kerkar, Kishori Amonkar, Jasraj or Parveen Sultana. Yes, there are some really outstanding singers today, like Rashid Khan, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Jayateerth Mevundi, Shubha Mudgal, Ulhas Kashalkar, Venkatesh Kumar, Kaushiki Chakraborty and Sawani Shende, but despite their brilliance, it would be unrealistic to say they will replace the older legends.

The same is the case with Hindustani instrumental music and percussion, where sitar maestros Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan, sarod monarch Ali Akbar Khan, flautists Pannalal Ghosh and Hariprasad Chaurasia, shehnai king Bismillah Khan, santoor genius Shivkumar Sharma, and tabla greats Allarakha and Zakir Hussain have all done wonders. In Carnatic music, there can never be another MS Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman, flautist N Ramani, saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath or the relatively younger mandolin master U Shrinivas. In ghazals, can we have another Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Begum Akhtar or Ghulam Ali? Today, Pankaj Udhas is the only ghazal singer who regularly draws a full house.

KEEPING Simmons’ ‘rock is dead’ theory in mind, one can easily declare that classical is dead, jazz is dead, blues is dead, country is dead, reggae is dead, Hindi film music is dead, Hindustani classical is dead, Carnatic is dead and ghazals are dead. All these genres are as affected by downloading and file-sharing as rock music, and none of them produce the kind of icons that one heard 40 or 50 years ago.

Yet, that approach would be rather pessimistic and unfair. After all, in the past two decades or so, there have been various changes in the field of music, right from the kinds of sound created by musicians to the tastes of the audiences to the technological platforms on which the music is available to the way the music is marketed and promoted.

Like in other fields, supply in music is dependent on the demand. Over the years, there has been a drastic fall in the number of serious listeners, and in the number of listeners who are truly passionate about music.

To appreciate in-depth genres like western classical, jazz, Hindustani, Carnatic and ghazals, audiences should be clued in to the nuances. Unfortunately, relatively fewer people today understand the harmonies used in a western symphony, the improvisational technicalities of jazz, the intricacies of a Hindustani or Carnatic raga or the meaning of high-quality Urdu poetry. Overall, music appreciation has become superficial.

To cater to the newer audiences, artistes are forced to adapt or make sacrifices which try to impress with gimmickry or dilute the purity of the art form. In the world of jazz, Indi-fusion and even Indian classical, there has been an increasing emphasis on showmanship, which today’s listeners are sadly relating to and applauding.

These days, people have entertainment alternatives beside music. Many youngsters prefer to spend their time on television, gaming, computers, movies or even window-shopping at malls, as compared to music. Peer pressure also plays an important role. So even if they attend concerts, they will go for a happening rock show, dance music marathon, Bollywood nite or club gig than have a serious auditorium experience.

Unlike in the past, when music lovers collected physical copies of vinyl records, cassettes or compact discs, they store the music digitally on computers and mobile devices today. No matter how hard one tries, these newer avenues just don’t result in the same feel.

Finally, most music that works today does so because it is part of a trend. Electronic dance music (EDM) is the current rage, but the people who listen to that go more for the experience and the ambience than to understand what is being played. The disc jockeys have become superstars, though the crowd cannot often tell the difference of one from the other. Hip-hop grew as a street language and a form of rebellion, but today, people listen to it just because everyone else is listening to it. In India, we have so many fans of Sufi music, when 95 per cent of them don’t understand what the great poets Amir Khusro, Baba Bulleh Shah or Hazrat Shah Hussain talked about.

In contrast to a majority of today’s music, a large percentage of older music had the right feel and emotion. Whether it was rock, classical, jazz or country, Hindi film music, Hindustani, Carnatic or ghazals, it struck a chord and caressed your heart. And because of that, it has had longevity. Even today, we still listen to ‘Aradhana’ or ‘Abhimaan’, when we have almost stopped hearing last year’s biggest hit ‘Aashiqui 2’.

DESPITE the fact that everything goes in favour of the older music, would it be fair to say that rock – or any other genre – is dead? Maybe it isn’t as charming as it once used to be, but it still has its moments.

