Bangalore has the ideal environment for artistic collaboration
Published in DNA After Hours, December 2011
I’m often asked whether being a classical musician in a city that is as cosmopolitan as Bangalore is worthwhile. It surprises many people outside the classical music fold when I say that classical music is not just surviving but thriving in the city. And the numbers prove it. A cursory study of the newspaper concert listings will confirm that Carnatic music concerts form the majority of ‘gigs’ in the city’s cultural calendar. If you were to collect all the full-time and part-time classical musicians in the city, it would fill a medium-sized football field. And almost every other kid learns some form of classical music for some time in his/ her life.
The numbers would also present a contrasting picture. Classical musicians are perhaps among the lowest paid musicians across genres (when I started performing, I was sometimes compensated with fruits, agarbathis, and even a pen torch!), which is why a majority of performing musicians, even the successful ones, continue to hold other jobs. A reason for the plethora of classical music concerts across the city is because the logistics required to host a concert are so minimal that you could have a concert in your living room, or backyard, or the neighbourhood temple. All you need is a basic mic set and a few rickety chairs; there is often very little attention paid to acoustics or ambience. And we’ve all had friends who learnt the veena or mridangam for a few years and then dropped out because it takes forever to get past the basic exercises and learn to play a song.
But, things are certainly changing. You know this when you see kids in Metallica T shirts at Gayana Samaja listening to concerts – they are still the minority, but are growing. The star performers are younger today, and kids identify with them. Musicians are reaching out to audiences in newer ways; even the more reticent senior musicians explain in detail what they will be presenting as a way of getting the audience to understand better. Several performers have websites and social media presence (one even has a mobile app) to reach out to their fan base. Bangalore provides an ideal environment for musical collaborations and you find classical musicians performing with jazz musicians, indie bands, and folk ensembles. The traditional ‘sabha’ concert too has undergone a sea change, with the audiences demanding freshness; I’ve presented concerts on themes ranging from women- composers, to saint-poets, to the various facets of love, and can say for a fact that this city is always open to innovation, in a way that a more conservative Chennai or Mysore will never be. The economics are far better today, with sponsored shows for corporate organizations, universities and foreign delegations paying handsome fees for performances. Today I get to perform at a small sabha in Basavanagudi or Malleswaram, and the very next day at a Bangalore Club or an IIM, which is what makes the music scene so interesting.
So what then is the future for classical music in Bangalore? Will it grow as Bangalore grows, with Sarjapur Sangeetha Sabhas and Whitefield Carnatic Clubs springing up? Or will the indie/ fusion/ Bollywood scene swallow it up? I, for one, believe Bangalore is poised to become the live music capital of the country – which other city can boast of audiences for Carnatic, Hindustani, Western classical, jazz, indie, rock, Sugama Sangeetha, Bollywood, Sandalwood and others? It is for this reason that I am so excited about our initiative to set up India’s first interactive music museum, the Centre for Indian Music Experience (www.indianmusicexperience.org) in this city, as a tribute to Bangalore’s all-embracing musical appetite. A word of caution, though. If Bangalore wants to be taken seriously as a classical music venue, it needs to be an opinion-maker and not a blind follower of trends. Bangalore needs to love and value its own musicians, and not just imports from Chennai or Pune. Till that happens, the Bangalore classical music scene will continue to be like Bangalore’s roads – chaotic and confusing at present, but hopefully, it’ll get better in a few years!