Scenario 1: Poets of the Fall were in India recently. Hundreds of music lovers in the country were ecstatic. Scores of them flew to Bangalore to be a part of the sensation. A lot of them wondered what to wear.
Scenario 2: Walk down a mall on just any other day and you can bet that there would be more people dressed in a simple jeans and tee than you can count. Out of those, you are definitely spot more than just a few stereotypical band t-shirts — black with logos and designs screaming out the wearer's musical taste for the world to see.
Scenario 3: December in Chennai. Classical music lovers throng the streets of Mypalore, Alwarpet, you name it. They go to concerts by stalwarts of Carnatic music, enjoy a month of traditional song and dance and then get ready to leave. When they pack their bags, do they have any souvenirs they can take with them? Memorabilia that can last a lifetime? No. Carnatic music does not offer its rasikas any keepsakes.
While we have no dearth of merchandise popularising Western culture (music, dance, drama, the works), our own scene seems to be non-existent. Not only do we publicly embrace foreign cultures more than our own, we seem to be ignorant of the need that exists in promoting our own traditions.
This ignorance is slowly fading to give way to realisation and action. Carnatic music is gaining popularity in the world music scene and fusion music and remixes are becoming the call of the day. We, as the youth, are becoming more open to listening to various forms of music and appreciating the nuances of them all. Carnatic music may not be “cool” yet, but it sure is getting there.
Once child prodigy and currently acclaimed musician Shashikiran was the first to notice the gap. Way back in 2001-2002, he created the market for Carnatic music merchandise by launching a line of T-shirts, first of the Trinity of Carnatic Music (Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Shastri) along with various classical musical instruments. Ask him what his motivation was and he explains, “The Carnatic music industry was typically considered to be for people over 35 years old. We needed to take it to the youth. CDs and books are great ways to reach out to those who already love the music but T-shirts and the like are more for the mass. We need to break the traditional mindset of Carnatic music. Such a culture exists abroad but hasn't yet come here. What we are trying to do is create a particular decorum for Carnatic music, just like there is for rock concerts.”
Though merchandise has been in the market for the last decade, not too many of us have heard of it. It hasn't yet become a rage. Why is that? The answer could lie in the fact that it has not yet hit the mass production scale. Limiting itself to a niche product has resulted in reduced awareness. But all this might soon change. Shashikiran is ready to set up stalls during the “December season” in popular sabhas where rasikas and non- rasikas alike can pick up their favourite T-shirt!
Music for all
Popularity is sure on the upward curve. Shashikiran and his merchandise are no longer the only ones on the block, either. Performing artist Rithvik Raja has also joined the bandwagon recently as part of his bigger pet project avarthana.com. Without conducting too much of market research, he jumped headlong into the project because even people who had no association with Carnatic music thought the concept was looked nice and was “funky”.
So what is the one thing that makes this unique concept click? Why are die-hard rock music fans, for example, attracted to classical T-shirts? Rithvik ascribes it to the honesty and integrity that goes into making the merchandise. “It isn't a money making module. It's for everyone to enjoy, irrespective of musical tastes, age or any other divide.”
With musicians today podcasting and live streaming their concerts and being open with regard to the happenings of the world around them, Carnatic music merchandise is just one more way to increase the target audience of traditional music and enhance its image as music for all. Today's youth have the opportunity to embrace our culture as much as that of the West, preserve our musicality while also imbibing the best of foreign traditions and take pride in our identity. It's up to us to grab the opportunity and wear it on our sleeve, literally.
To pick up your own piece of merchandise, either keep an eye out for the stalls or pre-order by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Yashasvini is a student of IIT-M.