New Delhi: With A. R. Rahman’s musical genius gaining recognition worldwide, Indian music has reached another milestone in its long global journey that started more than 50 years ago. That was when sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan recorded the first ever LP of Indian classical music. A few years later, Pandit Ravi Shankar introduced the sound of the sitar to the west. The artist and the instrument took the world by storm. It was the sound the Beatles picked up from its classical setting and included in their music, which was the rage of those heady times.
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Rahman’s achievement points to another fact: that it’s no longer the exotic sounds of instruments like the sitar that are catching the world’s attention. Contemporary Indian composers are anything but traditional – and their sounds are often a synthesis of genres, Indian and global.
But some say that if Indian film music doesn’t keep firmly rooted in the Indian culture, it risks being diluted to something that isn’t traditionally Indian.
“There was earlier a period where the key marker of film music in India was its melody. Today, it’s been overwhelmed by beat,” says Pavan Varma, Director General of ICCR. “It’s a very imperceptible transition but it’s happening so you listen to the music, you tap your feet to it, but you find later you can’t hum the tune. Earlier, if you didn’t know the beat, you hummed the tune. There’s a big difference and we should be aware of it.”
But others point out that Rahman, who has brought new techniques into Indian film music, with folk elements and western instruments, has succeeded in retaining an authentic framework. And this sensitivity is what makes contemporary Indian music stand out.