What is Indian music? Most of us might imagine a guy in kurta pyjama playing a classical instrument or maybe even a lady in a saari singing harmoniously That’s fair enough. But if I were to say, what about a rock band pumping up the audience with killer guitar solos and masterful riffs? Or how about a metal band head banging with long hair and dark clothes? Or even a DJ, doing his or her magic behind a electronic set up? Do remember, all of them are Indians and are playing original compositions.
The sad truth is that these examples often come last or not at all in the train of thought and it most definitely is not due to the lack of talent or quality around us.
If you aren’t ardent supporters of the independent music scene but still think that it’s totally cool for Indians to play music which is in the western form, be it the language they use or the instruments they play, I want to ask; why don’t you support them? You share music of foreign artists who are internet sensations. You line up to pay for artists from overseas and can’t even go for a free gig at a local club. See, I’m not aiming at anyone. All I’m asking you is what about the Indians who make music
As Indians, I sometimes feel, we have a major inferiority complex. Many of you might think music produced by people from India isn’t that good or maybe it’s ‘good for Indian standards’. That very thought holds you back from being open to any musician what so ever who is trying to make it. But what if I were to tell you Indian music is great? What if I tell you that there are some acts in the circuits that deserve to be on a worldwide platform?
This blog will cater to promote independent musicians and artists across the country but today I’m here to talk about something that has been hovering the internet over the past few months which might interest the few of you who have made it so far.
As you might have observed I’ve been calling it ‘Indian Music’, not alternative, not indie, not genre specific but Indian. This six episode masterpiece, ‘Standing By’ produced by Only Much Louder(OML) and Red Bull India, aims at redefining it’s meaning. It is a vast digital archive of everything that has happened in the independent western Indian music over the past century. It covers everything from jazz, rock, metal to dance and electronic music. It has something for everyone. To get you a teeny bit psyched about the our history and maybe get you interested in the booming independent scene, here are thirty awesome points (which we got from this very documentary) everyone should know :
1. Western music has been here longer than Bollywood when travelling musicians were called by the elite to do shows in India. The music travelled in railway towns via gramophones.
2. A Nepali man changed his name from Pushkar Bahadur to George Banks and his son is the legendary Louis Banks.
3. When Dave Brubeck chose a piano to play when he came down in 1958, he was surprised to see a bunch of Indian men carrying the huge instrument over their heads. Coolies were the most primitive form of roadies in India.
4. Many earlier musicians were heavily influenced by the western music offered by the Asia wide radio of Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka.
5. During the British explosion many of the Indian youth grew fond of The Beatles, because when Harrison started experimenting with Indian music and maharishis, it was heavily covered in the newspaper.
6. The 1970 screening of the Woodstock documentary had local bands playing in the theatre before the show. It later culminated to ‘Sneha Yatra’ in 1971 in which had 4000 hippies gathered in Lonavala to enjoy rock music and discuss poetry, politics and more all under the haze of fresh Maharashtra weed.
7. One of the earliest lady groups in India was a quartet called The Ladybirds.
8. Dilip Balakrishnan was the front man of The Great Bear (later changed their name to High) and was considered to be one of the unique voices of his time. He put melodies into The Lord Of The Ring soundtracks and was considered by the people who knew him a legend in making. He sadly passed away at a rather tender age due to cancer.
9. Instrument quality back in the day were terrible. In fact, things were so bad that The Fentones from Shillong had a ‘Tea Chest Bass’ which essentially was a tea chest box that you would block from all sides, have a small hole in the middle, a stick in a corner and tie a string. On adjusting the string you would get a bass sound.
10. There were many youth magazines back then like the Junior Statesmen (JS) and Dateline Delhi which promoted local indie artists. We also had one of our earliest fanzines called ‘Blue Rhythm’ started by couple of Jazz enthusiasts in 1952.
11. There were many beat contests over the years for bands to participate in. ‘Simla Beat Contest’ was one of the more organized ones which was sponsored by ‘Simla’, a brand of cigarettes.
12. Park Street of Calcutta was one of the most vibrant streets of the country. The street was filled with musicians having jam sessions, cabaret, stand up, magicians, drag acts and much more.
13. Bhaskar Menon was responsible of getting the freshest music to India. He was the man behind Gramophone Company which later changed its name to the legendary HMV records. He also has a picture with Paul McCartney of The Beatles.
14. When a band was doing a cover of Led Zeppelin in Slip Disk club in October ’72, they were a bit confused with the sudden gala surrounding two white guys who had entered the club during their set. As it turned out it was Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. They joined the band for a jam.
