From bringing together the world's finest musicians to contributing to world music, fusion music has come a long way.
Need is mother of invention. Urges by creative musicians, exposed to music of the East and West, led to the invention of fusion music. It was a two pronged approach — to give something fresh to the listeners moving away from traditional concerts and to add to the globalisation concept.
Who supported this new concept? Initially NRIs, by sponsoring concerts of touring Indian classical musicians. This culture spread across continents, adding other musicians of world music. This ‘fusion' in short contributed to the concept of ‘world music'.
Fusion is not a mere mix of music of East and West, but also a mix of our own Indian musical systems, such as when legends like the late Bhimsen Joshi and M. Balamuralikrishna chose ragas of similar notation but of different name and structure rendered in their jugalbandi at Ravindra Bharati, a decade and half ago, in Hindustani and Carnatic styles. Merging voices together on occasions was by itself a fusion of Carnatic and Hindusthai.
Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana says that some of the ragas had the same notation of some of the ragas of Indian music. “Theirs is a harmonious blend of music and stuck to a written format, while Indian music allows a great deal of manodharma. You can expand to what ever extant you are capable of without repetition,” he maintains. He reiterates that the scope of Carnatic music is infinite.
All India Radio can be said as the originator of this trend, fusing a number of instruments to create theme music, some curiously titled as ‘Bhramara Vinyasam' and so on. These were regular broadcasts in Sangeetha Sammelanam programmes of AIR. The creative genius behind this fusion was the late veena maestro Emani Sankara Sastry, music producer of Delhi station of All India Radio then. It is also a fusion in classical structure.
Payments for fusion groups are higher, compared to what they receive during solo performances. Extra care is taken for sound and light systems. Expectations are high. Most of the participants in the group are individual celebrities.
A fusion genre is a combination of two or more genres of music. The characteristics are said to be variations in tempo, rhythm and at times division of long musical journeys into smaller parts, each with its own dynamics and style. .
Noted vocalist and a research scholar Vyzarsu Balasubrahmanyam says music should first attract the ears. In which form it is, is not important. “It is like eating bread with jam at one time and potato at another time,” he says. Flute artiste Jayaprada Ramamoorthy says she's often requested to create fusion group for herself, as demand for it has grown. She agrees demand and money has declined for solo performances. Stalwarts and child prodigies Sasank (flute), U. Srinivas (mandolin), violinist brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh and a number of percussion artistes like Vinayakram and Yella Venkateswara Rao are becoming busier with fusion.
Fusion is said to have begun with Ali Akbar Khan's 1955 performance in the United States. Indian music and Western rock and roll fusion in the sixties and seventies was limited to Europe and North America. Once sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar took stage, Indian fusion gained prominence. He made albums with Bud Shank on jazz. George Harrison and others were also influenced by this trend and came out with some works in 1965. Another jazz maestro, Miles Davis performed with Indian musicians like Bihari Sharma and Badal Roy. So did Rolling Stones in integrating Indian influence. These added new trends in fusion. Names like John, L. Shankar, Zakir Hussain and others also continued. Later this trend was taken over by British artists in late 1980s fusing Indian and Western traditions.
Percussion wizards like Kaaraikkudi Mani, Zakir Hussain, and others are well connected with fusion, as an opportunity to create something new. The percussion fusion presented by Chennai-based mridangam vidwan Kaaraikkudi Mani and his five-member soloists on the last World Music Day was an outstanding show of fusion
Does this fusion route affect presentation style of the artistes when they get down giving traditional solo? The well-practised fusion does affect the performance style of some individuals, if they are not wary of it. Some of the artistes resort to wizardry like they do in fusion. They should then come out of ‘fusion' mindset and present the devotionals in right spirit.