Music Appreciation in India – A Rant (Guest Blog)


Sometimes, it’s easy to write an angry piece. You’re angry, but you’re in enough control to write coherently. Sometimes, though, you get so angry at something, and feel so powerless against it, that you become incoherent. You want to say too many things at the same time, and end up saying nothing (almost as if too many electrons decide to party in you head and end up repelling each other and giving you a headache). 
I’ve been trying to write about the state of music appreciation in the country for some time, but there has been too much anger and powerlessness in the past for me to be able to write a cogent piece on it. But, maybe it’s time to calm down just enough. 
Music functions on the foundation of a strange contradiction. Well, maybe not so much a contradiction as a dichotomy. It is, at once, both communal and personal. It touches you in a place that is your own and only your own, but you also need to share it with someone, in order to truly feel its power. Therefore, music must, by its very character, be something that you have the right to preferentially enjoy and share. You have the right to choose whatever music rings your bell.
And here’s my contention. There are a few dimensions that define music – tunes, lyrics, virtuosity, experimentation. You may not understand how someone derives entertainment from Carnatic music/heavy metal, but you can appreciate the virtuosity of the singer/instrumentalist. You may not understand how someone derives entertainment from strange sounds sampled electronically and played in a loop even, but you can appreciate the courage and the will to experiment with music. You can like classical music or not. You can like dislike ghazals and love Mozart, or the other way round. You can enjoy opera and absolutely hate old (1960s-80s) Hindi songs. Those are choices.
How, though, do you justify the music that, say, a Honey Singh or a Badshah makes? For all its connection to emotion, music is a science too. It needs dedication and careful deliberation to create. How are flat unmodulated tunes to misogynistic, drug-promoting lyrics good?
And then there are the languages. People in India just do not listen to music in languages they do not understand (or sometimes even do understand). It’s strange. There are English-speaking Indians who do not listen to English songs saying that they do not understand the lyrics. But they somehow all seem to magically understand ‘Tainu samjhawan’. Suddenly, everyone understands Punjabi. Don’t even get me started on the absolute regional gems that these people miss, purely because of their auditory myopia. Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Assamese – the number of languages in which some truly beautiful songs are made is pretty much as large as the number of languages in our country. But, most of us end up listening to only Hindi and Punjabi-infused Hindi songs only. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been listening to a song from the new season of Pakistan’s acclaimed Coke Studio sessions incessantly. It’s a Punjabi song called Paar Chanaa De. It blew my mind the first time I heard it and I haven’t been able to stop since. If you haven’t heard it, please do. It’s 11 minutes you cannot possibly regret spending.
I’m still as powerless as I’ve always been about influencing the next person’s musical preferences. The best I can do is to direct them to great music. Whether they listen to it or not is their choice. I can only hope that people get more open, and use the immense information resources they have (yes, YouTube), to discover varied and beautiful music. For now, writing this piece has been cathartic.
The following is an article written by my mentor, my moral/professional/social adviser, and above all my best friend – Anupam Das. You can find him at
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