Walking the middle line

Between the inaugural and valedictory, there were sessions that discussed several issues pertaining to the Changing Profile of Indian Music.

In a session, titled Connoisseurs, moderated by Pt. Arvind Parikh, music aficionados gathered to discuss the changing scenario. If Gowri Ramanarayan, music critic, felt that the listener had definitely changed over the years, both Jayant Chatterjee and Vinod Kapur from Kolkata and Delhi respectively, felt that music had embraced the populist, in a way people would readily accept it. They agreed that there is more meaning in a private baithak than in a public concert where the music has come to be considerably different. “Thirty years ago, we took what the musician gave us, but now the audience makes demands on the musician. They are constantly asking for novelty. Television is hugely responsible for this. I don’t think the audience knows what it wants. But musicians are desperate to give into their changing tastes. So now music is smart, pacy, and gimmicky. Circus has taken over music,” said an emphatic Gowri Ramanarayan.

Chandra Pai from Pune felt that if he missed something in music it was silence. While money coming into music is a good thing, but that it had begun to determine music is not such a happy development.

Fusion music is a tricky word, it has been so for the last decade or so. Event managers know that it is a successful formula to draw large groups of young audiences. At the same time, they can have the best of both worlds – the goodwill of classical musicians who are willing to walk that extra mile and the loyalty nouveau music listener who wants to be entertained. Unlike most practitioners of fusion, the remarkable Taufiq Qureshi who has been researching and exploring percussion of various parts of the world, said that “fusion” is not something that is now and current. “It existed in the past too. Stalwart musicians have collaborated with each other; Pt. Ravishankar and Ustad Allah Rakha collaborated with western musicians as well. Therefore, you could at best call it contemporary and not new,” he explained. For Taufiq, Indian film music was the best example of fusion music.

Flautist Ronu Majumdar, who is busy as a fusion music practitioner, felt that it is important to know the ‘other’ genre and its improvisational modes. He said, that rehearsals for a fusion concert is far tougher than for a solo concert. Mandolin U. Rajesh, like Taufiq, said that fusion as an idea has existed from times immemorial, taking it right back to the period of Saint Tyagaraja and that of Patnam Subramanya Iyer. “Now we have a fashionable term for it,” he said. Since the present day fusion musician is a distinct artiste, what then constitutes him? “Just because we drive foreign cars, eat foreign food, wear western clothes, can we become different? Do they call us fusion Indians? I don’t think there is a genre called fusion music,” argued sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee, who was drawn to the “other” sound even as a child. Does it change the sound of classical music? “It has affected me,” said Taufiq. “I have been able to carry the classical music idea to the djembe and it has been fulfilling.”

The session on vocal music and its changing scenario had on board musicians practicing various genres. The questions posed by moderator Amarendra Dhareshwar, a musicologist, were pertaining to the changes that had come over the environment of music, performing spaces, listener-musician relationship and its impact on the musician. The dhrupad performers, Pandit Ritu Sanyal and Prashant Mullick felt that they had lost many subtle intricacies in the dhrupad form to the more attractive gamaks. Admitting that change is inevitable, Pandit Ritu Sanyal said that “change for greater meaning” is important. “But now gayaki is getting marginalized,” he remarked. He felt that in the rush to bring more people to the concert, the beauty of unembellished, potent music is lost. “Who knows the beauty of the digambara (unadorned) swara anymore?”

“Many things have changed, but for a serious student of music, the pursuit of swaras remains unaltered,” reasoned khyal vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. If there is no change, music would have become extinct by now, she said. Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam agreed. “Change is embedded within tradition,” she said tracing the history of Carnatic music. “From four hour concerts we have now embraced Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s kutcheri model which is two and a half hours. Social changes have had their impact on the aesthetics of music, but that it is the only way we can keep it dynamic,” she explained. Aruna felt that cultivating listeners is the most crucial responsibility of a musician. Not refuting the fact that the gurukula system of learning is an unviable proposition in the present, thumri singer Sunanda Sharma felt that there is however no real alternative to it. She went into the details of how her guru Girija Devi trained not just her musical sensibility but also her senses, which is an important aspect of training.

The session with recording company heads – moderated by Ganesh Kumar — was interesting for the significant questions it raised. With CDs and cassettes becoming obsolete and with much of the music available on the internet, what is the future of recording companies? Also with mobile phones reaching practically every corner, the digital ecosystem has become very challenging for music labels.

“There has practically been no releases in the last few years as far as classical music is concerned,” said Mr. Saha of Hindustan Records, a company that was established in 1932. The artiste, he explained, feels he is autonomous and no longer needs recording labels. While he feels that he can use the digital platforms to his benefit, it is not entirely true. “We will wait, and look forward for the good days to come back,” he added.

A seminar of this nature has its significance. It is important for it brings many perspectives to one table. It yet again, established the strong relationship that exists between music and society. Corporatisation is not a phenomenon of the market, but is true of culture too. How difficult is it for a modern musician to survive the various temptations of the globalized world, and keep his pursuit of music pure and unchanged? How much change is good change? Is the musician, while holding on to his haloed space, as much a player in this world like other professionals?

The digital space has revolutionised the way we listen, see and think about music. No art can take birth and blossom in the ivory tower, it has to survive the ravages of the real world.