Why Aren’t Desi Tunes More Popular in the West?

There’s an interesting blurb from Tyler Cowen on why he thinks Desi music isn’t as popular in the West as other types of world music (at least for now… times are always a-changing, of course). Asked by a reader

Why do the US (a wealthy country) and Africa (a poor continent) put out more influential modern music than Asia (a populated continent of both wealthy and poor extremes)?

Tyler responds –

3. The micro-tonal musics, as we find in India and the Middle East, don’t spread to many countries which do not already have a micro-tonal tradition. Cats wailing, etc., though it is a shame if you haven’t trained your ear by now to like the stuff. It’s some of the world’s finest music.

4. Many Asian musics, such as some of the major styles of China and Japan, emphasize timbre. That makes them a) often too subtle, and b) very hard to translate to disc or to radio. African-derived musics are perfect for radio or for the car.

The comnentors also make some important points. For example, even though we don’t see desi tunes in the West very much, they are all over the rest Asia (outside China/Japan/Korea), the Middle East, Africa, and even some former eastern block countries. Second, most Indian pop music it is driven by the film industry rather than by a separate “music” industry. Another commentor further expands Tyler’s point about the micro-tonal aspects of Indian music –

While there is no contemporary popular style that uses the scalar melodic microtones of the Ancient Greek enharmonic scale, both the Islamicate and Indian (Hindustani and Karnaktic) repertoires use intervals that differ audibly from the Western tempered scale by microtonal intervals, thus the Islamicate scales use both intervals very close to the western semi- and whole tones, but also intervals close to three-quarters of a tone and somewhat wider than a whole tone (with a ratio of around 8:7). A scale approximating a western diatonic scale is possible in both these repertoires, but is only one among 18 or so in wide use in Arabic/Turkisk/Persian music and among significant many more in Indian practice.

I’m going to go way way way out on a limb and toss out another personal, vastly underinformed, pet theory on this question. Instead of musical structure, language barriers, and the like I also wanna toss in some cultural context…

Although I speak / understand basically zero Hindi, I can still readily feel a certain cultural optimism / fantasy in a lot of Indian music. When the singer speaks of love, longing, lost, and the whole lot, it really is coming from a deep, pure place in the heart that’s uncorrupted by the acknowledged Tragedy of the modern world. The world is great as-is or could be just around the corner. Good and Bad are clear. And for both better and worse, there’s a lot of escapism.

By contrast, a LOT (though clearly not all) of today’s Western music is about, well, the Tragedy of the post-modern world. You were fooled by love until your boyfriend / girlfriend went psycho and slept with someone else in the band. A song about parental love is likely to be about the lack of it and that’s the reason young Jeremy started a fight in school. Everything’s screwed up and we’re not gonna take it. He’s only sorry he got caught. Ideals are tools of the Man and the opiate of the people. The real world is cynical, only things you can physically smack are real and everything else is equally good or equally bad. And so on and so on…

So, in that sense, thematically, Indian pop music often has more in common with American Country than globalized Rock and Roll & hip-hop. AND, this invites many of the same judgements from the mass Western cultural market. Don’t they know that “sophisticated” sad music is supposed to be about existential angst rather than love lost? And that “authentic” happy music is about chemical highs, sporting bling, or tonight’s ecstasy rather than looking into her eyes?

I know I’m painting with some very broad brush strokes here and exceptions abound but I really do think that when folks in a Bollywood frame of mind want to listen to some tunes, the last thing they want is sophisticated cynicism. And I think a lot of modern western culture has a tough time with all that sappy naivete (country music again being the massive exception).

So, all these stray thoughts are far outside of my usual blogging comfort zone and I suspect we’ve got some serious Indo- and Western-music philes in the SM cabal. What say you?

86 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Desi Tunes More Popular in the West?