Iconic or not, path-breaking or not, every generation has its own set of highly talented musicians. If today’s lot hasn’t been able to create the same kind of revolution, it’s because their predecessors practically did everything. Over the years, whatever needed to be innovated in music, has already been done. Today, there is hardly any scope for creating a new sound or sub-genre, without being in some form influenced by the past.

As such, it would be ridiculous to expect contemporary musicians to have the same kind of landmark achievements as the previous lot did. As long as they produce good music, it shouldn’t be matter. If they don’t, one always has the option to listen to someone else. With the right ear and approach, one will always find a lot of good things to hear. It’s important to have an open, progressive mind and give today’s music a chance.

What is Sufi music and what is indie?


AS of now, not many people may be aware of Arijit Dutta, music director of ‘Filmistaan’. While he has composed a few good tunes like ‘Uljhi uljhi’ and ‘Bebaak’ which go well with the movie, it is still early to talk of his future prospects. However, one was delighted to read his interview this morning, where he said he doesn’t want to be associated with the term ‘Sufi music’, because it’s just being used as a fad, and that people are actually misusing the term.

Dutta has clearly hit the nail on the head with his observations. ‘Sufi’ is one of the two terms that musicians and music industry folk across India are using without really knowing or understanding its meaning. The other term to become trendy over the past few years is ‘indie’, and one is tired of listening to people use it without really being able to define it.

Let’s try and look at both the terms in detail, and mention what exactly our grouse is against the way they are being used:

Sufi music: In its original sense, Sufi music is a traditional and devotional form associated with the group of mystics known as Sufis. The qawwali and kaafi are the most popular forms of Sufi music, and have been associated with great poets like Baba Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Hussain, Amir Khusro, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Rumi and Hafez.

Among singers, one would associate Sufi music with Pakistani singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sabri Brothers, Pathaney Khan and Abida Parveen, and Indian groups like Wadali Brothers and Nizami Brothers. There are also certain tribal groups in Rajasthan who blend Sufi and folk music well. Through their voices and by following a certain pattern of instrumentation, all these artistes have stuck to the true meaning and purity of Sufi music.

Sufi music has always had a restricted but devoted audience in India. To make it more accessible to the masses, attempts were made to modernise it by infusing it with pop sounds. This is where the problem began.

Soon, anybody using a few technical vocal patterns was named – or began naming himself – a Sufi artiste. By adding typical words like ‘Maula’ and ‘Khuda’, songs were dubbed Sufi. Even filmmakers and music directors insisted on using one or two such songs in every film, and music companies released compilations of Sufi music containing tunes that were anything but Sufi. ‘Sufi-rock’ became a fad too, though only a few bands like Junoon, Mekaal Hasan Band and Fuzon got the mix right.

To be fair, there have been a few instances when some good music has been created with a Sufi influence, especially by A R Rahman, Kailash Kher and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. But it would have been adequate to describe these songs as ones inspired by Sufi music instead of saying they were a full-blown part of Sufi music.

It’s been over a decade since people have misused the term Sufi music. Sadly, the trend still continues. As such, it was heartening to hear Dutta’s views on the subject, especially at a time when most well-known music directors claim to be producing Sufi music.

Indie music: Our problem with the term ‘indie music’ has more to do with the fact that there is no specific way to describe what it means, and yet one sees so many people who claim to be backing this form.

Yes, the term ‘indie music’ started in the west to describe music produced by artistes who were independent or partly dependent on the mainline record labels. They would pay for, record and produce music albums or songs on their own. In most cases they would sell directly in stores, or even online. However, at times they have approached the big labels for distribution.

Depending on the kind of music they produced, ‘indie’ groups in the west were clubbed in sub-genres like indie-rock, indie-metal and indie-pop (not to be confused with Indipop, or Indian pop music).

The same rules were initially applied in India, where ‘indie music’ was used to describe musicians who released their own albums. A lot of underground talent was discovered. Music awards ceremonies began giving separate awards for indie artistes, events like Nh7 Weekender were built up around the indie scene, radio stations had separate indie shows and even a channel called MTV Indies was floated to cater to this segment.

The audience too caught the indie bug. Ask many youngsters today about what music they like, and they will tell you they are fans of ‘indie’ music. But ask them to define it, and chances are that many of them won’t even relate it to the term ‘independent’.

