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Posted at: Sep 9, 2017, 12:18 AM; last updated: Sep 9, 2017, 12:18 AM (IST)

Rise of the underdogs

Srishti Millicent
Amid online platforms, things are looking up for independent music in the country

Srishti Millicent

“Original music always finds its way to those looking for it and doesn’t need a handout from anyone,” says Kashif Iqbal, the lead guitarist of Bangalore-based rock band Parvaaz. When Iqbal says this, he speaks for all those who have wanted to stay away from the mould of popular Bollywood music and for all those who have stayed put through the ebb and flow.

The age of Indie and Indie-pop

Those were 1990s and a little revolution was underway in our homes. The notes that were making their way into the living rooms or bedrooms, or wherever the television was placed, were not screechy filmy numbers often accused of plagiarism. They were sounds inspired from world music, but Indianised for desi ears. That was Indian independent music, and it gave us our own icons.

A number of independent artists arrived on the scene with solo albums. ‘Indie-pop’ was discovered soon enough; never mind if the term was first used by British-Indian fusion band Monsoon in their 1981 EP release. In no time, the genre spread like a disease in the Asian continent, especially in India and Pakistan. Singer and song-writer Lucky Ali was a phenomenon and made his debut in the industry with Sunoh that featured his hit song ‘O Sanam’. The song bagged him Best Pop Vocalist Award at Channel V Viewers Awards in 1997. It was a feat in itself to be recognised as an individual artist and not a playback singer.

Shaan, singer and judge of singing reality shows like Voice of India and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs, too debuted in the music industry with solo albums like Loveology, Tanha Dil, Aksar and Tishnagi. Similarly, Euphoria and Strings were responsible for gifting Indie-rock music to the nation with their popular songs like ‘Maeri’ and ‘Dur’. The others who made their mark included Baba Sehgal, Bombay Vikings, Falguni Pathak, Alisha Chinoy; trailing them were bands like Viva and A Band of Boys. Few sustained their success. Indian Ocean is the only one still around. 

And it died down

Indie-pop was soon to vanish, almost like a fad. Bollywood music reigned supreme and solo artists were no more able to create a market of their own. Today, while online platforms have ensured viewers and some bit of fame also, they are largely underrated.

Indian Ocean was founded in 1990 but gained recognition only in late 2000s. Artists like Parvaaz, Parekh & Singh, Prateek Kuhad, Madboy/Mink and Sandunes have been around for some time. They have had their share of hits on social media, some news in papers too, but what we know as ‘fame’ has eluded them. However, they are enthused to make themselves heard.

Helping them out are various music like MTV Indies and VH1, trying hard to promote Indie artists. Saavn, a mobile app dedicated to music, promotes independent artists by providing its users with Indie music playlists.

Parvaaz’s Kashif Iqbal says the independent music scene in India is quite vibrant now and many artists are getting a larger platform through the internet and social media. “Even a minute percentage of Bollywood films is incorporating independent music,” he says. 

However, Bollywood alone cannot be blamed for the plight of Indie artists. “I feel the masses crave for the kind of music that Bollywood provides in general. That is again a kind of ‘chicken or egg’ situation and is always up for debate. The fact that people’s attention spans have gone down is what hurts independent music more than anything else. We, at Parvaaz, firmly believe that good, original music always finds its way to deserving listeners and doesn’t need a handout from anyone. All Indie artists keep working towards that goal on a daily basis,” says Iqbal.

Similarly, Hari-Sukhmani, a duo from Chandigarh that plays Punjabi folk fused with ambient electronic music, shares insight into how the artists are still struggling to be discovered. “Fame and fortune are not the priorities of an artist. It is evolution, as a person, as a musician. Everything else is a byproduct. People in search of purely fame and fortune, who believe that they will get all of that through music, are not fulfilling their entire potential as artists,” they say.

No doubt Bollywood holds monopoly over the music industry. However, independent artists too deserve acknowledgment. Only then will new-age music flourish and you and I will have more to choose from, rather than going gaga over filmy songs or the Honey Singhs and Badshahs.

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