  1. Vinod:

    By contrast, a LOT (though clearly not all) of today’s Western music is about, well, the Tragedy of the post-modern world. You were fooled by love until your boyfriend / girlfriend went psycho and slept with someone else in the band. A song about parental love is likely to be about the lack of it and that’s the reason young Jeremy started a fight in school. Everything’s screwed up and we’re not gonna take it. He’s only sorry he got caught. Ideals are tools of the Man and the opiate of the people. The real world is cynical, only things you can physically smack are real and everything else is equally good or equally bad. And so on and so on…

    I really don’t want to post normally but since music is my ‘expertise’ I need to answer this one. Vinod, in my opinion you are off the mark here. I suspect that the right answer is given in the original explanation of differing scales. It’s something which coincidentally has been on my mind lately. I’ve been inquiring my mother about it, who is a Carnatic musician trained at the prestigious Kalakshetra institute. I’ve been spoon-fed Carnatic music since I was born. My parents also listened to a lot of old Hindi songs as well, though I’ve never been extensively exposed to Bollywood. Yet my love affair with Western classical music started at around age 10, while my love for Western pop music began even earlier, around the age of four with the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder. I’ve been learning Western classical since age 7 and I’ve always been really interested in it’s history, though I don’t go to the conservatoire. First of all Vinod, you are comparing apples and oranges. You are comparing Indian(probably even Hindustani) classical music with Western chart music. The correct comparison should be, the main forms of Indian classical music with Western classical music. There are tragic operas and ballets. Think La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Romeo & Juliet etc. And of course there are comic ones or ones with a happy ending as well, like Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, etc etc. You really can’t lump them together. And I’ve noticed many differences between the two kinds. For one, Western classical is much more dynamic I’ve noticed. It’s one aspect my mother found hard to get into, the fact that a piece can go from fortissimo in one bar to pianissimo in the next! And of course there is the slowing down, or speeding up. Next there is of course the greater diversity in instruments. This creates a very different sort of timbre than in Carnatic music, I feel. That for me is something I can never get used to. Third, the subject, at least in Carnatic music, is completely different. A lot of Carnatic music is specfically addressed to God, apparently, while Western classical music throughout the centuries has evolved from Gregorian Chants through Matthaus Passion to a very wide range of subjects, most of which centre around humans and human error. Then of course, there is the fact that a lot of Carnatic music is basicall improvisation. I guess this ties Carnatic to jazz in a way. In Western classical music there is very little freedom to deviate from all the composers little notes! Another point is that Western classical music basically evolved throughout Europe. So there are a lot of composers with a lot of different nationalities, which gives their styles a distinctive flavour. Nationalism certainly started playing a large part in music from the mid 19th-century onwards. Finally, I’d say that the popularity of Western classical music is in it’s twilight phase. I do think it would be a great tragedy to lose this art.

    To answer your question, I’d say that popular Indian music like Bollywood tunes can indeed cross over to the West, if you are talking about chart success. Indeed I think that J-pop and Chinese pop is gaining a following in the West. But I think the main obstacle is this: language. When was the last time that a non-English language song topped the American Billboards? Or the UK top 40? There is a lot of pop music being made in Europe that follows ‘Western’ sensibilities but is not in English. This artists are struggling to gain a foothold in English-speaking countries. They don’t have this problem in European countries where English is not the native language. I think Rammstein might be one of the most popular ones, but others are e.g. Manu Chao, Wir Sind Helden, Kent, Kaizers Orchestra etc.

  2. The Twin Cities in Minnesota: Minneapolis-St.Paul have fabulous Indian Music Concerts on a regular basis. They are organized by IMSOM (Ind Music Soc of MN). I still get their emails 2 years after leaving MN and die of envy here in New England.

    On another, more pragmatic note why doesn’t Netflix have mor Indian movies and what can we do to persuade them?

  3. 19 · Manju said

    little known fact: reagan was a postmodernist who knew the author is dead, aspects in the text itself undermine its own authority or assumptions and that internal contradictions erase boundaries or categories which the work relied on or asserted. A deeper substance of text opposes the text’s more superficial form. Texts have multiple meanings and the violence between the different meanings of text may be elucidated by close textual analysis.

    Manju, Reagan was so path-breaking that even Obama on the other side of the political spectrum wishes to emulate him. Given your high regard of Reagan and his legacy, I hope you’ll do the right thing this November by voting democrat.