In the Indian context, what exactly is ‘indie music’? If one looks at artistes associated with indie music in India, they include rock bands like Thermal and a Quarter, alternative groups Spud in the Box and Sky Rabbit, jazz artistes like Adil & Vasundhara and Shefali Alvares, fusion bands Indian Ocean and Agam, electronic outfits Dualist Inquiry and Shaa’ir & Funk, hip-hop/ drum ‘n’ bass band Bombay Bassment and the reggae-influenced Skavengers. Even veteran rock bands like Indus Creed and Parikrama are being called ‘indie’.

While most of the artistes mentioned are genuinely talented, the truth is that none of them have any connection with each other in terms of sound. How can all of them be clubbed under one type of music, when they are themselves so varied?

People have started using the term ‘indie’ for any kind of music which isn’t mainstream, which doesn’t belong to Hindi or regional films, which isn’t classical, which isn’t devotional, which isn’t ghazal or which doesn’t fit in any genre that can be specifically labelled. In short, just because it’s become fashionable to promote ‘indie music’, people are going all out to support it, even if there is no actual way of defining it.

Over the years, the music industry has been using various names to describe many genres and their numerous sub-genres. But there was some method to it. Today, a term like ‘Sufi music’ is being misused, whereas ‘indie’ is being used without being understood.

The candid autobiography of a seasonal one-song wonder


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Taher Shah (left) and Keith Meisner, who have both become YouTube hits

Hey everybody,

Let me introduce myself. They call me SS, which is short for Seasonal Sensation. I’m not a fruit, flower or fashion fad as many of you may think, but a singer who’s made a mark with only one hit. A one-song wonder.

I change my name regularly, using that of the artiste who’s behind the hit. I’ve existed for years, but currently I’m in the news for two reasons.

The first one is in the form of British amateur singer Keith Meisner, who performed this song ‘Under the lights’ as a tribute to tennis star Andy Murray. He created it some time last year. And luckily for him, Murray won this year’s Wimbledon, and the song became an overnight YouTube hit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the singer had blared the song repeatedly in opponent Novak Djokovic’s ears just before the final. No wonder he couldn’t hear the referee.

My second avatar comes in the form of Pakistani singer Taher Shah. In April, this businessman-cum-chief executive-cum-singer-cum-composer-cum-lyricist-cum-writer-cum-model-cum-actor-cum-producer-cum-director-cum-white suit ambassador-cum-hairstyle trendsetter (I think I forgot something) released an English song called ‘Eye to eye’. It became a viral sensation in June. The media hailed him as a ‘sensation’ and ‘musical genius’. Yippee! Once again, I became famous. What’s interesting is that Taher says he took some 15 years to write lines like “Substantial love is heaven for precise eyes. Spectacular eyes, our eyes, my eyes and your eyes, eye to eye, eye to eye.” Eye, eye, yo!

I’m sure you folks are getting the drift of how I function. Every few months, I appear in the mind, body and soul of some wannabe singer. I appear as a hit song, and make sure it is a rage for a few months. I see how the egos of these singers get inflated suddenly, and that’s when I step in again. Quickly, I ensure this singer’s next song is a commercial disaster, and that he or she is forgotten forever, so that I reappear in the form of another target. He becomes rich and famous, and suddenly disappears. So on and so forth. I’ve been doing this for years.

I don’t know when I began this job of mine. I’ve become old and my memory fails me. But what I can assure you is that I’ve been equally prolific in Indian music and international music. I know where and when the grass is greener.

My earliest memory would probably be the music group Archies, who are known for only one song — the 1969 hit ‘Sugar Sugar’. Closer home, I came in the shape of Vijay Benedict in ‘I am a disco dancer’, Pakistani singer Hasan Jehangir in ‘Hawa hawa’, Altaf Raja in ‘Tum toh thehre pardesi’, Sapna Awasthi in ‘Chaiyya chaiyya’, and barely two years ago, in Dhanush in ‘Why this kolaveri di’. Why? Why? Why?

