...Shall Ever The Twain Meet?

By Dr. Ragini Trivedi




Music, in Shakespearean parlance, is little else but sweet airy nothings. Even scientifically its presence is measured in terms of vibrations and frequencies that generally travel through air. But it is less its philosophical existence than its actual capacity to delight the modern info-fraught ears, which makes music relevant. With life being simplified by dotcoms and easy surfing, sound consisting of eu(caco?)phonical notes is being more widely appreciated than ever. The era of democracy makes each of us more aware of our musical rights. A Chandigarh boy in London would want his music to vibe him and bounce him, just so. A Chennai girl on a Delhi discotheque floor would not like to be swept off her feet in a completely phoren manner. The small town girls and even the village belles are no longer content with the image of docile, pious lady-about-the-house and look forward to some swing and spring in their lives. The plethora of stereotyped jingles in the present Indian film-music amply proves this out.

The stage is set for mixers, blenders to leave kitchen and take the bows. Rap gets indianised, Reggae seems another variety of Indian folk, electronic synthesizers replace almost, all musical instruments and the luckier ones flaunt their mp3 players. Indian e-com sites abound in latest albums and re-mix. The buzz-word in music industry is Fusion. All kinds of styles, sounds and instruments are being experimented with. Most of the hype-marketed music, after its blitz of publicity is over, shrivels into obscurity. What each such album achieves is whetting the appetite of the listening public for more. However, the kind of satisfaction that the listener of yore felt, is getting rarer. Toffler in his prophetic book, Future Shock suggested inculcating practices that reduce the burden of choice. As long as there are set habitual and routine activities that punctuate a day full of novelty and change, so long the person can remain insulated from the shock finding himself at a distance from his expected life-style. Music fits in perfectly with such an approach to deal with rigors of change. The very history of music portrays relationship between a sequence of notes and its effect on human emotions. It acts as an anchor, where a person bewildered with external changes, can find familiarity and solace.

Fusion, in itself, has been an ever-present element of music, albeit in a more concrete sense. Within the terminology of music, it simply means to mingle two different sets of styles with each other. One way is to combine two singing styles together. For example, singing light music (lacking any pre-ordained determination of notes) with the touches of classical notes here and there seems to add gravity to an otherwise flighty composition. It is the fusion of unruly with the orderly. Singers like Shanker Mahadevan and some others are fusing intrinsically different melodies and beats. Artistes like Shiela Chandra, whose experiments in seventies, with lyrics having Indian content rendered to accompaniment of guitar, attracted few listeners at home are now internationally established veterans of East-West Fusion. A more serious manner of fusion is to use variety of instruments from various countries all together. Anand Shanker initiated such a valid fusion of Indian instruments with western instruments, coming together with Jimi Hendrix in 1969, which was a great success. Mixing mridangam guitar and sitar with jazz and rock drums, while staying within scientific parameters of musical sound, was a feat. Anand's famous uncle, Pandit Ravishanker did the same with Yehudi Menuhin. Later, the western composer confessed that maintaining the purity of notes against the Indian musical system was a tough job. Fusion, in Indian context has mainly been adopting western sounds without jarring the ears. Before Anand Shanker music directors like C. Ramchandra, Salil Chaudhary, S.D.Barman were few others who tried blending western melodies to Indian scale, pretty successfully. Also, musicians like Vijay Raghav Rao, Balsara and Vinaychandra Modgalya, who laid stress upon orchestration of Indian instruments and experimented with choral singing, paved the way for a meaningful interaction between Indian and western sounds.

Though music around the world might theoretically have the same appeal to all listeners but practically it is the set of notes to which the ear is attuned that determines it. It is easy to combine pop and jazz and the like, for in the western world music scale is same. But when it comes to Indian style, things change. The basic placement of notes is different from each other. Indian musical scale has a different order of frequencies of notes than the western musical scale. That is a very good reason why these two styles cannot be mixed together easily. A recent example of this was when Zakir Hussain and Remo Fernandes performed together in a concert. Both of these names are internationally credited for excellence in their respective fields. Zakir was on tabla, an Indian percussion and Remo was playing guitar and singing in a western style. To fans of both these artistes, it was manna from heaven, but listeners with more sensitive ears could easily discern the discord arising out of incompatibility of the two scales.

Tabla belongs to that rare breed of percussion that developed only in India, which produces the swar of Shadaj along with beats. In Indian system, with mere production of Shadaj the complete scale gets established; the listener can easily distinguish it, as in Pythagorain or diatonic scale system of west. Prior to renaissance, the western scale was very near the Indian scale as it followed the model that Pythogoras had introduced after his journey to India [the difference being due to frictional losses that occur in transportation of knowledge]; it was the need for harmony that brought about the current system of equally tempered scale which differs from Indian scale in all notes but the initial and final Shadaj. Renaissance spawned a wide use of piano that took music right into the homes of an average man. The equally tempered scale was suited to mechanical productions of notes as well as to accommodate noted of different pitches to enable community singing. When we combine two styles together by producing Shadaj from tabla while the guitar is tuned on some other scale, the inherent distortion inconveniences the connoisseur. It is exactly this incompatibility that Vishwa Mohan Bhatt does away with on his Mohan Veena, by adding an extra bridge and strings for resonance that establish a desired scale. However, it would no longer be possible to follow the western scale on Mohan Veena as long as the Indian style of Chikari (the shadaj-pancham consonance) is used.

Undoubtedly, musical collaboration is the ideal form of existential achievement, for it combines the ethereal unification of self with universal spirit along with a recognition of material entity of kindred souls. Itself being a discipline of fluidity, can music ever remain static? So, experimentation goes on. Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan combined Qawwali with western style. His Mustt Mustt, produced by ambient artiste Michael Brooks is originally a Sufi devotional from Pakistan that got reborn as a jazz-Qawwali. Sam Zaman with his band State of Bengal has produced a number of albums rich in harmonious blending of the eastern and western music. One of the numbers Massive Attack is a purist's delight. Peter Gabriel's company Real Word and WOMAD have been doing all sorts of experiments with existing music. Their world is as they say it, an aural smorgasbord of Uillean pipes, African Kora, Nigerian talking drums and hi-technology. Even a group as traditional as Shu-De, Tuvan throat singers, can sound speedy, modern. As long as one has got a safe anchor of traditional music, trying to vibe with Fusion, when one can, shall not take us to a point of no return. The very democratic nature of evolution demands such a blending and ultimate union. Rather than a fusion of talent and market forces, true fusion should be between the inherited tradition and well-grounded individuality. For, as said Bacon, a mixture of alloy makes gold work better, but it debaseth the metal.


Other articles by Dr. Ragini Trivedi:

Performance Sans Formality

Role of Institutions in Distance Music Education

Ideal Objectives And Music Syllabi

For views of musicians on aspects of music click here

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