70 years of Indian music14 min read . Updated: 15 Aug 2017, 01:05 PM IST
70 milestones in Indian music to celebrate 70 years of Independence
At 70, India has come a long way from the country the British exited in 1947, and which they believed (and hoped) would not survive in its then form. India has since evolved into a vibrant constitutional democracy and made rapid strides in several domains (although there is a lot of work still to be done). Over the next few days, to mark the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, Mint will profile 70 milestones across the years, and across domains—politics, business, entertainment and sport. Put together by Mint’s reporters and editors, these entirely subjective listings are far from comprehensive, as is only to be expected when one is dealing with the seven-decade-old post-independence history of a country as large and complex as India.
1947: Bismillah Khan, whose name has become synonymous with the shehnai, performs at Red Fort on the eve of 15 August and later on Republic Day, 1950. His recital becomes a cultural part of India’s Independence Day Celebrations, telecast on Doordarshan every year on 15 August.
1947: K.L. Saigal, India’s most famous singer-actor, dies. His distinctive nasal style of singing lives on—from inspiring figures such as Kishore Kumar to being the subject of post-modern hat-tips as in the song Saigal Blues from Delhi Belly.
1949: The year of Lata. Lata Mangeshkar becomes a superstar with songs such as Jiya Beqaraar Hai (Barsaat); Aayega Aanewala (Mahal); Lara Lappaa (Ek Thi Ladki); Chup Chup Khade Ho (Badi Bahen); and Sajan ki Galiyan Chhod Chale (Lahore)
1950: Gore Gore O. Banke Chhore gets Bollywood swinging.C. Ramachandra is credited as the composer of this song, but Jazz musician and trumpeter Antonio Vaz, better known as Chic Chocolate, who was an integral part of Ramachandra’s team, is considered to be an equally important contributor. He is credited with paving the way for Anglo-Indian jazz musicians in Hindi film music.
1952: The Naushad-composed soundtrack to Baiju Bawra popularizes Hindustani classical music in Hindi cinema. And with songs such as O Duniya Ke Rakhwale, it helps establish Mohammad Rafi as the new star playback singer.
1952: All India Radio’s Vadya Vrinda platform, with Ravi Shankar as its first director, starts with the purpose of giving an outlet to instrumentalists and providing them a steady source of income.
1953: After he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1947, doctors had told Kumar Gandharva that singing could prove fatal. After he recuperated due to advances in medicine, he gave what would be his comeback performance at the Hari Mahadev Vaidya Hall at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. He sang his self-composed ragas which gave a new dimension of innovation in Hindustani music.
1955: Mera Joota Hai Japani’s popularity reaches all the way to the Soviet Union. Raj Kapoor’s tramp walk, Mukesh as his singing voice on screen, composers Shankar and Jaikishan’s talent for exquisite orchestration and the lite socialism of Shailendra’s lyrics make this an iconic song and an example of a winning team in its prime. (More recently, it was used in films such as Gravity and Deadpool.
1955: The iconic theme music of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, composed by Ravi Shankar, shows Ray’s knack for conceiving memorable movie themes (a later example being the Feluda theme)—a style of film music unusual in Indian cinema.
1957: Bade Ghulam Ali Khan returns to India. The Hindustani classical vocal legend had left India for Pakistan after Partition. He came back as a permanent citizen with the assistance of the then chief minister of Bombay, Morarji Desai; five years later he was awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Sangeet Natak Academy Award.
1957: Pyaasa, a musically star-studded album which features Geeta Dutt’s Aaj Sajan Mohe, Hemant Kumar’s Jane Woh Kaise, Rafi’s Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye, marks the end of the partnership of S.D. Burman, Sahir Ludhianvi and Guru Dutt.
1957: O.P. Nayyar brings the spirit of his homeland in the percussion-driven Ude Jab Jab Zulfein Teri and begins a trend of Punjabi-type Hindi film music with the movie Naya Daur. Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawaano Ka, from the same album, is one of our earliest patriotic hits.
1958: Salil Chowdhury wins Filmfare Award for Madhumati. One of Chowdhury’s best albums, it highlights his grip on folk music and his effortless straddling between musical traditions. While Chadh Gayo Paapi Bichhuaa recalls the Assamese music amid which he had grown up, Dil Tadap Tadap Ke Kah Rahaa Hai is based on Polish folk song Szla Dzieweczka do Gajeczka.