15. Earlier, there was a serious lack of musical instruments. Bands ended up buying all the instruments that foreigners and hippies left behind. People claim that some of the instruments were used by the likes of ‘The Who’.
16. Two Bombay bands, Mirage and Rock Machine, were scheduled to play at St. Xavier’s college. But one of the college’s faculty members objected to the gig being held in the college, so a student decided to move it to Rang Bhavan next door. But when the bands got to Rang Bhavan, this guy was no where to be found. Farhad Wadia of Mirage and Mark Selvig of Rock Machine decided to sell tickets for the gig and called it ‘Independence Rock’. Wadia kept running it for three decades and for many I-Rock is considered to be the cult festival.
17. Rang Bhavan was a legendary venue and people still consider it to be unparalleled. The Police played in Rang Bhavan. This was sadly shut down by the government owing to the ‘disturbance’ it caused in the neighbourhood.
18. In the 80’s, a concert was held to help the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy called ‘Aid Bhopal Concert’ in Brabone Stadium with a crowd of ten thousand and featuring artists like Remo Fernandez, Gary Lawyer and Rock Machine.
19. Lou Majaw of Shillong held many Bob Dylan tributes. He increased the value of lyrics and brought discipline in the lifestyle of the musicians of the now rock capital of India, Shillong. He was known for wearing mismatched socks and skin tight shorts.
20. Meghalaya Aids Control Society held a band competition called the Meghalaya Icon. The winning bands went to various villages in Meghalaya and spreads AIDS awareness. They sang for various people like truck drivers and workers of red-light area and simultaneously educated them.
21. In 1989 Rajiv Gandhi sent various bands and artists to the Soviet to change India’s image. Artists like Louis Banks, Leslie Louis, Gary Lawyer and Rock Machine were sent on private planes where caviar was served.
22. Rock Machine was going to be called Rock n Roll Machine but the promoter of their first event didn’t have enough money to have a poster with the whole name painted. They settled for this name which later became Rock Machine. Years later they changed in into ‘Indus Creed’ and won the MTV Video Music Award(Asian Viewer’s choice) for ‘Pretty Child’.
23. In 1993, a young Amit Saigal from Allahabad was working the night shift in his father’s printing press when he decided to print 2500 copies of a fanzine called RockStreet Journal. This was the first publication dedicated solely to Indian rock. He then went on doing The Great Indian Rock festival (GIR) in Delhi and also made it’s compilation album of original compositions. Fondly called as ‘Papa Rock’ he is considered by many a legend and is sorely missed after his untimely death in 2012.
24. In 1997 a man called Bhopal Navale of Bangalore held a freedom jam to celebrate the country’s 50th year of freedom. They promoted it by travelling in an open Jeep, playing at particular stops and distributing the pamphlets before the cops came. The crowd count transformed from 500 to 5000 over the course of few years until finally it was shut by the cops.
25.In 1999, IIM grad students set up a website called ‘GigPad’ as a part of a business plan for their entrepreneurship course. These forum threads covered topics from gig reviews to lookouts for band members. It made people meet each other and kick started a tangible sense of community online.
26. The synthesizer was fairly used in western Indian music. But a recording engineer by the name of Charanjeet Singh recorded a whole album with this instrument in 1982 calling it ‘Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat’. It is considered to be India’s first album in electronic music by many.
27.The Submerge night at Rock Bottom encouraged DJs to play whatever they liked and discouraged audiences from any request. It was the brain child of Nikhil Chinapa, DJ Pearl and Hermit Sethi. At the heights of their popularity, they managed to get Armin Van Burren for the first time in India when he was just ranked the world’s No.1 DJ.
28. Manipur’s Postmark recorded India’s earliest metal album in 1989. The band Brahma released their album ‘The World Beyond’ in the I-Rock of 1998. Expecting to sell 2000 copies, they sold 27000-29000 copies over the course of three days for twenty bucks. The band Krytops, produced their entire album for eleven grand and embarked on a self-funded tour of Europe.
29. The Sunburn festival in Goa started in 2007. By the time it was 2009-2010 it was ranked the 9th best music festival in the world.
30. In the pre internet era, fans barely got their hands on new music from the world. They heavily relied on relatives, friends or got ripped off for a copy of a copy of a copy. There were some places like AudioCastle in Santacruz, Mumbai and National Market in Bangalore which used to sell entire discographies of bands for 80 bucks.
The series is really a great watch for both music lovers and people who want to know more about the scene. Even if you do not belong to either category, I urge you to watch it as it might change your mind about a few things regarding Indian music.
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