It is universally accepted that music speaks to listeners through its inherent strength and ability to touch hearts. Yet some genres are perceived as being inaccessible and difficult to comprehend for the lay listener. Hindustani classical music has for long been branded as difficult to comprehend, and this has prompted efforts to bridge the gap between its nuanced complexities and the uninitiated listener. The efforts have been varied and, for the most part, born out of a genuine concern for the future of Hindustani classical music, which is believed to be losing listenership and, more importantly, informed listenership, at an alarming rate. Most efforts to revive and promote Hindustani classical music are valiant and admirable, yet their efficacy needs to be examined, not with a view to finding fault with the basic schemes or ideas, but more in the manner of a constructive critique.
Darbar-E-Taj, a relatively new YouTube channel devoted to classical music, claims to have been “envisioned as a content destination for the connoisseur and the curious alike”. Sponsored by Brooke Bond Taj Mahal tea, a brand known for its popular ad campaign featuring tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, the channel was launched on 11 February to commemorate the brand’s 50th anniversary. In principle, this extension of the brand’s association with classical music on an online platform such as YouTube is welcome for more than one reason. Although YouTube has countless uploads of Hindustani classical music, professionally produced content is still scarce, with a majority of uploads being sourced from old television programmes, bootlegged recordings made without due permission from artistes by self-proclaimed crusaders attempting to popularize classical music and even live concert recordings made by listeners on smartphones. So the promise held out by Darbar-E-Taj is valuable.
Where it disappoints is in its over-zealous approach to gathering endorsements from the artistes it features and its lack of attention to detail. If Hindustani classical music is truly the highly evolved and profound system of music that everyone believes it to be, is it really necessary to liken it to the taste of a good cup of tea, and in this case good tea can be none other than Taj Mahal tea, can it? Would it not have been in better taste to keep alive the brand’s association with classical music without some of the accomplished exponents featured in the videos gushing about their loyalty to the brand? In an ad campaign, endorsements seem completely justified, but on a YouTube channel that wishes to be a content destination for Indian music, some delicacy, some nuanced and subtle ways of branding and endorsements might have been more in keeping with the music the channel claims to serve.
Currently, the channel features approximately eight short videos of a few minutes each; these include snippets of live concert performances interspersed with conversation with the featured artistes. Most of the videos do not provide information on the repertoire or the accompanying musicians. Where there is any mention of repertoire, lack of attention to detail eventually leads to the featured artiste mentioning Raga X and video footage showing a presentation of Raga Y. The Darbar ends up looking a bit untidy and in need of a quick brushing up.
Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.