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Indian Pop Music

Bleeding beauty under Market pressures


Music is an inseparable part of our culture. However, in the present era of technological innovation,
music has become more of a market product than a fine art. Instead of classical music or the folk
musical traditions of our cultural heritage, we have become more inclined to the popular music or the
pop music – the short name for the same. Indian pop music has influenced the music industry so much
that now-a-days, other traditions like the folk music, classical music etc., are rapidly fading out from
the general discourse. Therefore, it is imperative that we should study the impact of the market forces
upon Indian music.

This article deals with the newly emerged trend of popular music in India, with regard to movie
melodies and the emerging markets for the Indipop.

Advent of the popular music:

Mumbai is the city of the illusions and the disillusions too. Each day, many men and women of
all ages, adolescents to the grownups, catch trains from almost all corners of India to reach this
metropolis of multicultural and multi-ethnic metropolis. The objectives may be different for different
persons; but the target is the same – to get to Mumbai and try the luck. Most of the adolescents run
from their native cities/villages in order to become actors and actresses. Some wish to become singers.
The essence of all this is that everybody is influenced by the glamour and glitter of the great metropolis

In the coming paragraphs, we will study the emergence of the popular music in Mumbai
particularly and in India generally.

All activities with regard to cinema and the popular music begin from Bollywood. It is not that
other parts of India have nothing to do with these activities. There are other film cities too. And there
are other localities also where the popular music is composed and recorded. But the film industry as
well as the music industry has made its stronghold in Mumbai, not in recent years but from the pre-
independence era. That is why, when one has to study the film and music industry, he/she has to turn to
Mumbai. Mumbai is a city of ambition, founded upon an island created by human labour and home to
vast disparities and contradictions. For the past eighty odd years, India’s popular music industry has
been dominated by film songs from Mumbai. Recently, a new category of national popular music,
Indipop, has emerged in tandem with economic liberalization, the rise of satellite television, and the
growing significance of the global Indian Diaspora. (The word “Indipop” has been used in an article, by
Peter Manuel, Titled, "Formal Structure in Popular Music as a Reflection of Socio-Economic Change"
Published in “International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music", Vol. 16, No. 2. (Dec.,
1985), pp. 163-180. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0351-5796% 28198512%2916%)

However, Indipop has struggled to achieve widespread success and remains largely a product of
urban, middle and upper class experience. With roots in the cosmopolitan, westward-looking culture of
Mumbai’s English-educated middle classes, Indipop music cannot merely be dismissed as an example of
western cultural imperialism in India. Rather, the sound of Indipop evokes a practice of individualized
consumption and international consciousness that, although connected to global capitalism, is
thoroughly tied to the unique histories and experiences of professional musicians and music marketers
in Mumbai. Through ethnographic and textual study, this analysis provides a social history of Indipop in
Mumbai and a study of the dynamic and contested manner in which artists and promoters construct a
meaning for this new genre. Finally, the struggles of these individuals to connect with wider domestic
and international markets parallels the anxiety felt by many of the country’s urban elites struggling to
understand their role in contemporary Indian society.

In the Indian Subcontinent, the popular music or the pop music as it is called in short, came through the music of the
cinema. In fact, before the advent of cinema, two categories of music were commonly prevalent in the region.
Namely, one – the margi sangeet: which was governed by a specific fixed set of rules, two – Deshi sangeet, which
was common in the folk people. There was not any music as the popular music or the pop music. As the medium of
cinema originated, the recording industry emerged in India. Film music initiated the art of writing the musical
compositions. Before the advent of the film music in India, we had no tradition of writing musical compositions.
(Although, in Vedic period, some kind of notation was present which is reflected in “Aakshiptika Gaan”, but in
general, there was no trend of writing the musical compositions.)
We had oral tradition so as to memorize the compositions. In our music, it is the uniqueness that we
develop musical compositions through our imagination and not through the writing of compositions.
Whereas in the western world, musicians first write the musical composition. Then they play these
compositions without any kind of change. It is the imagination of the composer and not that of the artist
who is playing or singing the compositions. In India, the trend is different. Here we have the scope for
new creativity in the composition. That is why, all compositions, however old it may be, look new and
original at the same time. Even after the development of the musical notation system, we have not
developed the habit of writing musical compositions. We rather feel easy to memorize them. What I
mean to say that there is a greater scope for creativity in our music in comparison to the western music.
Film music changed the scenario by initiating the art of writing musical compositions. This is also
noteworthy that the film music in India neither could be included in the category of the classical music
nor could it be called the folk music. In fact, it borrowed immensely from all kinds of music. Be it the folk
music, Raagdari music, devotional music, Sufi music, regional music or the western music. That is why;
the film songs had the glimpse of all kinds of music. Thus, these kinds of songs cannot be included in a
specific category. To solve the problem, the film songs were called as the popular music. In fact, this
music has to be very popular. Soon it made its place on all channels of music. All media of music was full
of the film music. Radio, television, recording industry, all media that was related to music directly or
indirectly, gave a remarkable space to the film music. Common people, who had never thought of
learning music, began to sing the movie melodies; it made its roots deep in the masses. The Rikshaw
walas, hawkers, vegetable sellers, the drivers of different vehicles, people of all strata of the society
danced at the tune of the movie songs. The popularity of the film music was so great that initially it was
impossible to make a film without songs. The popularity of a film was very much depended in India over
the popularity of its songs. That is why; there is nothing wrong if the film music in India is called the
popular music.

