There’s a clear divide in the Indian music world between film and non-film music. With their huge budget, films are growing ever bigger. The blend of pop, rap and Sufi music in Indian film songs has doomed the independent music genre.
Alisha Chenoy had young India crooning “Made in India.” Shaan’s “Tanha Dil,” Abhijeet’s “Deewana” and Sonu Nigam’s “Tuuuu” made them the voice of the new generation. Daler Mehndi’s “Bolo Ta Ra Ra” made him the unrivalled Bhangra King; Colonial Cousins brought in western fusion to classical ragas; Bombay Vikings’ “Wo Chali” introduced a genre of English fusion to old Bollywood tracks; Remo Fernandes “O Meri Munni” and Baba Sehgal’s “Thanda Thanda Paani” had us jiving to Hindi rap, Sunita Rao came up with the mesmerizing “Pari Hoon Main”; Ila Arun’s “Maaro Ghaghro” and Shubha Mudgal’s “Ab Ke Saawan” made us fall in love with rustic melodies. Adnan Sami and Asha Bhosle’s “Kabhi Toh Nazar Milao” and Alka Yagnik’s “Saare Sapne” symphonies touched virtually every Indian heart. The 1990s saw many independent musicians rise to fame with chartbuster albums. Non-film music was a rage.
There’s a clear divide in the Indian music world between film and non-film music. With their huge budget, films are growing ever bigger. Before music lovers realized it, they were crooning Bollywood chartbusters being repeated on music channels and radio stations instead of private songs. The blend of pop, rap and Sufi music in Indian film songs has doomed the independent music genre, according to many independent singers.
“Bollywood songs till recently were quite typical in character. But now music composers have so articulately begun blending every genre of music with Bollywood numbers that there of course remains little scope for us,” says Punjabi pop singer Bhuppi.
“Probably this was when some of us began singing for a few Bollywood tracks that the idea struck Bollywood and record companies to invest in good Bollywood music than spend lakhs in promoting independent singers and their albums,” says pop-singer Shibani Kashyap, who is known for the Bollywood tracks “Sajna Aa Bhi Jaa” and “Zinda Hoon Main.” With singers like Shaan, Kailash Kher, Lucky Ali, Daler Mehndi and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan lending their voice to Bollywood numbers, private albums have withered.
With the advent of MP3 and music channels shifting from non-film to film to reality shows, Indi-pop and other non-film music genres are fading out. “As there are no financiers available for independent musicians, consumers are almost always hooked to music from movies. The good talent never filters to the consumer,” rues Euphoria’s Sen. The trend today is enter playback singing or go bust. As a result, many band singers like Neeraj Sridhar of Bombay Vikings and Mohit Chauhan of Silk Routes have taken the Bollywood route. However, many Indian musicians still prefer to steer clear of films.
“Somehow Bollywood films don’t talk to me. I fail to understand them or their music,” says famous Sikh singer Rabbi Shergill of “Bulla Ki Jaana” fame.
Likewise, pop singer Jassi says: “I am very choosy about singing Bollywood tracks. I look for music and lyrics that I can relate to. Most often than not, I fail to find a connect.” Like many Punjabi singers, he is relieved that there is still heavy demand for private albums in Punjab.
Kashyap says, “When I came into the pop industry with my debut album ‘Ho Gayi Hai Mohabbat,’ I was getting due airtime and became MTV artist of the month. Today, the music, which we get to see on music channels, is just Bollywood songs.”
Many singers have switched to online promotions. “Imran Khan’s ‘Amplifier’ got famous through You Tube. Even I prefer watching Shakira’s videos on You Tube. I trust the site to promote my new launches as well,” Kashyap says.
Top honchos in the broadcast industry reject the criticism that they discourage independent artists. “For any TV channel or radio station, private albums are equally important if they are quality products. Unfortunately, today private album has become a territory where anyone can walk in, pool in some ancestral money, rope in some mediocre musician and bingo the album is ready,” says Viplove Gupte, Head-National Programming, for 92.7 Big FM, Reliance Broadcast Network. But what about accomplished singers like Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Sukhwinder Singh, K.K., Shubha Mudgal, and the like? “I do know of some top singers who have their albums ready, but are worried about releazing it because of the bad quality of non-film music being produced these days,” Gupte says.
Rabbi Shergill agrees: “Being a good singer is no more enough. It’s more about how good your music video is or how good you look. There is this complete standardisation of music where everything sounds the same and we all are mutually replaceable.”
The pace of musicians and lyricists heading to Bollywood and expressing their creativity through movie songs has grown markedly in recent years. Shankar Mahadevan, of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who stormed Bollywood through his hit album “Breathless” has stopped creating private albums now.
The Internet, which is often seen as a golden opportunity for independent musicians to promote and market their songs, is a double edged sword. Playback singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya says: “If I sing a song today for a private album, it’ll be all over internet tomorrow. I have seen many of my new releases included in the list of 200 songs fed in cheap MP3 cassettes. While my earlier albums like ‘Tere Bina’ and ‘Deewana’ had made good business, by the time ‘Lamhe’ hit music stores, piracy had taken its toll on our industry.”
“We yet don’t know how, but we are surely going to promote independent singers,” adds Apurv Nagpal, chief executive officer of Saregama.