In an attempt to understand the complexity of Hindustani Classical music, I write to discover it's potential and paradigms in the socio-cultural environment. What you are going to read are monologues of my attempts to follow musicians at work, to rediscover ragas that go unheard.
Claude Levi-Strauss called the invention of music; "the supreme mystery of man". Hindustani Classical music has been an eminent component of our national identity since the designing of the "dhrupad" style of singing. Patronized by Kings and the landed elite, up till the inception of the colonial period, Classical music flourished and evolved. This genre, linked deeply with the foundations of the evolution of our country, has evolved with it also.
Political and economic transitions have moulded Classical music and artists with time. With the advent of the "global village" propagated by Marshall McLuhan, this medium yearns to deliver a message to the audience today, which seems to be unheard by most. While globalization and digitalization may seem like a great idea for creation and evolution, ultimately everything seems to boil down to a USP. Innumerable artistes, who are champions of relegated forms of Hindustani Classical music, continue to float, only to be lost with the tide of time.
The establishment of Radio Broadcasting under official auspices in 1930’s, made music a matter of administrative attention. Changing political events and economic policy developments have changed the way audiences and artists interact. This interphase is intriguing due to the impact of the ever changing technology and modes of communication that become the intermediaries between the performer and his audiences.
The relationship the artist shares with the audience has also undergone multiple changes over the course of time. With the change in the idea of "bethaks", where musicians would sing for a niche audience who were also their patrons, it has now shifted to large scale concerts handled by profit oriented marketing companies. Post-independence, the radio played a major role in the dissemination of Classical music. All India Radio then, held the voice of the masses. With change in technology and the television being introduced in every household after the Indira Gandhi regime, much has changed pertaining to the dissemination of Classical music. The changing role of the government, given the socio economic scenario of the nation has left its mark on the way we understand and incorporate Hindustani Classical music today.
History repeats itself as the Apple becomes the fruit that changes the way we perceive things once again. With the advent of digitalization, music (and here mean infinite genres) has become an integral part of how consumers identify themselves. Innumerable genres are available to us with just a click of a button. How many times would that button click on Hindustani Classical music? And how will that effect the way a nation perceives itself. Access and means have radically changed the way we look at music. There is continuous fragmentation of music, making it democratic, as it ascends to the masses. We have access to a gamut of genres, the issue at hand is that how many can actually relate to it? Access to a plethora of genres may make the audience more conscious, but simultaneously reduce the impact of the independent styles, when pitched against innumerable alternatives.
Also, I need to stress on the fact that the support that is extended to musicians internationally is in stark contrast to what musicians experience in India. Pundit Ram Narayan, the Sarangi maestro, responsible for taking the Sarangi to the world stage, said in an interview with Marg magazine, “The only way I kept my dignity intact and creativity alive is by turning to the world stage. Even today a large part of my earning is from International sources.”
Several Classical musicians, who have already established a market for themselves abroad — Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali, Yesudas, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Zakir Hussain and others, may not feel the pinch, but in the case of lesser known artistes, there is very little to safeguard their royalty, recording rights and other privileges.
In the era of global economic interdependence, culture plays a major role in defining the identity of a nation. During the cold war era, it was the soft power of America, which gave them an edge over the Soviet Union. It was the appeal of the west, the idea of an ideal society that spurred unrest in the minds of the proletariat in USSR. Sometimes an idea is all it takes, but to identify the ingenious is my area of concern.
Culture being the source of my understanding of the times, I write to find answers to questions inherently confused. The concept of packaging everything takes its toll on this art, but musicians still find an outlet to perform in spaces that may not be accessible to many (which is why we dig underground!). In a way the high culture of yester years is now slowly trying to mainstream itself into the popular culture for survival, yet keeping away from the masses.
For musicians there has been a paradigm shift from patronage by appreciative art lovers to the politics and commerce of the entertainment industry. Not many can survive that and others might become the products of the commercialized age. The phenomenon of how the art form has transformed, yet maintained its dynamism will be probed into in my articles so keep listening.
Graduated from St. Stephens College in Delhi and then went to the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. As a Hindustani classical vocalist, she yearn to know more about the nature of this art set against the backdrop of the changing socio-cultural environment. She ia also a Classical singer for All India Radio in New Delhi, and singing for the radio has made her question the arts appeal and access in our times evermore.
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