Niche music

Yesterday some of us attended a musical performance by the Hadouk Trio. The musicians were Didier Malherbe, Loy Ehrlich and Steve Shehah. Between them, they played a variety of instruments ranging from the doudouk, flute, khen, kora, gumbass, hang, percussions and more. Considering that I am no great expert on music and function entirely on my moods with regard to choice of music, I found bits interesting and bits boring. I found the artists themselves to be very sweet.

But, ha, what interested me enormously was the crowd !!. The age group varied widely and men equaled women in number.

But the class distribution!!!!

Boom, suddenly you have almighty ‘skewed’ on your hands – a roomful of people who seem to have come out for more than an evening of nodding to and enjoying good music. If the same crowd had to (under duress) watch some of our dark-skinned tribal folks come on stage and perform, would they smile so readily at their inane statements, would they clap in awe when a round of performance was done?

With due apologies to the genuine art lovers in the group, it seemed to me, on first thought, that many in the crowd would run if they had to watch a ‘non upper class’ Indian perform in a ‘non Alliance Francaise’ location. Whereas some in this group would also patronize Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Tiruchi Govindasami Pillai and Saraba Sastri, there seem to be others who would only associate with French, British and other ‘superior race’ performers.Patronizing these shows is also about the association – with the West, with a quasi cultured, snobbish, “I hobnob only with whites’ attitude.

Music in India is such a caste and class niche. Most of the group would prefer to drop dead rather than admit that they aren’t able to pronounce the names of half the performers from the West, why even Alliance Francaise itself. Does one say ‘Ally – ahnce’, or Alley – ahnce? Does one say Fran – case, or Fran-sase, or Frans –wah, or Fran-chez? French is not anywhere similar to any of our Indian languages – still it’s a statement of association and pseudo snobbery, to throw French words around, however ill-pronounced.

For years, Indian media has showcased internationally renowned and acclaimed musicians, as well as a series of Indian ‘maestros’ – the Subbalakshmis, Mangeshkars, Subramaniams, Ramakrishans, Varmas and Prasads. Music by this group itself is no problem, but on a sociological perspective, there is an extreme degree of monopoly BY one caste group of performers FOR the same caste group of audience. This is unfair monopoly and dangerous if music has to also be equitable, accessible and available to all Indians.

I read in another blog about a Venezuelan composer and  economist who tried to break the ‘traditional elitism of western classical music and using it for sociological purposes leading to El Sistema (The System) which takes thousands of deprived, disaffected youngsters from the dangerously impoverished barrios and gives them a chance to play classical music.  The author of the blog pointedly asks “Could Carnatic music step out of its stultifying katcheris and perform a similar role for the cheri pasangal?”

In this backdrop, the song ‘Kolaveri di’ from South India comes as a blasé, lazy exposition that is at once amusical and extremely musical. It draws from nowhere and seems to lead nowhere. It wasn’t meant to be a statement, but has become one. I don’t think it’s so much about the South as about a dark-skinned, non brahmin man coming out and making fun of the English language and the snobbish white skinned person for duplicity and ability to wound. This is in stark contrast to the common and the usual exposition of fairness and all things western.

Change is in the air – NICE…………..

What would be nice is if socially motivated ‘international performers’ played at the ghettos and slums of Indian cities and villages. This would make sure that they perform for the real face of India and not the smiling masks .


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