There were also Sapna Mukherjee’s ‘Tridev’ song ‘Oye Oye’ and Baba Sehgal’s ‘Thanda thanda paani’, and though both these singers would send out a long bio-data of 20 other projects they’ve done, you and me know that these were their only hits, and that Baba had lifted it from another one-song wonder – Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice ice baby’.

Abroad, I’ve appeared as frequently as possible. To cite just a few examples, there were Carl Douglas’s ‘Kung fu fighting’, Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky town’, Anita Ward’s ‘Ring my bell’, the Buggles’ ‘Video killed the radio star’, Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted love’, Patrick Hernandes’ ‘Born to be alive’, Survivor’s ‘Eye of the tiger’, Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No 5’, Los Del Rio’s ‘Macarena’, Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’, Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Achy breaky heart’, Rednex’s ‘Cotton eyed Joe’ and Baha Men’s ‘Who let the dogs out?’. I haven’t spared the Koreans either, as I let PSY have one worldwide hit in ‘Gangnam style’, before he released the utterly forgettable and Seoul-less ‘Gentleman’.

I could go on and on, and write an encyclopaedia. But which publisher in his right senses will publish a book on one-song wonders? My talent in books is nothing in comparison to my talent in music, and I denitely don’t want to be remembered as a one-book wonder. So, based on my experiences, I would like to share a few things in the next few paragraphs.

To begin with, how do I choose my latest avatar? Honestly, that is a mystery to me. I myself have been unable to fathom why some absolutely silly songs like ‘Tubthumping’, ‘Who let the dogs out?’, ‘Tum toh thehre pardesi’ and ‘Kolaveri di’ could become such a huge craze. It may have something to do with the mood of the moment. And obviously, it also has something to do with the people who like such songs. I wish I could call them dumb and tasteless, but then, it’s because of them that I keep going. So I’ll insist they are smart and cultured.

Secondly, some of these songs are actually very listenable. ‘Eye of the tiger’ is one of the classic rock songs, ‘Macarena’ is still a rage when played on the dance floor, and ‘I am a disco dancer’ still attracts both ordinary people and composer Bappi Lahiri fans. What’s surprising is that the singers of these songs didn’t have the acumen to release even one more song which matched even closely. It must have been a fluke, it must have been luck, or a combination of both. Sorry, this is a family blog, so I dare not think of any word combining ‘fluke’ and ‘luck’.

Third and most important, once a song is super-successful, most singers will just tend to repeat the formula in their next few songs. And this is where they fumble. I know that this will invariably fail, but as I am looking at a new avatar myself, I encourage them to keep repeating the same thing till the listeners dismiss them forever. How wicked of me!

Whatever the reason for their limited success, I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s great fun watching most of these musicians the moment they get their first hit. They think they have conquered the world, and that they have become true legends. Ha ha! Wish they understood that one has to release hits regularly, and not once in a lifetime. The worst thing for any singer is to be tagged with a single song, though honestly, these people are better off than those who haven’t had a single hit at all. And I’ll be polite enough not to take the names of so many hitless singers who tried to sing Indi-paap in the late 90s.

At this stage, I am obviously wondering who my next apparition will be. For me, life has become so much easier with YouTube and all this free downloading that I am taking the examples of ‘Kolaveri di’, ‘Gangnam style’, ‘Under the lights’ and ‘Eye to eye’ to rework my long-term strategy. I’ve already made a beginning by hiring people to click the same video link from morning to evening for days and weeks so that it increases the number of views. Nothing like creating hype, false or otherwise. But with the music scenario changing so fast, I need to think of something more innovative.

My only relief is that Taher took 15 years to write ‘Eye to eye’. The moment I dump him and move on to my next target, I don’t have to worry about him singing another song for another 15 years. As for Meisner, going by past record, he may have to wait another 77 years for the next Britisher to win Wimbledon and inspire him to do another song. He may be gone by then, but I’ll definitely be around. Till my next seasonal hit, adieu!

Yours sinc-ear-ly

SS

The hilarious and crazy world of music snobs


snob1

(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.

Memories of another day….


ALL hardcore music buffs have nostalgia-packed tales to tell on how they got into particular musicians or bands or genres. The hitch is that only people with similar tastes identify with and appreciate such stories. Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d jot down something personal this time — probably for want of any other ‘sob’-ject to cry about in this blog. The topic is simple: how did I get into particular genres of music?