1961: Zubin Mehta is appointed director of Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The first crown in an extraordinary career, Mehta followed it up with his stints at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra was followed by the Los Angeles, New York and Israel Philharmonic orchestras.
1964: Kishori Amonkar sings for film playback, with Saanson Ke Taar Par from Shantaram’s Geet Gaya Patharon Ne. Her mother, Mogubai Kurdikar, a classical vocalist herself and a strict teacher, disapproves. As a result, Amonkar concentrates on a career as a classical musician. The rest is history.
1965: Aao Twist Kare showcases the versatility of Manna Dey, whose greatest hits had always been classical-based songs. R.D. Burman took him out of his comfort zone and put him in a Chubby Checker space with this fun, groovy number from Mehmood’s Bhoot Bungla.
1966: M.S. Subbulakshmi performs at the UN General Assembly. The Carnatic legend’s high-profile concert in New York is a historic one, the highlight being her rendition of Maithreem Bhajatha (O World! Cultivate Peace).
1968: The Beatles’ fascination with Eastern spirituality brings them to the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh on 15 February, 10 days after they recorded Across the Universe, which famously features the phrase “Jai Guru Deva".
1969: Kishore Kumar replaces Rafi as the voice of Rajesh Khanna in Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana when the latter goes on a long world tour. Following up with hits from Prem Pujari next year, Kumar overtakes Rafi as India’s leading male playback singer.
1969: Ravi Shankar, by then a global sitar icon, plays at Woodstock. He doesn’t approve of the hippie culture of the festival and vows not to play there again.
1971: Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Allah Rakha open with an Indian classical set in a George Harrison-led concert to fund relief efforts for Bangladesh, held at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
1971: R.D. Burman’s Dum Maro Dum, from the movie Hare Krishna Hare Ram, rocks the nation and establishes Asha Bhonsle as the go-to sexy female vocalist.
1972: Led Zeppelin plays at a nightclub in Bombay (now Mumbai). According to many accounts, band members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, during their stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel, found their way into a nightclub called Slip Disc. They performed a small set on the owner’s request and before the crowd multiplied, left abruptly with the unfulfilled promise of playing again the next night.
1972: Begum Akhtar gets Sangeet Natak Academy Award. Known as the Queen of Ghazal as well as one of the great exponents of thumri and dadra style of singing, Akhtar was also one of the first female singers to break away from private soirees to perform in public. She died two years after receiving the award.
1974: Shakti, the first Eastmeets-West supergroup, is formed. A melting pot of jazz, Hindustani and Carnatic classical, it features British guitarist John McLaughlin, violinist L. Shankar, tabla player Zakir Hussain and ghatam player T.H. Vinayakram.
1978: ITC Sangeet Research Academy is formed. The institute reinvents the gurushishya tradition, which remains at the heart of Hindustani classical music owing to its roots as an oral tradition. ITC pumped in much-needed funding in setting up the academy in Kolkata and providing a modern gurukul at a time when the musical tradition was suffering due to lack of patronage.
1979: “Janfest" at St Xaviers College, Bombay. The music festival, the first to be sponsored by a corporate group, begins with the aim to promote classical music among the youth. Everyone from Ustad Alla Rakha Khan to Pt Birju Maharaj has performed there.
1980: Aap Jaisa Koi, composed by Indian-born British music producer Biddu for Qurbaani and sung by Nazia Hassan, rings in the disco era of Indian mainstream music. Bappi Lahiri and Disco Dancer follow.
1980: British band The Police, at the top of the charts at the time, plays in Mumbai’s Rang Bhavan. Tickets set at Rs10 and Rs25 sell for 10 times their price.
1982: Woh Kagaz Ki Kashti launches Jagjit Singh. In one of his first hits and best-known songs, Singh shows his ability to tailor ghazal, a genre with a niche appeal, to popular tastes. He gives it a light, hummable quality and balances it with his deep, booming voice.
1986: Independence Rock, one of India’s earliest and biggest independent music festivals, is born in Mumbai. It has since lost its glory but still is considered a rite of passage for rock acts in the country.
