Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Saregama Carvaan is a digital music player with a retro twist

It was during one of my weekend downtime sessions with old friends—generally dominated by YouTube, Chromecasting and an unhealthy dose of PlayStation 4—that I first unveiled the device. It was just what we needed on a Friday night when we were too tired to fight on the football field on screen (or off it) and duel over which song to play next.

Is it a radio? A speaker? A hard drive? It is the newly minted Saregama Carvaan—a multipurpose portable music player which looks like an old radio set with big buttons, a jog-dial, an inbuilt speaker and a small screen that displays the name of the song being played.

This new contraption, priced at Rs5,990, is currently available online and in select stores.

We didn’t know what we were missing until we switched it on and discovered what it was like to have no control over the music we listen to: an evergreen Kishore Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar duet, a melancholic Geeta Dutt melody, a haunting Hemant Kumar song, played one after the other. A feeling that harks back to the radio programmes of yore, part of whose appeal lay in not knowing which song came next, a feeling impossible to recreate on curated playlists in streaming apps or the new FM channels, where commercials pop up every 10 minutes.

Within the universe of Hindi film songs, largely culled from the 1950s-90s, the device allows you to select an artist or mood. One can also surrender to the most reassuring voices from Indian radio history with Ameen Sayani’s gentle, informed commentary on film music of the last five decades. To break up the nostalgia trip, you could use the device to play your own music from a phone or laptop via Bluetooth—which, I must admit, we eventually did.

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Saregama’s managing director Vikram Mehra says in a phone interview that Carvaan’s selling point is to make the idea of listening to music easy. In 2015, Saregama, which happens to be India’s oldest music label, conducted a national survey on music consumption habits. One of the major findings was that the above-35 age group, especially those who live outside the metros, couldn’t access old Hindi songs on the Internet because they found the act of listening to music on apps and computers too cumbersome. They depended on their children to help them access music online.

Mehra also emphasizes the Indianness of Carvaan and the unique listening experience: “During the survey, a statement from a lady in Kanpur stayed with me. She said that earlier, in the time of Vividh Bharati, one would be cooking while great music was going on in the background. I belong to that generation."

Anyone with even limited experience with present-day radio channels will know that not every song played is a nice surprise. By offering gems from the golden era of Hindi film music, Carvaan works with two levels of filters: quality and nostalgia.

The team at Carvaan used data collected over three years from various media platforms, streaming apps such as Saavn and Gaana, YouTube, radio and television, to arrive at, as Mehra puts it, “the 5,000 greatest Hindi songs ever". Algorithms ensure that every time you play Carvaan, the songs play in a different sequence. “It looks analogue, but there’s a lot of digital stuff inside," he says. For the design, they went for a chunky retro look. It is at present available in Electric Blue and Porcelain White but will soon be out in other vintage pop colours. And it comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 5 hours.

Carvaan has the potential to be a top seller. It addresses a gap in the target group and is a cool toy for younger nostalgists. Saregama, whose oldest recording archived dates back to 1901, has been trying various ways to translate its inherent strength—the rights to India’s most beloved soundtracks—into digital revenue streams. With Carvaan, they seem to have hit the bull’s eye.

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