Although movie melodies are also an inseparable part of the Indipop, but initially, the jazz and fusion
have influenced our music. The film music is affected with these forms of music too.

Western popular music, with special reference to jazz music:

We are aware that the concept of popular music has come to Indian diaspora from the Western world.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to have a slight glimpse over the Western pop and jazz music.

In the western world, the concept of the popular music or the pop music is slightly different. There the
popular music has been developed through different groups consisting of regional aspirations. In the
Subcontinent, these local cultural aspirations are called the folk traditions and music based upon these
aspirations happens to be the folk music of the region concerned.

Here we would see how jazz music was evolved through different phases. We are aware that in the
United States there had been a struggle between the blacks and the whites. (Gerry Farrell, Indian Music
and The West, P 33-34.)

It was not that this struggle was limited to the America only. The racial discrimination was going through
all over the world, especially, during the nineteenth and twentieth century. This struggle is reflected in
the history of jazz music too.

This description about the jazz music shows that initially it started in the United States of America.
However, it rapidly spread to other parts of the world too. Those who were fed up of the traditional
music welcomed it. (Kenneth A. Gourlay, Struggle of musicians, P.155.)
As it had ample scope for elaborations and combination of creativeness as well as the appeal of rhythm,
musicians all over the world embraced it with an open heart. It was more suitable to the subcontinent as
it provided the scope for new creations, which the Western music lacked very much. Thus, the musicians
[emmetures as well as the professionals alike], stood by jazz. This also influenced the popular music of
our region. We can easily see the impact of jazz on our movie melodies. Therefore, it can be concluded
that this stream of jazz music contributed immensely in giving shape to Indian popular music in general
and the music of the subcontinent in specific. This kind of music is still attracting many musicians
[vocalists or instrumentalists].

Thus, we see that the Jazz music influenced Indian popular music and showed a unique way for its new
taste and tanner. However, Jazz got a new dimension in Indian environment. That is why; various new
streams of Jazz came out in different tastes and forms. Indipop borrowed many of its properties from
Jazz but in turn, gave many things to it too. (Wim Van Der Meer: Hindustani Music In the Twentieth
Century, PP. 101.)

Gradually, Indipop separated itself from the film Industry, though, not fully. Many pop singers began to
release private albums. In 80’s the first such private Album got very popular in the Indian subcontinent.
It was titled, “Disco Diwane” and the artiste was a new talent from Pakistan – Nazia Hassan. Later on,
Usha Utthap, Sharon Prabhakar, Baba Sehgal, etc., came up with new and innovative music albums.
More recently, great pop stars like Daler Mehndi, Hemesh Reshamiya, Shilpa Rao, Mamta Sharma,
Shaan, Honey Singh, etc. have brought a phenomenal change in the field of the Indipop.

Some classical musicians are also trying their luck in the field. Eminent classical musician Shubha Mudgal
has released several pop music albums. Sufi singers are also coming with pop albums. There is no
specific definition of Sufi music. Every singer who sings romantic songs tends to label him/her as a Sufi

These newly emerging pop artists have brought about many remarkable changes in the presentability
and production of music. The songs which previously were composed keeping in view the listening skills,
now have become so much visual that sometimes, words just do not matter. Music is regulated by
market forces these days.

Commercialization of music:

Like everybody else, musicians also have the right to earn from the art they possess. After all, they have
to do something for living a decent life. Music is not only an art form, but also a profession. It is this
aspect of professionalism in music that inspires the musicians to make their art more presentable and
more sellable. Without these basic properties, there is nothing left for them. In such a scenario,
musicians have to make several compromises as far as the artistic value is concerned. The problem
begins from this vary point.
It has already been established that the popular music in India is mainly based upon the movie melodies.
Film Industry needs the musical compositions suitable to the story of the movie. Therefore, the
musicians do not have enough liberties while working for a film. They have to abide by the guidelines set
by the director of the film.