1987: The album of Ijaazat releases. It is the last of the R.D. Burman-Gulzar partnerships, which had given albums such as Aandhi and Parichay, but different from them. There is a newfound minimalism in the arrangement in songs such as Mera Kuchh Saman and Chhoti Si Kahani, all sung by Asha Bhonsle, and Gulzar’s words have never felt more Gulzaresque.
1988: Ilaiyaraaja collaborates with Hariprasad Chaurasia in Nothing But Wind. The former’s 50-piece Chennai-based orchestra teams up with the latter’s North Indian flute for a divine invocation of nature and life. This non-film album is a prime example of Ilaiyaraaja’s limitless musical ability.
1988: Mile Sur Mera Tumhara is aired. Commissioned by the central government, Bhimsen Joshi and ad guru Piyush Pandey create a song to promote unity among Indians. The video, featuring film stars and sports personalities, is aired after the prime minister’s speech on 15 August on Doordarshan.
1990: The tabla maestro with his trademark frizzy hair and a cup of tea—the Taj Mahal tea ad marries Zakir Hussain’s glamour and talent to create an iconic image of a classical music superstar.
1992: Roja brings A.R. Rahman to the national limelight. It was unlike anything India had heard before.
1992: Jatin Lalit’s Pehla Nasha defines the innocent ’90s, with Aamir Khan’s dreamy, slo-mo leap in the air amid picturesque hills, Lalit’s melody and Udit Narayan’s velvety voice.
1993: Antakshari: The Great Challenge begins. The show takes the quintessentially Indian parlour game and gets families to huddle around their TV sets to see Deewane, Parwane and Mastane battle it out.
1993: Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai introduces Vishal Bhardwaj, the composer. The song for Doordarshan’s Hindi-dubbed Jungle Book animated series is one of Bhardwaj’s first collaborations with Gulzar. It is on one of their favourite themes, making songs for children.
1995: The release of Abar Bochhor Kuri Pore brings the Beatles-inspired Mohiner Ghoraguli, India’s first homegrown rock band, formed in 1975, back into the public consciousness. The 1995 album, a recreation of their 1960s and 1970s songs by members of a booming Bangla band community (including some original members), is a welcome reminder.
1995: Sitar player Anoushka Shankar makes her solo debut at the age of 13. The performance at Siri Fort, New Delhi, marks the celebration of her father’s 75th anniversary and comes three years after she had first accompanied him with the tanpura on stage.
1996: MTV comes to India. Middle-class India’s first visual experience of the Madonnas and the Metallicas. The Lucky Alis and the Falguni Pathaks join in. Music videos become a thing.
1996: Michael Jackson performs History World Tour concert in Mumbai, dubbed as India’s greatest gig ever and the first of its scale and stature.
1996: Like its gloriously over-the-top music video, Alisha Chinoy descends from a helicopter crooning Made in India in the opening ceremony of the 1996 cricket World Cup at Eden Gardens. Indipop announces its arrival in the grandest fashion.
1997: Pakistani pop band Junoon’s Sayonee gives India its first taste of sufi rock and roll, heralding a later craze for Pakistani singers in the mid-2000s in Bollywood.
1997: Paban Das Baul with his soul-searing songs, collaborates with British music producer Sam Mills in Real Sugar (a play on the Bengali ashol cheeni) and stamps Baul music on the map of world music—rather more forcefully than Purna Das Baul’s Bengali Bauls at Big Pink, way ahead of its time in 1967.
1997: Yeh Dil Deewana signals the arrival of a new singing superstar—Sonu Nigam. A song with wild ups and downs, it is an instant hit. It helps that Shah Rukh Khan was the face of the song (and the film it appeared in, Pardes), who Nigam goes on to frequently sing for over the next decade.
1998: Breathless makes Shankar Mahadevan famous. In what would be a gimmick today, thanks to auto-tune, the singer-composer actually sings a two-and-a-half-minute semi-classical song without taking a breath to an electronic track. Phew.
2000: Indian Ocean’s eco-activism-fuelled rock album Kandisa finds the sweet spot between the intimidating-to-some Western-influenced independent music and a more universal indigenous sound.
