The new sound of music

Popular, classical or fusion… music is universal. Composer, drummer and singer Ranjit Barot talks about contemporary confluence and more

Music is one of those sensory experiences that all living beings can appreciate. A classical music concert or the spontaneous beat of a village drummer – both possess their own musical appeal. The work of a music composer is to bring the two together and create melodic magic!

At a recent arts festival, I witnessed the successful amalgamation of several such genres – percussionists from India and the West complementing the rhythms of Gujarat’s Sidi Goma tribe; Spanish flamenco artists and Rajasthan’s Manganiyars on one platform; and the result was electrifying.

If you look outside India, you will notice that underground music and experimental music are arage. And they are sites of a tremendous amount of innovation. Within India, on the other hand, this phenomenon is not too prevalent, which is most likely because there are not enough popular media promoting alternative sounds. It is here that an event such as the Serendipity Arts Festival, which will be held in Goa this month, becomes important. As a platform, it brings together visual and performing arts in the hope of effecting a positive change in the larger sphere of arts in India. Curation of the right music is critical, and in 2015, the organisers gave Shubha Mudgal and I the chance to do exactly that. We seemed to all be like-minded people who came together for a common purpose: to celebrate the limitless world of traditional and modern art forms, and expose audiences to the finest performances that we are capable of creating.

We worked on three performance concepts: the Heart of Drums, featuring the Sidi Goma tribe, Electronica and the Big Drums ensemble; Karavaan – the Gypsy Trail that brought together flamenco artists and the Manganiyars; and Singularity, an expression of the joyous sound emanating from the collision of multiple cultures, with its centrepiece being the stunning Sunshine Orchestra of young protégés from the AR Rahman Foundation in Chennai. But brilliance cannot be achieved in isolation and there must be a meeting of science with the heart, if magic is to ensue. This science could either come from a formal education in music or from a mentorship programme that both student and mentor orchestrate. Or simply, the composer is endowed with a certain brilliance that he or she then perfects through various available and self-imposed curricula.

People often suggest that a good music composer must be trained in classical music, or must have his or her roots in classical music. I do not believe that is necessarily the rule of thumb, as it depends on the career path and the musical direction that the composer chooses to embark upon. In my opinion, a good knowledge of the classical arts surely won’t hurt your case; this might have the unintended consequence of adding a shade, or an influence to your composition, which may or may not be desired by the person(s) commissioning you. This is something that begets due consideration from all involved in the process.

Classical and contemporary music are closely related, to the extent that they have an influence on each other. Music is a self-devouring entity, and there is constant cross-pollination taking place between genres, in particular by the more adventurous of the crop of composers. This is a neverending process, which is why music can never die and will always reflect the times we live in.

To keep classical music relevant, and to broaden its appeal, both the audience and the composers must take a bold step. They need to widen their musical diet beyond just popular and film music, and they must stop juxtaposing the glamour quotient of a classical artist against that of a film star or pop icon. Perception, thus, is at the heart of this much-needed transformation. We must understand that the kind of music we listen to nourishes us in a particular manner. To deny us this rich diet of intelligent music will be to make us a species that has no aspirational value beyond economic pursuits.

As told to Gaurav Nagpal

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