Western Music scene in Delhi
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

Western music arrived in India with the colonial powers, its influence initially confined to coastal towns. Delhi at that time was under Bahadur Shah Zafar - a poet in his own rights, who had neither the will nor the power to resist the gradual British influence infusing the existing Indian culture with fresh intake from the west. Music they say is international with no language, nationality or borders - so making inroads here was just natural.

The popular or pop - which is light, and the classical - which is deeper and soul touching, classified western music. The light made its way to corners of the land, with young people deeply involved, their creativity giving fair competition to other musicians on the international arena. The Church music of today is also imported from west and is heard and played in every church and worship services, sans the rock and sway aspect of western music. In Delhi popular music was restricted to 'crooners' in all the 5 Star Hotel night clubs, or in total contrast, to small groups that met in homes for the more studied and practiced recitals.

Western classical music has a much older history, but did not match the pace with the progress that light music made in India. Classical music too has two divisions - instrumental and vocal. Delhi may have had a bit of instrumental music but more or less dry in vocal music. Twenty years ago, apparently there were only two trained voices in the public domain in Delhi with an academic music degree. Seetu Singh and Sharmila Livingston (nee Bannerjee). In those days music was a hobby, not an academic profession. Today with Trinity School of Music offering a rock curriculum in addition to the classical, the numbers of takers has leaped exponentially. Delhi University too has for the first time opened up a degree programme in Western Music.

Things have changed. A one time dry desert for western music, Delhi has since grown. With greater dispensable income in the city, music is no longer a luxury for a limited few, but an important extra-curricular activity for kids. With changes in import/export regulations one can buy quality foreign branded musical instruments at somewhat affordable prices. Music teaching/training is becoming big business with classes costing upto 1200/- a lesson, and Schools of Music opening up in the NCR.

With the MTV age, music videos, well funded College Festivals, Inter-school competitions, TV talent shows - there are any number of platforms available for performance, starting with the very young.

From a single city chorus namely "The Delhi Christian Chorus" conducted by Rev Richard Smythe in the late 60's, early 70's - the city now offers choices - Capital City Minstrels, Neemrana Chorus, Choraliers, Artists Unlimited, the Naga and the Mizo choirs and several other smaller ones. Folks can join and/or go to more choices of concerts. The audience at most of these affairs is no longer mostly foreigners. Indians are working hard to get to concerts, shows, recitals, and musicals.

Promoters though are few - perhaps because of limited know-how, infrastructure or funds, to develop and take classical music to greater heights in Delhi. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations is doing its bit by inviting foreign artists, chamber and symphony orchestras, dance groups etc. Delhi School of Music and Delhi Symphony Orchestra are making their own contribution in a limited way - their performances just a few with inadequate publicity.

On the instrumental side, the Delhi Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest. Bringing together musicians from around the country, the bulk are from Delhi. Often numbering as much as 75 strong, the orchestra has performed some of the most demanding symphonic scores. Its conductors, for the last many years, have come from around the world, each bringing his or her own sensibilities to the music. Members of the orchestra range from trained students to highly qualified performers and music professionals. The Delhi Symphony Society also hosts many musicians, choirs and ensemble groups from India and the rest of the world, enabling them to perform in Delhi. Gautam Kaul, the honourary Secretary, has managed it almost single-handedly for the last many years.

To Capital City Minstrels goes the credit as the face of western classical choral singing in the city, although its repertoire - its President Giti Chandra asserts, ranges from jazz and blues to pop and Broadway, and from gospel and spirituals to Hindi film songs, vernacular carols and opera. Founded 12 years ago by Zohra Shaw, CCM's members come from across the world and across religions, across ages and across professions - with a wide range of participants from the completely untrained to the most highly qualified music professionals in the city. The quality and difficulty level of the music CCM performs remains dauntingly high. The Minstrels' annual calendar has 3 seasons: the spring performances scheduled for late April/ early May, often focussed around Easter. The Fall season that used to be a period to relax, show off the repertoire of light music and pop, jazz and Broadway, has for the last three years been committed to an annual Peace Concert at the India Habitat Centre on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. The winter season is the busiest, filled with the joy and harmony of Christmas. Classical sacred music as well as the much-loved carols to fill halls across the city to the delight of Delhi's music lovers. The highlight in this forthcoming winter season is also a concert of Mozart's music at the Bahai auditorium on December 5 to commemorate his 250th birth anniversary - with Sharmila Livingston conducting.

The honour for exclusively pioneering sacred Christian music goes to Delhi Christian Chorus. Boasting some of Delhi's finest voices, its concerts under Royall McLaren at Easter and Christmas are eagerly anticipated and well attended. Started in 1965 the DCC has made significant contribution in the field of western music for well over forty years now. Though confined to sacred music only, they always have a classical section in their concerts and have over the years presented works of such great composers as Handel, Schubert, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, Brahms and host of other Modern, Contemporary and Classical composers - today claiming a repertoire of over 1000 pieces of music of different times.

