Music | Tugging at the heartstrings of a nation


Lata Mangeshkar; Getty Images

As India gained Independence, the original patrons of classical music, the rajas and maharajas, wound up their princely states, leaving musicians to fend for themselves. Musicians realised they had to build their own ecosystem, from creating gharanas to cultivating students and creating new public spaces for performances. For many, the government became the new patron, through employment with the All India Radio (AIR). Radio Sangeet Sammelan, which started in 1952, was a pathbreaking programme that helped musicians reach out to audiences across India. Lata Mangeshkar had started playback singing in 1947, for the film Aapki Sewa Mein, and continued to regale audiences until she passed away in 2022.


Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar travelled abroad to showcase Indian music and culture. The popularisation of the sitar by Ravi Shankar inspired many foreign musicians to come down to India and collaborate. Among the other classical musicians who started travelling abroad were Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Alla Rakha and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Due to their versatility, several classical musicians, such as Pandit Ram Narayan and Ustad Rais Khan, started playing and singing for films—something unheard of earlier. Indian musicians being recorded on LPs, especially by The Gramophone Company of India, gave a huge fillip to classical music. The growth of music circles—the Dadar Matunga music circle, Vile Parle music circle, among others, in Mumbai—played a huge role in providing a platform to musicians.


This era saw the emergence of young musicians. Corporates started entering the classical music world by way of sponsoring programmes. The Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) founded the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, while the Tatas started the National Centre for Performing Arts and supported musicians. Another pathbreaking move was the launch of the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music Among Youth (SPIC-MACAY) by Dr Kiran Seth in 1977. This nationwide movement helped decode the complex world of classical music to school and college students through lecture-demonstrations and concerts. This outreach has been the biggest classical musical influence for the young.


Sonu Nigam; AFP

Gulshan Kumar launched the T-series label, which released covers of popular film songs, sung by the likes of Sonu Nigam and Anuradha Paudwal, and also bhajans in the form of affordable cassettes. It also started the trend of remixes that later became a genre.


Alisha Chinai

As young singers swelled and there were not enough options to showcase their talent in films, a new genre emerged—Indipop. Independent composers joined hands with young singers to create solo albums with a lot of Western orchestra. Many Indipop stars emerged, notably Daler Mehndi, Shankar Mahadevan, Alisha Chinai, Shubha Mudgal and Shujaat Husain Khan. They also released videos on music channels. Apart from AIR, new FM radio channels also came into being and popularised music.


The Manganiyars; Getty Images

With the new millennium, classical musicians began to repackage music to suit listeners through collaborations, fusion concerts, Sufi music, etc. The duration of concerts became shorter, from three hours to one hour. The accompanying musicians, notably the tabla player, were now being given due recognition in concerts. Technology enabled musicians to go for pickup microphones to enhance the sound and reinvent instruments, such as Niladri Kumar’s Zitar, Kamala Shankar’s Shankar Veena, the electronic tabla, etc. Folk music underwent a makeover, the Manganiyars being one example.


Musicians faced socio-economic challenges as the internet gave easy access to classical music. Music companies began to shut down and musicians struggled to release albums. Challenged by technological advancements, they took to social media and also began releasing singles on music streaming services like Spotify and Gaana. More recently, musicians have also donned the role of organisers of music festivals, creating their own ecosystem to survive.

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