2001: Just like the movie, there was something new, cool and fresh about the soundtrack of Dil Chahta Hai which featured hits such as Koi Kahe and Tanhayee. It was Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy at the top of their game.
2001: Vishwa Bharati ends copyright on Rabindranath Tagore’s works. The move frees Rabindra Sangeet from the shackles of the purists, resulting in all kinds of experimentations: from playful Hindi film interpretations and folk-rock renditions to acid-drenched versions.
2002: Vijay Nair forms Only Much Louder, the first artist management agency for indie bands, and eight years later, gives India its coolest music festival—NH7 Weekender
2004-05: The first season of Indian Idol becomes a national television event. People choose their winner, Abhijit Sawant, through SMS voting. The trend of music reality shows begins.
2007: The famed music venue BlueFrog amps up Mumbai’s live music scene with state of the art acoustics, eclectic range of performers and a great location—the converted Todi mill compound. (It shut down in 2016.)
2007: Iron Maiden performs in Bengaluru. The metal gods’ performance in the garden city opens the doors for legit, heavyweight bands such as Megadeath, Machine Head and Opeth to perform in India.
2009: Bhimsen Joshi, the most famous proponent of the Kirana Gharana, wins the Bharat Ratna. The singer, known for drawing huge crowds to his concerts and starting the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune, dies two years later.
2009:A.R. Rahman wins Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Slumdog Millionaire and Jai Ho at the Oscars. The film receives Best Picture and six other Academy Awards as well, including Resul Pookutty’s win in the Sound Mixing category.
2010: Emosanal Attyachar becomes the new cool for the young people. Composer Amit Trivedi and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya begin their innings with a National Award for the strikingly original Dev D album.
2011: Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan sets the stage for an indie invasion of Bollywood. The film is one of the first to compile an album entirely out of indie talent such as Bhayanak Maut, Suraj Jaggan. Ironically, its biggest hit is Mikey McCleary’s sexy reimagining of the gentle, moony Rafi classic Khoya Khoya Chaand.
2011: Pakistan’s pride and India’s envy until then, Coke Studio arrives here on MTV. Except occasional flashes of brilliance, we still haven’t matched up to their levels
2011: International Villager introduces India to Yo Yo Honey Singh. One of the highest-grossing Punjabi albums, Singh’s offering features songs such as Dope Shope and Angreji Beat and gives us our first dose of soon-to-be-big Punjabi hip-hop. Rappers Baadshah and Raftaar, both featured in the album, are currently ruling the scene.
2012: Sneha Khanwalkar’s knack for making anything work with her electronic soundscape finds full scope in the thrilling Gangs of Wasseypur soundtrack—Bihari folk, dubstep, Caribbean chutney. The elusive composer hasn’t worked on a full-fledged album since then
2012: Theatre director Roysten Abel’s production The Manganiyar Seduction presents the raw soul of folk singers from Rajasthan in a dazzling set inspired by the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur and Amsterdam’s red light district.
2012: Even before people know what the fuss was all about, the bizarrely fun Tamil song Why This Kolaveri Di breaks the Internet. India’s first true viral music video.
2013: As internet and smartphone penetration grows, streaming services such as Gaana and Saavn multiply their listeners. (Currently, digital music services are estimated to generate more than 70% of the annual revenue in the Indian music industry.)
2013: Tum Hi Ho, the haunting, if soppy, love ballad from Aashiqui 2, turns Arijit Singh into a phenomenon that still hasn’t ended.
2015: British band Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin walks into a Delhi bar and does an impromptu set, setting the rumour mills rolling about a concert in India. It comes true the next year.
2016: In Chennai Poramboke Paadal, T.M. Krishna brings Carnatic classical music from its hallowed sabhas to the stinking dump-yard of Ennore Creek and raises the alarm on environmental damage.
2017: Saregama taps into its rights to India’s most beloved soundtracks—the golden age of film music, classical music and ghazals—to create Carvaan. It is an algorithm-enabled music device that plays like an old radio set (it comes loaded with 5,000 old Hindi songs) and also serves as a Bluetooth speaker.
Photos: Hindustan Times, Wikimedia Commons, PIB, Reuters, and Mint.