Once every month I receive an e-paper called Swar Aalap in the inbox of my Thunderbird email client. In these days of spamming and unsolicited marketing messages, it would not be unwarranted if I were to delete it without a second look, since I haven’t actually bought a subscription. But then, for a student of music, a document that bears terms like swar and aalaap is hard to trash, and even a casual look at the e-paper is riveting enough to ensure that you are hooked. The marvellous archival photographs and detailed features on musicians from the Indian film industry are, without doubt, a delight for music lovers. Take, for example, the September issue. Under the masthead you see the main feature titled “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves" with a gorgeous black and white picture of the young violinist and arranger Anthony Gonsalves conducting an orchestra. And if you are wondering whether the gentleman has anything to do with the chart-buster song from Manmohan Desai’s 1977 multi-starrer Amar Akbar Anthony, you’re absolutely right. He is, indeed, the eminent violinist from whom music director Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma (better known as Pyarelal of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) learnt the violin and whose name was inserted in the song that became a huge hit. A wonderfully detailed interview conducted by Kushal Gopalka from the Swar Aalap team is accompanied by a more recent picture of Anthony Gonsalves, now in his 80s and living a retired life in Majorda, Goa.

Chronicled: A Swar Alap cover.

The Swar Aalap magazine was launched in May 2002 by percussionist Dinesh Ghate as a tribute to the unsung contributions of arrangers, singers and musicians from the film industry—musicians who played on or arranged tracks that are immortal and evergreen and are performed even today. These were musicians whose contributions were immense but who remained virtually anonymous and unsung at a time when the practice of acknowledging sessions musicians on album sleeves or notes was either unheard of or ignored by the music industry. Ghate initially launched Swar Aalap as a print publication, but decided to convert to the e-paper format in 2009 to counter the huge cost involved in printing. He still plans to print an annual compilation for collectors. The annual subscription for the e-paper is a meagre Rs300, and yet there has not been any substantial increase in subscriptions, reports Ghate, not without a tinge of regret. How does he manage, then? Obviously, it is the passion for the subject that drives the small but dedicated team Ghate works with, but he also acknowledges with gratitude the support he has received from collectors Arun Puranik and Gopalka. Others such as banker Shankar Iyer joined hands with Ghate a little later, as did friends who helped him set up a website, www.swaraalap.com, as well as the e-paper for him. That, in short, is the story of this wonderful little publication that has kept its chin up and persevered for seven long years in its print avatar and now in e-format. I guess that’s also what makes Ghate say without a second of hesitation or without any intention of raking in subscription fee that he prefers the e-format because it is so easy to reach to people across the globe who can then, in turn, forward it to others!

Personally, the high point of my telephonic interview with Ghate was when he explained that Swar Aalap is his tribute to “woh pachees musician (those 25 musicians)" or a handful of musicians whose contribution to film music is even today providing a livelihood to thousands of others—“hum pachaas hazaar musicianon ka ghar chal rahaa hai… unke gaane bajaa bajaa ke (50,000 of us musicians are surviving on tunes made by them)". To the spirit and sincerity and sensitivity of this statement I offer my humble salaam.

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com