Bandwidth: The Other Music

Students enjoying the rock concert by Opeth, the Swedish rock band, at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras as part of the IIT's annual fest, "Saarang", in Chennai on January 25, 2009. Photo: R. Ragu  

A monthly column on the current trends in independent music.

There is a story behind the origins of the popular Tamil film song “Nakka Mukka” that was related by marana gana Viji. He claims the song is derived from an old song written eons ago by a ‘vettiyan.’ It simply and directly speaks of caste oppression - it is impossible to listen to him sing it without feeling at least for a moment the resentment hiding behind resigned joviality of the melody.

Time has moved on since, and today, we find that popular music in most parts of our country has become synonymous with film music. There are many reasons for this - a lack of venues for new music, the appropriation of both classical and folk music by film music, plain economics and the tendency of bands to cover popular songs rather than write original ones.

Over the last decade, however, thanks to pioneers ranging from Indian Ocean to Swarathma, more and more bands and musicians have begun to concentrate on writing and performing their own songs. There are more music festivals and more musicians performing across genres from obscure kinds of metal to electronic dance music than even five or six years ago. Websites such as OkListen and numerous blogs run by fans are attempting to bridge the gap between musicians and listeners.

Radio channels are more receptive to broadcasting independent music and television channels are opening up to the idea too.

As the first generation to grow up completely in an economically liberalized India goes to work, the other music is only going to get louder.

This is not to say that independent music itself has come of age. Lyrics are often frivolous and melodies, often derivative. There are clear lines of class and language that separate musicians and the music they create. All the social and cultural issues that affect our everyday life affect the other music. Questions of financial sustainability, authenticity and so on are as yet unanswered.

However, independent musicians have two distinctive advantages compared to cinema music - live performances and freedom to experiment. While many questions can be raised about the songs that we finally hear, what is undoubted is the technical proficiency and the musical skill of the artists themselves. So far, journalism about independent music scene has predominantly been bland reportage or unwarranted hagiography. Most of the writing has also left out countless folk and subaltern musicians creating art on the fringes of our society.

This column will review original, non-film music while simultaneously talking to the musicians behind it. The idea is to bring independent music to a larger audience and provide the cultural context necessary to understand and appreciate it.

So that the next time, some unknown musician writes a song that warms cold hearts or expresses a truth that we know but cannot articulate or refuse to acknowledge - there will be a place where he/she will be offered credibility and heard without judgment - right here.

(The author is a Tamil singer, songwriter and freelance writer.)

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 4:38:28 AM |

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