It was a music label that launched many an unforgettable non-film artiste back in the Nineties. Seven years after Magnasound wound up, Madhav Das, one of its founder-directors, talks about what must be done to promote non-film music
Remember Alisha Chinai crooning ‘Made in India' with Milind Soman as her toy boy? The good old Nineties when MTV actually played home-grown music? It was the time when Shweta Shetty came up with ‘Johnny Joker'; Baba Sehgal rapped ‘Thanda Thanda Paani'; Remo Fernandes first played the now-cult ‘Flute Song'; the Colonial Cousins brought out ‘Sa Ni Dha Pa' and ‘Krishna Nee Begane'; Sonu Nigam broke free from films, and went ‘Tuuuu'; Daler Mehndi became a household name with ‘Bolo Ta Ra Ra'; and Adnan Sami launched himself big with ‘Kabhi Toh Nazar Milao'…
And, that's where music label Magnasound came in — it was instrumental in giving these artistes a non-film platform. But, with the advent of MP3s, and music channels moving away from non-film to film to reality shows, Indi-pop and allied non-film genres died a slow death. “But, people still remember the non-film songs of that period. I don't know if people still remember as many film songs from those days,” says Madhav Das, one of the founder-directors of Magnasound, as we sit down for a long, candid chat at his office in Kodambakkam.
At 61, the man who launched over 3,000 recordings, including all of the above, is on a new mission. To fight for the rights of singers and musicians on behalf of the Indian Performing Rights Society, and collect dues from defaulters of copyright violations.
Madhav's is an interesting story. A young sea-farer who spent about 15 years of his life sailing (1968 – 1983), he found access to various genres of music, tuning into radio stations, as ships dropped anchor in different parts of the globe. Madhav was a pilot at the Madras Port Trust for a year-and-a-half, till brother-in-law Sashi Gopal, working with CBS, sought his help.
“We brought out a pop album ‘Disco Disco' with Chithra and Malaysia Vasudevan. A.R. Rahman — who was still Dilip then! — did the music for the album. We were at CBS for two years, before we launched Magnasound in 1989,” says Madhav.
“We were fortunate because Sashi got a licence deal from Warner. And, Warner gave us access to their huge library. I remember how we brought Tracy Chapman's ‘Fast Car' to India before she went on to win the Grammy,” recalls Madhav.
“Almost immediately, we started launching original Indian artistes. Our first artiste was Jasmine Bharucha, and since we didn't have big budgets, we acted in it ourselves as judges of a music contest. And, Ken Ghosh, who later went on to become a veteran of music videos, and now a popular director, shot the music video for us for ‘All Alone'. And, then Shweta Shetty, Alisha Chinai, Baba Sehgal… before we went all out to promote Classical music.”
He could not totally ignore film music because the money still came from there. “But, we continued experimenting with non-film music, and continued churning out videos. I moved from Bombay to focus on the South. Soon, more than 50 per cent of our revenue came from the South, because there were not many players here.”
Those were the days when music companies still signed up artistes, produced their music, and came up with music videos. “We got Remo to do an album called ‘Politicians Don't Know to Rock & Rock'; Daler to do a completely Indian bhangra that was fresh compared to the British bhangra coming in.”
Madhav recalls observing a portly man walk in to his office four days in a row and their exchanging smiles every day from a distance until finally, a curious Madhav walked up to him, and asked him what brought him to Magnasound. “He was Adnan Sami, and had an album recorded with Asha Bhonsle. It was lying with him for five years, because he had launched it in the U.S. No other label in India was willing to touch it, and Magnasound was his last option. We took it because I loved the music, and honestly, also because we wanted an album with Asha. ‘Kabhi Toh Nazar Milao' created history.”
As the conflict of copyright between labels and musicians continues, Madhav finds himself on the other side of the fence. “In India, a person who initiates the project is the copyright holder. So most of the time, it is the film producer who ends up as the copyright holder. Except for composers such as A.R. Rahman or Ilaiyaraaja, very few musicians insist on retaining the rights to their songs. Musicians have no say on the song once they've been paid by the producer. I heard T.M. Soundarrajan used to be paid about Rs.100 for a song. I want to know if he has any idea how much money those songs have made!”
Madhav believes that for music to grow, musicians need to be given their due. And that, now that music channels have shifted attention to reality shows, only radio stations can restore non-film music back to its days of glory. “But, apart from All India Radio, most radio channels do not even mention who's singing the song or who wrote it.”
After Magnasound wound up in 2003, Madhav launched another label called Bayshore Music before he moved to print and edited a film magazine called South Side, for GV Films.
Now, Madhav has launched a music label called Desi Beat. “I am excited about this lounge music band called Malabar. Their music video should be out soon.