Horizons and hazards of 'fusion'

Continuing my review of Aruna Sairam's recent concert containing elements of both Carnatic and Western music ( >Musicscan, Spiritual transfusion, July 12), I had intended to conclude the comments this week. Meanwhile, colleagues at the Online desk were good enough to insert, alongside the above article, a clickworthy list of 20 earlier essays in this column which had analysed the highly complex issue of 'fusion' music rather extensively.

For the benefit of readers who may not have the time or inclination to go through all that voluminous material, I wish to reproduce here some selected paragraphs from those articles (which, though not in chronological order, somehow sum up the whole scenario in a logical sequence). Accordingly, the concert review is bound to overflow into the next article in Musicscan!

Horizons of exploration

"The necessity to introduce legitimate innovations, which do not dispense with the basic elements and principles of a musical tradition, arises mainly from two important factors. One of them is the increasing sense of monotony created by endlessly recurring features, and the constant need to find more exciting methods of performance. The other factor is the progressive and dramatic transformation of the social and cultural environment caused by successive technological revolutions -- reflected in the lifestyles and attitudes of the musicians and music-lovers -- which creates an urge to trim some conventional modes of performance and introduce some new perspectives."

[The logic of fusion, October 4, 2010].

"And if they happen to have a very wide musical vision which transcends the system in which they are functioning as successful performing artists, their exploration too tends to cross the borders and enters the frontiers of some other system, particularly when there are some elements common to both... That’s the point where they come across like-minded musicians belonging to the other side, and begin to visualise collaborative ventures like North-South jugalbandis (in the case of Carnatic and Hindustani music, which have many similar and almost identical elements), and experiments in East-West integration (as when Indian classical music is harmonised with jazz, or even with Western classical music)." [Of credentials and criteria, July 6, 2007].

Hazards of experiments

"Indian classical musicians even at average levels of competence are nowadays having more and more opportunities to visit Western countries on the invitation of the ever-growing Indian communities there, and they find it quite easy to line up some ordinary foreign musicians to join them in a free-for-all musical merry-go-round. And back home in India, of course, their CV and image get boosted by cryptic references to their ‘experience in fusion'. Who is to review and critically evaluate their activities abroad?" [Colours of sound, July 25, 2008].

"Far more alarming is the fact that even some reputed and accomplished Carnatic musicians tend to fall into a ‘fusion trap' and embark on such ventures without a proper perspective, the damage caused to the culture of Carnatic music being in direct proportion to their high accomplishment and reputation. One can say, 'Go slow on going global!' But who is to confront them all and enforce restraint, and how?" [The ‘fusion trap’, August 19, 2010].

"Of course, many new trends can be extremely damaging and must be discouraged. But the dividing line between progress and perversion in all visual and performing arts is so thin that it is often almost invisible... There’s no hard-and-fast rule in this regard, and every manifestation of change must be judged on the basis of its own merits. And naturally, you must be a very imaginative and fair judge if your verdict is to be valid and valuable." [Tyagaraja Jazz Suite, June 22, 2007].

"We would certainly like our adventurous musical ambassadors to perform in their own country now and then with their foreign collaborators, and subject their credentials to our critical scrutiny." [Alien connections: why, who and how? August 2, 2007].

Mystic vision of fusion

In such an extremely intricate scenario, it must have taken great courage of convivtion for Aruna Sairam -- who is a leading exponent of our sacred classical music in its purest form -- to give us such a transparent view of her experiment, right here in the Mecca of Carnatic music. I do find her mystic vision of 'fusion' truly admirable, and I hope I have the proper credentials for saying so!

(To be concluded)

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