Last month, a Buddha Bar team flew down from Paris to get flautist Rakesh Chaurasia to compose for its music line. Chaurasia says he cheerfully put together 17 minutes of a flute track, which was then tossed up with some electronic music to create what is popularly called lounge music.
“But I still don’t know what this lounge music is. I do this music and I have done stuff like this before, but I have yet to figure out what it means,” he says, laughing at his own situation. Chaurasia is not alone in his predicament.
For a whole new generation of instrumentalists caught in a flooded music market, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hook the music lover’s attention. New age, meditative, soul, therapy, nature—they all make for good hooks today to hang music.
Thematic music is still highly interpretative. One flautist’s therapy music is another’s ode to the night. But what it does is give the buyer a reason to invest in a CD. Feel like recalling the desolation of the desert? Try Vishwamohan Bhatt’s Desert Slide. Something to meditate with? Play Chaurasia’s Meditation. If mystic music appeals to you, there is Rahul Sharma’s Maya. This is a far cry from picking up an old-fashioned classical record with nothing but the artiste’s name and a raga label to tempt you.
Music Today, which started the Young Masters series to showcase new talent, had to rework its plans when it found sales of the series struggling. The company has now reworked its strategy; it starts backwards, as in it offers artistes a theme and gets them to work on it. The effort clicked; among the label’s more successful releases are Sharma’s Kashmir, Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash’s Reincarnation and Toufiq Qureshi’s Bombay Fever.
Sharma, who continues to play classical music at traditional concerts, has been trying to find a niche for his santoor music for some time now. “When my father started out, there was none of this clutter. Other than records and live concerts, there was just the National Programme of Music on Akashvani. Later, his generation had to hold its own against western music. I, and my contemporaries, have technology to deal with. A sampler can pick up the notes of my santoor and churn out an entire number. There are downloads, podcasts, any number of music channels, FM radio. I have to tell the listener that he can expect something totally different from me or I run the danger of becoming redundant,” Sharma says.
He says his music is deeply influenced by Buddhist elements, but he dislikes being dumped in categories such as spiritual or relaxing. According to him, it comes closest to new age or world music. Mystical is about the farthest he’d go. His Maya and Time Traveller, with their appealing videos, have found their way to Top 10 on radio charts.
Out-of-the-box classical experiments are not new. In fact, most musicians point to the 1960s’ trendsetting Call of the Valley by Shiv Kumar Sharma, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and guitarist Brijbhushan Kabra, as their prime inspiration. The Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra, recorded by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Andre Previn in 1971, was another break from the classical mould. Later, the group Shakti took fusion music into the cult category. But, the innovative young musician of today vehemently dislikes being shoved into the fusion category.
“Fusion is an overworked category. We are trying to do new age music, which gives us plenty of opportunity to use pure classical music, but with global sounds woven in,” says Ronu Majumdar, whose album Soul Raga was released by Banyan Tree earlier this year. He refuses to categorize it as experimental, choosing instead to define it as pure classical with a storyline.
Majumdar, along with Vishwamohan Bhatt (mohan veena), Tarun Bhattacharya (santoor) and Shahid Parvez (sitar), put together what he considers a worthy successor to Call of the Valley, titled Song of Nature, for Magnasound. The group used strong folk elements such as drums, maadal, and also gave it a contemporary sound. He rates his Traveller’s Tale and Moonlight Whispers among his best works.
“Times are changing. All of us have great traditional taalim (teaching); we are using it to create good sounds with the help of electronic instruments such as the keyboard and the drum. I find Sharma’s work with Vikram Ghosh, Interface, very honest,” says Majumdar.
Chaurasia, when asked to create music on the theme ‘wind’, says he was stuck for inspiration and headed out to Juhu beach to clear his thoughts. The evening tossed up some ideas like Gentle Breeze and Breath of Life, which were later programmed into tracks.
Bhatt, who plays his version of a guitar with the mohan veena, believes that artistes should delve into thematic music only after many years in the classical genre. “It requires a lot of musicmanship. It is, in a way, the essence of what you have understood of the music you have been playing,” he says. “Music is powerful enough to calm you, heal you or excite you. There should be clarity in what you set out to do.”
Grammy winner Vishwamohan Bhatt, who has tried his hand at a variety of experimental sounds, defines types of thematic music:
Therapeutic: This music is totally unemotional but calming. Flute, sitar, sarod and the violin are instruments that can relax the mind. Percussion or keyboards should play softly, as a background.
Spiritual: The pace of the music is at all times slow. It should affect the listener’s mind, but again not stir any feelings. Sitar, mohan veena and the flute are great for this kind of theme. No gimmicks on the drums; and a groove with some chanting would add to the effort.
New Age: Indian instruments combine with global sounds for this sound. The two sounds should complement each other.
Fusion: Even a ‘jugalbandi’ of two Indian instruments or of Carnatic and Hindustani styles is fusion music. The musicians in question have to know each others’ musical systems.