Over the years, my fortune has been that I have been exposed to and have experienced practically all genres of music closely. Good for me, not so good for those around me. Some came early on in life, and some pretty much later. Some were permanent fascinations, others were one-night bands. Many were among my favourite, some were not — specially if they were way too loud, or were overflooded with expletives.

Here, I shall stick to the musical styles I have loved most, and how and when I got deeply into them. Having grown up in Mumbai and Delhi, India, I heard a lot of Indian music, though I was lucky to have been exposed a lot of western sounds too. This article is about my early favourites in each genre, and not about my actual favourites in those styles. So in case you don’t find the name Miles Davis or Leonard Cohen or Ustad Amir Khan or Talat Mehmood, it was because I discovered them much later.

To make things simple, I shall stick to 10 genres – five international and five Indian.

INTERNATIONAL:

Pop/ early 70s: Before pop, it was the evergreens. Back in the early 70s, when I was eight or nine, my uncle carried a portable record player whenever he visited Mumbai. His collection included Cliff Richard, Jim Reeves, Harry Belafonte and Perry Como. But the one I heard secretly in his absence was ‘The Sound Of Music’ score —I could actually operate the system at that age, and had all the making of a gadget freak which I never turned out to be.

The actual pop listening happened at the age of 15, when Boney M and ABBA were on the charts. Everybody in class heard them, and soon, we moved on to the Bee Gees with ‘Saturday Night Fever’, with some of us trying out a John Travolta hairstyle, whether it suited us or not. The ‘Grease’ soundtrack soon followed. I was studying in Delhi then, and thanks to local radio, got into Brotherhood of Man, George Baker Selection, Diana Ross, Cat Stevens and Lobo. I heard a bit of country too, like John Denver and Glen Campbell, and in a more danceable mood, it was Cerrone, Lipps Inc and Donna Summer. Aaah, lurv ta luv ya bay-beee.

Rock/ 1981: A natural evolution from pop, which suddenly became passé, the rock craze began in the last year of school and had set in by the first year of college. Yes, I had heard some songs of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Uriah Heep by then, but that was because they played on the radio, which I would switch off whenever these bands came on. Then, a couple of friends had told me about Jethro Tull, but it was only when a friend played the ‘Bursting Out Live’ tape that I became a rabid fan (or ‘rabbit’ fan, as I would say those days). Talking of Tull, I always thought ‘Aqualung my friend’ was ‘Backward on my bench’… and I promise I had a very clean mind.

Soon, it moved to Doors, Traffic, Moody Blues and Santana — followed by Floyd, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Queen, Bad Company and Allman Brothers Band. A proper exploration of the Beatles also took place. There was a bit of metal too, with Judas Priest, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot and the Scorpions. But that was more because it was the latest fad in college.

The Stones? Not for another seven or eight years, but once I heard them properly in the late 80s, they gave me total ‘satisfaction’.

Jazz/ 1984: A school teacher Philip Burrett, who also happened to be my neighbour, regularly played pop-jazz acts like George Benson, Grover Washington and Chuck Mangione. I would overhear them very casually, but never made a conscious attempt to get into jazz. It was at a concert by French guitarist Christian Escoude and his quartet in 1984 that I got converted. My father had a couple of invites for the show, followed by a dinner invitation from the organiser Aliiance Francaise. The host Philippe Lenglet played records of Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon and Thelonious Monk. Many guests appreciated them — or at least pretended they did.

A few weeks later, I heard trumpeter Woody Shaw at the Jazz Yatra in Delhi, and this was a confirmation that jazz was one of the most exciting genres around. I went on to have records taped, and my collection would soon include ‘The Best Of George Benson’, Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’, the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’, Chuck Mangione’s ‘Love Notes’ and John Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’. And two rarer ones —‘In Flagranti Delicto’ by Ian Carr’s band Nucleus and ‘Live from Concord to London’ by super-singer Ernestine Anderson.

