So I say, Thank you for the music.
It might be jazz but it will speak of us. We need not carry sitars and tablas. Meet the young new band of Indian musicians on the edgy threshold of sound and symphony
Ankita Chawla Delhi
Julie Andrews, many years ago, rolled out the notes to tell us how infinite sounds of music can be created from the mere eight notes. At no point has it been truer than now. This new year, there is music in the air.
As the arts are more open to experimentation, music-makers are exploring untouched chords and untried rhythms. The sea-change in the scale and rate at which individual artists are cropping up, becoming visible, experimenting with their sounds, and succeeding with new symphonies, seem to be pushing the margins beyond the known limits of the art.
Certainly, 2010 will not only carry on the non-conformist legacy of the last year's musical originality, it will also create new melody, unimaginable flights of imagination, authentic, indigenous sounds and lyrics of resistance and protest (with and beyond Indian Ocean), and a refreshing young language of non-commercial music. That's the beginning of a song of hope in the fragmented musical landscape of small town-big city India.
While Bollywood still remains the dominant platform (both morbid and elevated), meaningful music is emerging in many formats and creative pursuits are finding an audience. The underlying non-commercial scene in Delhi has been ever-present, but the exposure and approval it is receiving now is unparalleled. Credit goes to the new breed of musicians and music buffs that are eager to break out of the rigid moulds set so far. Besides, music is flowing into the urban social situation from across the world and alien influences are becoming points of orientation.
Vasundhara Vidalur believes it is this new urban scenario which churns out successful tracks out of the many experiments. "We belong to the breed of urban Indians who have grown up in a very hybrid setting. We are as Indian as it gets, yet, we associate ourselves a lot with what's non-Indian. Turkish bands are as much part of our play lists as Masakkali. We churn out music that is rooted in our 'hybridity'. It might be jazz but it will speak of us. We need not carry sitars and tablas."
Vasundhara comprises one half on the collaborative jazz and R&B outfit, Sunny Side Up, with Adil Manuel. They got together in 2009 and have already performed all over the country with artists across the spectrum of languages and genres.
Creativity is a matter of personal choice and preference. It need not conform to the overwhelming sounds around us. It is a result of frequencies and instruments resonating on the same volume. It is not defined by the number of records sold, but the satisfaction at having created something fresh, meaningful and original, which lingers and stays.
"There is something really pure about being in the zone when creation is happening. And the moments spent in that creative activity are really alive," says Aseem Suri, singer and composer, who quit his job to pursue music full-time and is currently working on what he calls 'The Open Door Project'.
"While writing for The Open Door Project, the concentration is always on being creative and doing what the song demands. In a way, the song does write itself. The process of creating music becomes almost like an unfolding. The opportunity to create something out of nothing, using whatever tools one can gather and carry along, and then sit with them, waiting for them to play in your head."
Vasundhara accedes to this organic growth of music, one where composition is a natural process. With Sunny Side up she explores this ever-fascinating territory. "We essentially do what is instinctive. We aren't musicians who have been theoretically trained but we have our own approaches. And then we are all from very different musical backgrounds too. Sometimes the mix of energies can really throw up some great stuff."
That does not make instruction redundant. Christine D'souza straddles comfortably between the commercial and non-commercial music scene. She is a back-up vocalist with Euphoria and has been teaching western vocals for almost four years. She is interested in structured education - music reading, chord families and harmonies. "Although reading music is not a new concept around here, it has never been popular with young people. If one is introduced to it at an early stage, it is way easier. It's like learning a different language altogether."
Christine sees this change as being played out in plain, quantitative aspects as well. "Structured music has been steadily gaining interest. It's not only children, but people in their 20s and 30s are also interested in technicalities. This year, around 100 children from the music school appeared for grade examinations, which is a huge leap compared to the mere 15 in 2006."
As enthusiasm and appreciation for the evolving form grows, the definition of what is commercial also unfolds. Anindo Bose is a keyboard player and composer. He is self-taught and keeps himself immersed in hours of music with his two bands, Advaita and Artists Unlimited, and inside his studio where he does commercial work.
Advaita is an ethnic-eclectic fusion of Hindustani and western musical nuances. The eight member band marked for its innovative compositions has had a rollercoaster of a year, with pan-India tours, their debut album, Grounded in Space, and their first music video. Anindo is well settled in his line of work, though it's not all hunky dory.
"I'm really glad that I get to do what I always dreamt of doing as a student, and very thankful to God that I can make a living out of it, because it's very scary when there's no work. It looks easy from the outside, but music as a full-time career is a different ball game."
Music is still a hard nut to crack though it's the crevasses in the hard ground that seem to provide an opportunity to strike a chord that is completely distinct. "Music in 2010, well, it will pan out in 7.1 surround sound." This is 'Hope Anindo'.
Vasundhara too, is excited about where things are going: "Things are really cooking here! I somehow feel there is a huge movement underway. You see bands like Avial and the Raghu Dixit project where regional stuff is juxtaposed over arrangement that isn't Indian at all. Yet, many Indians are beginning to listen and appreciate. I feel that this stuff comes only with a certain degree of maturity in how young people look at themselves and how they rate themselves vis-à-vis the world at large. There is this huge surge in the level of open-mindedness in India at the compositional level and in the audience mindset."
Looking at 2009, music in 2010 seems to be at the focus of a complex surge of individual artists, concepts and creations. Anindo spells out this drift:
"If you look at 2009, a lot of Indian bands came out with albums, and it was really good for the music circuit. There's finally something more than film music. It is time Indian independent musicians start occupying the music store spaces which have been filled with music from overseas for so long."
With new bands, new sounds and new opportunities, jazz, rock, classical western and Hindustani could all perform in unison on one stage and the pure creative nerve would be amplified. For artists like Aseem, who yearn to see the old formula broken, "Things are changing, and not so slowly."
Aseem trusts the growing sensitivity of the audience. "As long as one does honest work, it should be okay," he says. "The sincerity comes across and the audience can see it. You can tell from their faces and the tapping of their toes." He equates the perceptible newness of music in 2010 with the idea of self-indulgence. "That would be a fun place to be."