As the films are filled with scenes full of vulgarity and violence, the musical composition should reflect
the same. This leads to songs like “Munni Badnaam Hui”, “Sheela Ki Javani” etc., with no artistic value
but full of sellability.

Presently, there are several reality shows being telecast on different TV channels where the producers
of the show claim that they wish to search for a kind of singing talent. Several auditions are conducted in
different cities in the name of such TV reality shows. The selected candidates have to go through a well-
set singing criterion. Moreover, to make the show more participatory, the viewers are asked to send
SMS’s in favour of the candidates they like. This leads to some fraudulent practices relating to the
benefit of the networks who provide service for SMS. The candidates purchase SMS cards and distribute
them amongst their friends and relatives in order to make as many SMS’s as possible.

Sometimes, this search for new talents targets even the little kids as young as five years. Very recently, a
reality show titled “Indian Idol Junior” telecast on Soni TV, presented a five year old girl for the audition.
She sang the popular song, “Pallu Ke Peeche Chupa Ke Rakha Hai”. As the judges objected on account of
the vulgarity, she presented another shocker – “Chiknee Chameli”. Finally, though she was not selected
for the show, yet it reflected as to how badly our kids are being influenced by the commercialization of
the music Industry.

Now, the question arises as to what is the purpose of a song. The basic definition of music seems of no
substance with regard to the present state of Indian popular music. Every artist who comes to perform
in the form of popular music has just one target – to earn as many bucks as possible. For this, he/she
forgets everything but the “popularity Massala mix” that has the capacity to sell the music album. This
masala consists of sexy words, provocative visuals, and overall an exciting video. The art of music is fast
disappearing from this popular medium. The aspect of artistic beauty is easily forgotten in the madness
of selling the “product” and earning as much money as possible.

Impact on society:

Presently, the incidents of sexual harassment, molestation and rape have phenomenally increased.
Although there are several different reasons for this, yet the pop music is also playing some role in it.
One of the Honey Singh’s songs was banned for the same reason. A kind of pornography is creeping in to
the musical compositions that we are presented with. Countless examples can be given where the songs
are double meaning and full of vulgarity. But the irony is that when a little kid, (say, three years old),
watches the song on TV and remembers it without getting its meaning, the parents and other family
members feel very happy and satisfied. And as the same child grows up and is able to understand the
meaning of that song, easily is attracted towards the dark alleys of the social set up.

The philosophy of "Satyam Shivam Sundaram" expresses the importance of purity and pleasure in all the
fine arts. When we talk of music, nobody can claim to disagree from the fact that it has the capacity to
give pleasure even in the adverse conditions like trouble and tensions. That is the reason why music-
listening is now recommended to the patients of hypertension, sleeplessness, cardiac diseases etc.
music has the potential to diverge the mind from the negative attitude to the positive one and thus to
provide relaxation and relief, though only for a shorter period of time. It is this speciality of music which
is very important. In other arts, we have to concentrate our minds first in order to appreciate them. On
the contrary, as far as the art of music is concerned, as a musical sound is perceived through our ears,
our mind is diverted towards the sound itself. We do not have to make an extra effort in order to
appreciate the pleasure inculcated through the perception of amazing and pleasing tones. That is why,
music is liked by almost all the men and women of different ages, classes, social backgrounds etc. why
the human beings only! It is taken in good taste by animals also. Music can divert our attention from the
outside world and concentrate it onto our inner conscience. This powerful tool can bring forth our
attention to the state of meditation. That is why, during different Yoga sessions, we use music. Music
can turn is up side down and make us feel the inner spirit that is within ourselves. Through this inner
spirit, we can reach the feeling of the spiritual upliftment. That is why, it is said that music is a very
powerful healer that can lead us to the path of spiritualism.

Music is a fine art meant for not only entertaining the audiences, but also for mental and spiritual peace.
We are concerned only with the first objective and in this endeavour we ignore the second one.
However, the second objective is more important as it is related with the real aesthetic value of the art.
An artist must be an entertainer. He/she should also try to take advantage of the art he/she possesses.
But in the race of more and more profits, one must not forget the artistic inclination towards the
aesthetic sense. That which creates obscenity, cannot be beautiful. The musical composition must be
beautiful. Through the beauty of musicand not vulgarity, , we can achieve mental peace. the real bliss
cannot be attained through bombastic and Dhinchek kind of music, but through soothing melodies
which come directly from the heart of the artist and connect the audience with the performer.