Yes, with the Shakti tour of 1984, Indo-jazz fusion also became a favourite, and it was a delight seeing guitarist John McLaughlin, tabla wizard Zakir Hussain, violinist L Shankar and ghatam exponent Vikku Vinayakram on stage. Their album ‘Natural Elements’ played on my system at least twice a day.

Since I am not including it as another genre, a bit about World Music. I must have had my first taste in the late 90s, with records from Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, but slowly had many favourites from different countries – Ali Farka Toure, Afro Celt Sound System, Hevia, Hugh Masakela and Angelique Kidjo coming instantly to mind.

Blues/ 1986: I had heard a fair amount of blues without knowing it was the blues. I had liked Eric Clapton, but with my limited knowledge at that time and the fact that I hadn’t grown beyond ‘Lay Down Sally’, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Cocaine’ (the song, not the substance), I never associated him with the blues. Ernestine Anderson, whom I mentioned in the jazz section, also had some typical blues songs. Then, in 1986, thanks to an intellectual and pretty-much snobbish friend, I got into a BB King compilation. He rattled off a list of names for me to hear, but no thank you, BB King sounded good enough to BB-gin with.

Yet it took me another five or six years to begin exploring the genre deeply. Suddenly, in the early 90s, I got into Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and blues-rock musicians Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore. And Eric Clapton’s 1994 release ‘From The Cradle’, which featured his version of blues classics, had made me more interested in the genre. Never mind if half the blues songs I heard started with ‘Woke up this morning and my baby had gone away… to another man… a-hoooooo’.

Western classical/ 2003: A very late arrival on my list. Yes, I had heard western classical rather sporadically, but I didn’t follow it for a long time. In the 80s, I had seen a live telecast of a Zubin Mehta concert but it all sounded Greek. As a journalist, I had interviewed classical musicians without knowing the difference between a symphony and a string quartet. God bless them.

The transformation happened during a visit to Munich in 2003, when I also made brief visits to Vienna, the capital of western classical music, and Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart. I attended quite a few concerts, including a rendition of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ at Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace, Johann Strauss Jr’s ‘The Blue Danube’ played everywhere in Vienna, and while the whole of Vienna and the rest of Europe was sick and tired of hearing it, it was on the top of my charts. It was only a matter of time that I picked up a few books on western classical music, and many CDs of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Stravinsky, Chopin, etc, etc. Like many other western classical buffs I knew, I learnt the art of name-dropping. And I soon realised that an allegro was not related to an alligator.

INDIAN

Hindi film/ 1970: Hindi film music played all the time on the radio. A cousin was deeply into songs from Raj Kapoor films, and I quite liked some of them. But it was with Rajesh Khanna movies like ‘Aradhana’, ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, ‘Anand’ and ‘Andaz’ that I got totally hooked on to the genre.

Of course, as a kid, I never really bothered about who the music director and lyricist were. I identified the songs with the stars more, though yes, I could recognise which songs were sung by Kishore Kumar,  Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh (for his ‘Mera Naam Joker’ and ‘Anand’ songs). I had heard Rafi and Asha, without knowing they were Rafi and Asha. I was one of RD Burman’s biggest fans without really knowing of his existence.

Hindustani classical/ 1971: My mother had just begun learning from Pandit Jasraj’s senior disciple Chandrashekhar Swami. So I got to hear a bit of classical music at home — though my ‘Bachelor Boy’ and ‘Bimbo’ competed with her more traditional ‘Bhoop’ and ‘Bhimpalasi’.

We would go for most Pandit-ji’s concerts in Mumbai —still remember his rendition of ‘Malkauns’ and ‘Hansadhwani’, though I didn’t understand the difference then. I also remember attending concerts by Hirabai Badodekar, Bhimsen Joshi,  Kishori Amonkar, Ghulam Mustafa Khan and the upcoming and charismatic Parveen Sultana.

Strangely, instrumental music came much later, as my parents were more into vocal music. The only exception was Bismillah Khan, whose shehnai was played at weddings and on TV. But in 1976, at a music festival in Delhi, two instrumental performances left me dazzled – N Rajam on violin and Shivkumar Sharma on santoor. I became a huge fan of tabla player Shafaat Ahmed Khan, who accompanied Shivkumar-ji — I was yet to hear of Zakir Hussain. I also saw the great sitar player Nikhil Banerjee at a private concert, and knew of Amjad Ali Khan because he came frequently in the still-to-be-named-page 3 of those days. However, it took me a few years to get into my later favourites of Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain.

