For music lovers who like to read the fine print on album notes, the contents can sometimes be quite baffling. For instance, what does ‘Music: X,Y,Z...’ and ‘Lyrics: Traditional’ mean? Now that we have been awarded the right to information, I’m going to cite the example of two albums I bought recently to discuss this issue of credits and their potentially far-reaching effects on the complex world of Indian music.
The first of these albums is called Yatra and contains songs from a film by Goutam Ghose. The blurb on the album cover urges buyers to ‘Relive The Magic Of Khayyam’, but of the 12 tracks featured on the album, only the first four are set to music by the veteran composer. Eight other tracks carry the following baffling credit—‘Music: Goutam Ghose.’ I tell myself at this point that there is absolutely no reason why the director of a film could not also be its music director. But the track names set me thinking because I had heard them long before this yatra began. Tadpe Bin Baalam, correctly described as a dadra, is rendered on this album by vocalist Shuvra Guha. I’m a die-hard fan of the great Siddheshwari Devi, who passed away in the 1970s, and her rendering of the same dadra remains an all-time favourite. So I know that it is the same dadra that Guha is interpreting with an appropriate elaboration called badhat. My question now is: Can anyone explain how Ghose can suddenly take credit for this track?
The rendering by Guha has the conventional accompaniment of tanpura, tabla and sarangi, so it is not as if the music director has added some orchestra elements to the music. So, did he teach Guha the dadra? Or did he tell her exactly how to improvise and elaborate? I have no reason to believe that he didn’t do all of this or more unless Guha denies it, but that still doesn’t make him the music director of this track. Incidentally, this isn’t the only “traditional” track for which Ghose takes credit. The well-known and oft-sung Garaje Ghata Ghan in Raag Megh, rendered on the Yatra album by Rashid Khan, is once again said to have been set to music by Ghose despite being “traditional”. My concern now is that if compositions such as the dadra and the Megh sadra are registered with societies like IPRS (Indian Performing Rights Society) as Ghose’s compositions, would I or any other musician then have to seek his permission and pay him a royalty to sing or record them? And before this happens, is it not time we discussed ways to protect traditional knowledge and discourage poaching?
Poaching again is what Abhijit Pohankar indulges in while putting together his album, Urban Raga, when he gets his father Ajay Pohankar to sing Shakeel Badayuni’s ghazal, Ae Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aya, made immortal by the great Begum Akhtar. The Pohankars open the album with a ‘chillout mix’ of the Begum Akhtar ghazal, and later top it up with a slightly different version which appears as Track 5 on the album. The credits on the album cover state unabashedly that the lyrics are, what else, “traditional” and the music is Abhijit Pohankar’s. Shakeel Badayuni died on 20 April 1970. Does that make his work “traditional”? At best, Abhijit Pohankar could have taken credit for arranging the music. Come on guys, let’s sit down once and for all and decide what we mean by the term “traditional”. And oh, let’s try and do so before “traditional” becomes synonymous with plagiarized.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org