By Chinmaya Shah:
Living in an age where everything gets digitally transformed, downloaded and ‘consumed’, the very facet of art as a medium of expression has lost its meaning. In this context, music as an art form gets continuously affected and transformed as it moves down the road. Gone are those days when music carried its own bowl of imagery and, simultaneously, exhilarated with the emotions to find its own audience. In our country , contemporary music gets its definition largely from Bollywood where, barring a few, most of the music produced tends to be meaningless, and mostly composed of sexist and misguiding undertones and lyrics which are arranged in repetition. However, such music has its own audience and thus leaves the topic entirely debatable.
The problem with the mainstream music industry here not only lies with the quality of music but with its reach to a wide range of audience where it efficiently and effectively uses the medium of communication to maximize its monetary profits. This is where the concept of independent music seeps in, perhaps as a counter movement. A space which goes beyond defined genres of music, where people are not force-fed and are free to choose an artist according to their interests. Keeping up with the tradition, the indie music scene is mushrooming with new talented musicians who are not only experimenting with traditional genres but are creating sounds which have never been heard before. Singapore based singer-songwriter and pianist, Rahul Advani, is one such upcoming artist who seeks to blend the elements of western and eastern music together, in a fusion, which gives a completely new meaning to the genre. In an interview with Youth Ki Awaaz, he talks about the release of his new album ‘night stories’ and what influenced his taste in music while growing up. ‘I’ve been singing from a young age, ever since I heard the music from films like Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty & The Beast, and I think the strength of those melodies and the emotions they conjure have definitely influenced the kind of music I write. More recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of singer-songwriters such as Sara Bareilles, Katharine McPhee and City and Colour. I’ve learned so much about singing just by listening to them. Playing the piano has also really helped me to compose and come up with melodies. There have been times when out of nowhere I’ve come up with a melody in my head in the strangest of places – sometimes even when I’m just walking on the street. Having the chance to go back and test it out on the piano has resulted in several songs being written’, says Rahul.
Over the years, indie music has gained space and appraisal in bringing out newer sounds which has, somehow, pushed it to extensive experimentation. In the past, one could notice Pandit Ravi Shanker and The Beatles bringing the cultural ends together with the instruments they used on stage. Similarly ‘tabla’ is one such instrument which has been always used to give a fresh flavour to music by varying artists such as Led Zeppelin in their song ‘friends’. For Rahul , the journey to find his own ‘sound’ is an interesting one. In his words, “Trying to figure out what kind of musical direction the EP would take was a challenge. When writing my songs, I had never envisioned them with Indian instruments, but the EP’s Indian-fusion sound happened completely by chance. I had this crazy idea to have my friend try out the tabla on my songs just to see how it would sound. When I heard it I realized I had found the sound I was looking for. It instinctively felt right that the EP would blend Indian and Western sounds, and all the other instruments that feature, including the ghatam and kanjira, fell into place. Looking back now, it makes complete sense that I chose to bring Western and Indian instruments together, considering that Indian and Western music have been equally influential in my musical and cultural upbringing”.
But, the case with independent music gets a bit tricky while adjusting itself with the Indian context. Unlike in the west where it finds its origins and association with the working class, in our country, this entire ‘category’ of music gets restricted to upper and middle class communities. With major music labels supporting only if guaranteed a profit return from the market, the path for young artists gets narrowed. To reach out to a completely new audience which is alien to one’s work becomes challenging not only to survive in order to spread their work but also establish themselves as artists. Rahul says “releasing the record completely on my own has been pretty challenging. I’ve been doing the promotional work myself, from trying to get it featured in newspapers and websites, to landing gigs and interviews, as well as designing posters and graphics. What’s been great though is that every part of this process has taught me something new. Along the way, I’ve been able to meet people from all walks of life – from musicians to journalists, to fellow music lovers – who have connected with my music and want to help put it out there. The connections I’ve formed and the support I’ve received during the journey of making the EP has given me the confidence and the motivation to keep composing and promoting my music’. Many fans with their varying tastes in music have managed to establish themselves in good positions in the industry and in other media as well, from where they are continuously working in an effort to showcase those people who are trying their level best to bring a treat to one’s ears. ‘It’s great to know that as an artist just starting out, there are people willing to listen to your music and help you get it out there. India’s The Hindu and Singapore’s The Straits Times and Today newspapers have all reviewed the EP which was pretty cool. Also, MTV Indies is soon going to be doing a feature on the EP that I’m quite excited about. It’s the fusion aspect of the music in particular that listeners have really seemed to connect with. Everyone I’ve met so far has a different favorite song from the EP – hopefully that means it has something for everyone!’, is what he says about the experience when he started doing the marketing for his album ‘night stories’.
On question of whether the Indian Diaspora living all over the world will be able to accept what’s new to the store apart from contemporary Bollywood music releases, Rahul answers it with a different perspective – ‘Just like how jazz, rock, R&B, country and electronic dance music (as a few examples) all have their own place in the world of music, I think there’s definitely a space for both Bollywood and indie music to co-exist. I truly believe that if the music is honest and comes from the heart, it will always find an audience, whatever its genre may be. Also, nothing can beat the experience of hearing and experiencing music live, and I think that’s something where indie musicians as live performers have an advantage. Bollywood songs themselves are becoming increasingly infused with indie sounds as musicians like Raghu Dixit and Amit Trivedi write music for Bollywood films, so I see great things happening for indie music in India in the near future’. When asked about his personal favourite from the indie scene, he replied – ‘Some of the indie music coming out from India that I’ve been listening to lately has blown my mind. The Colour Compound, Wait For It, Until We Last, Tejas Menon and Faridkot in particular are all bands that are putting out some fantastic music’.
Adding to what I earlier discussed about the content of music and thus assumed meanings, perhaps independent music is functioning like an outlet for the young generation in India, a possible sphere where they are free to express themselves. On one hand, where their music speaks about continuing the tradition, yet at the same time, they are in search of newer boundaries and to create newer meanings. Coming back to the album ‘night stories’, most of the lyrical part has been done by this young song-writer himself. ‘I’ve been really lucky with how quickly things have progressed and the support I’ve received from my friends regarding my music. All the songs on the EP are the first songs that I’ve ever really written for myself, so the fact that they’ve received a positive response has encouraged me to continue composing and hopefully improve as a songwriter. Also, the excitement of creating something original as a songwriter is a feeling I never experienced before as a musician, and now I can’t imagine being a singer without writing my own songs!’ says Rahul. Moreover, the bio says that the album is a coming together of friends in a desire to tell stories. ‘I wrote and recorded a majority of the material on the EP late at night. This is the time I feel most inspired and creative. The songs on the EP represent the introspective journey we go through at night, from lying in bed thinking about life and the late-night conversations we have with our closest friends to midnight drives and enjoying music amidst the quiet peace of the night – these are all the things “Night Stories” has tried to capture’ he adds.
Apart from being a musician and a song writer, Rahul is a researcher at the National University of Singapore, where he’s been coordinating a project on the social aspirations and political attitudes of young people in India. He travelled last year to Bihar to interview young people like himself in villages, colleges and offices to find out about their thoughts and ideas about politics, and it was an eye opening experiences for him. He also tries to visit different parts of India whenever he gets a chance. As in his words, ‘there is just so much to see’.
Independent music in our country is thriving, however for an artist in order to continue with music, he requires support from the listeners. One becomes a musician not by earning riches but by the number of people one is able to move and make them feel connected with music. Visit the links below and feel free to support!
Follow Rahul on Facebook.