Carnatic music/ 1982: One regret is that I haven’t heard Carnatic music as much as I’d have loved to, or followed it as deeply as the true aficionados. But without getting deep into the nuances, I have always been moved by the genre.

In final year of college, a class-mate Arvind and I listened to a lot of Jethro Tull together. His parents were deeply into Carnatic music, and at his place, I had my first taste of vocalist M S Subbulakshmi and violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. I also saw violinists T N Krishnan and MS Gopalakrishnan at various concerts, and found them simply outstanding. But with Arvind and I going different ways to pursue our respective career paths, there was a prolonged stoppage to my Carnatic listening. Much later, I began exploring the genre more deeply, specially after getting to know violinist L Subramaniam who gifted me a copy of his book ‘Euphony’. But as I said, there’s still a lot left to learn — though I guess I’ve learnt how to move my hands along with the music.

Ghazals/ 1982: My first exposure to ghazals came through Ghulam Ali’s ‘Chupke Chupke’, which was used in the film ‘Nikaah’.  Soon, I got some of his popular songs like ‘Awaargi’ and ‘Hungama’ recorded. The ghazal craze was in full swing in India, and very quickly, I began hearing a lot of Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Rajendra-Nina Mehta and Talat Aziz. My college friend Rahul Dutt and I would have listening sessions beginning with Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Simon & Garfunkel and Uriah Heep, but slowly moving into Pankaj Udhas and Jagjit-Chitra. Though we didn’t do it on purpose, it also ensured that a lot of unwanted elements left after the rock got over.

The first exposure to Mehdi Hassan came in 1984 when I bought some LPs from a friend. A compilation which contained ‘Ranjish hi Sahi’, ‘Mohabbat Karne Wale Kam Na Honge’, ‘Patta  Patta’ and ‘Zindagi Mein Toh Sabhi’ became instant favourites. Two years later, having taken up a job at Times of India in Jaipur, I would constantly quarrel with a flat mate Abhay Kant who insisted on playing Begum Akhtar when I needed to play Jethro Tull. Well, he never got into Tull, but I became a huge fan of Begum Akhtar.

Strangely, Sufi music came much later, sometime in 1995 when I was the only person in my group who hadn’t heard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. How illiterate of me. Anyway, I became an instant fan of his and of Abida Parveen, though what irritates me today is that way people are now misusing the term Sufi music by associating it with anything that uses a few specific words and a certain style.  

Regional/ recent: As a child, I had heard a lot of Kannada film songs whenever I visited by hometown of Dharwad in north Karnataka. Besides songs sung by Dr Rajkumar, I loved the music of the film ‘Upasane’. As a child, I also managed to hear a fair amount of popular Marathi songs, and in college, there was a brief phase of Hemant Kumar’s Rabindra Sangeet, more to impress the Bengali girls.

But the actual craze for regional music is very recent, kicked off by my regular official tours. A few years ago, I got into RD Burman’s Bengali songs thanks to close friend and music buddy Hemant Kenkre, but when I visited Kolkata last year, I decided to buy a lot of Bengali music – RDB, SD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Hemant Kumar, Shyamal Mitra, Suchitra Mitra, Purandas Baul, Goshtogopal Das, to name a few.

On that tour, I decided that whenever I visited a city, I’d pick up some of its regional music. So on a visit to Bhubaneswar, I bought CDs of singer Akshaya Mohanty, whose song ‘Kishori’ is something I hear for hours on end. In Hyderabad, I bought CDs of Ghantasala and Ilayaraja, who I now believe is one of the greatest composers India has known. In Bangalore, I bought a lot of new Kannada film music. And in Amritsar, I bought a collection of shabds played at the Golden Temple. I went to a popular music store in Jaipur, and didn’t find any Rajasthani music. Jai ho.

The interesting thing about some of these genres is that I love them even if I don’t follow the language. Anyway, I guess that’s better than following the language, and not loving the music, which is happening with me in the case of a lot of newer ‘Bawly’-wood music.

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