Lately, the Neemrana Music Foundation, founded in 2001 by Francis Wacziarg and Suman Dubey, has been active. Set up to promote western classical music in India and Indian classical music abroad, TNMF has produced two operas in Delhi and Bombay. The Fakir of Benares (2002) and The Pearl Fishers (2005) were both performed by Delhi musicians and singers in conjunction with French musicians and singers. The foundation also conducts workshops and organises individual performances by local and visiting musicians.

With immense potential are Artistes Unlimited - an initiative by young artistes in Delhi, started in 2003 with Annette Philips as conductor in a quest to create a sound they could call their own. 3 years and over 40 concerts later, over 200 artistes have shared their dream, from across Delhi schools, colleges and institutions, in the age group of 10 - 44 years. Their USP mainly the experimentation with different genres of music; their repertoire including extensive work with Indian and Western classical music, Sufi, fusion, jazz, gospel, funk, soul, R&B, Broadway and progressive light rock. With their jazz and rock concert offering, 'Reverb' just past, AU is now gearing for the launch of its debut album of 12 original compositions.

Favourite of many, the band - Indian Ocean, has released five albums: Indian Ocean (1993), Desert Rain (1997), Kandisa (2000) and Jhini (2003), and the Original Sound Track for the feature film Black Friday (2005). Desert Rain, recorded live at a concert performed for the SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) annual festival in Delhi, consolidated the band's reputation as an original, intelligent and fun presence on the Indian music scene. Kandisa, with its eclectic mix of musical styles, including non-western lyrics in Hindi, Kashmiri, Bengali, Aramaic and Bhilali, gave the band a couple of its biggest hits. Critics feel Indian Ocean achieved cult status in India with Kandisa, as audiences sang its complex lyrics in unison with the band at live concerts. Jhini received the AV Max award for the Best Produced Album in India. The release of a music video of the title song in May coincided with Indian Ocean being featured as the Artists of the Month on MTV. Like the previous albums, the band's most recent work in Black Friday has also been critically acclaimed. The song Bandeh was #2 on the Hindi film charts, providing Indian Ocean with their first major crossover hit. Indian Ocean has performed all over the world - including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK - winning the Pick of the fringe award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festivel in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Founded 15 years ago, the band is made up of 4 very talented musicians, Susmit Sen (guitar and vocals), Asheem Chakravarty (tabla, other percussion and vocals), Rahul Ram (bass guitar and vocals) and Amit Kilam (drums, gabgubi, other percussion, recorder and vocals).

Advaita is another notable young band on the music scene in Delhi currently. Although they fall into the bracket of fusion music, its members are quite determined that their musical style comes across as something organic in itself. The band consists of some experienced 'rock' musicians who have grown up on a staple diet of Floyd, Zeppelin, Purple, Aerosmith etc, and Indian Classical musicians who come from families with a classical background that is generations old. Yet when guitars, keyboards and drums merge with the sarangi,

The Hindustani vocals and the tabla in this outfilt do not put it actually in the western music ambit, but the modern effort to re-interpret sensibilities, a process which reflects the identities of the band members likens it to the western style, growing up in the modern world, where terms like 'your music' and 'my music' are out dated. Advaita have gigged extensively around Delhi in the last year and their shows are attended by college kids, working professionals and even grandmothers. Their belief in their music has also been rewarded viz a viz an album record deal with a leading label.

One cannot leave out jazz, and out pops the name of Soli Sorabjee as the foremost exponent of it in the city, with Mohsin and Debbie Menezes as the best-known local artistes. Even as the much looked forward to annual winter Jazz Yatra is currently on in the capital, news comes in of Mike's Jazz Club - an international standard club of Jazz, Blues and Latino Music Club for Delhi jazz buffs - a brainchild of jazz aficionado Michael Albuquerque, who is planning about 180 open-air and indoor jazz concerts in elite restaurants and 5-star deluxe hotels over the next 12 months.

And there are a plethora of others - lesser known parish groups to church choirs, the Naga and Mizo Choirs with stunning harmony and voice quality, pop bands the likes of Seby and his Wings, the Indian Ocean and Advaita. Situ Singh Beuhler has her ensemble of student trainees too, and there are the likes of Superfuzz the rock band, The Clones, Perestroika, Nakshatra, Vishnu, Brits and Pieces of expats and the American School group Choraliers - a mixed bag that sings a variety of jazz, classical, pop, and gospel - under Diane Pritchett, who had earlier wielded the CCM baton for a season.

All this opportunity has led to specialization of tastes and preferences for music in the city. One can actually enjoy Jazz, classical, choral, pop or rock concerts and have choices on any given night of the calendar. Even though hugely limited so far, one sees potential for internationally famous artistes to tour India in the days ahead. The audience and connoisseurs are growing in number. The number of those who love music in the city, who are articulate in verbalizing what they like and don't like, who can recognize good quality when they hear it, and are more and more discriminating with sound quality is increasing.

Nov 22, 2006: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002 email: maxpk@vsnl.com, mfjpkamath@gmail.com; web: www. maxwellpereira.com

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