  4. I think it might be just me, but I always here desi/middle eastern influences when I’m listening to music on the radio. Below is some stuff besides the songs that people have already mentioned. (I used to be a DJ)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm_10eS7YDM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTjPmgN98H8

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b_RHQYDx8k

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq4EyIFXs-E (samples choli ke peeche) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tITG08wtIvc&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuNIKjKuptQ

  5. festival circuit is a very, very big part of the international and ‘world music’ circuit– something like Ladysmith Black Mambazo or a Senegalese drumming group is more fun to watch than ravi-ji on a dais. The energy appeals to a broader base.

    sort of true … but i would interpret that not as sexy body, but in the demeanor and how the singer projects his/her intensity. for example nusrat fateh ali khan had general health problems … but when he sang he sang with his whole person and you could feel that energy. that was (for want of a better word) sexy. on a tangent – perhaps this is how one separates pop from the bluebloods. I happened to catch a bit of this concert where pavarotti sang with u2. i thought bono had pipes, but comparing him to pavarotti was like looking at a mouse compared to the lion. stripped of the glamor, the shades, the yeahyeahyeahs, bono is a shaved cat. and then pavarotti sang ave maria and i near about bawled. it’s the saame i suppose with desi music dissemination. desi music is represented in the public with flaccid pap – and that’s about as hot and attractive as a coelacanth.

  6. to continue my point, i generally avoid desi classical concerts because the artist looks bored or depressed or generally ‘dookhee’, like a spiritless nag. wtf yaar. cheer up.

  7. “to continue my point, i generally avoid desi classical concerts because the artist looks bored or depressed or generally ‘dookhee’, like a spiritless nag. wtf yaar. cheer up. “

    They don’t look dookhi….They maintain a demeanor that is expected out of their art. What do you want them to do? Wear makeup, colorful clothes, and dance around?

  8. to continue my point, i generally avoid desi classical concerts because the artist looks bored or depressed or generally ‘dookhee’, like a spiritless nag. wtf yaar. cheer up.

    Why can’t they dry hump a sitar Hendrix style and spit paan on the audience? That’s what the kids want

  9. Vinod, Preston, Jyotsana, and esp. Ravi the Lurker. All I can say is “besh besh” on bringing up this topic, and the ensuing commentary.

    Meena, interesting comments, I wish I had time to respond. Agree that carnatic music is much more similar to jazz. Surprised on your comments re: dynamism in Carnatic Music.. All I can tell you is to pick up U. Srinivas’ CD of Bindu Malini (Thygaraja’s composition “entha muddo, entha sogaso”). I leaves me seriously breathless.

    I’m looking forward to reading Chachaji’s commentary.

  10. 53 · Meena said

    A lot of Carnatic music is specfically addressed to God, apparently, while Western classical music throughout the centuries has evolved from Gregorian Chants through Matthaus Passion to a very wide range of subjects, most of which centre around humans and human error. Then of course, there is the fact that a lot of Carnatic music is basicall improvisation.

    Borrowing from SN Balagangadhara, Western Classical music and Indian Classical Music are not only different, they differ in different ways. So comparing the two, rather than ICM with western mainstream music, is still nectarines and guavas. The kirtanai format Carnatic concert is a recent format, and the recent big three – Dikshitar, Tyagaraja, and Syama are but a few of the composers. Although there is no requirement to sing only devotional kritis, Carnatic concerts asa rule feature only these. There is no parallel to the orchestrated pieces and symphonies of WCM. We do have the equivalent of the opera though, and as far as musicals go, I would much rather watch Shree 420 than the any number of tiresome annoying musicals that seem to roll off the assembly lines of Broadway. If we want to see ICM applied to other areas, we must turn to Indian film music, which is substantially founded on ICM. >75 years of fusing ICM and WCM in Indian film music has culminated in the work of Ilayaraja, who by himself represents an acme of modern popular music, and with works such as the Tiruvasakam in Symphoney has broken new ground on fusing an ancient Indian poem Manickavasagar’s Tiruvasakam) into the frame of a oratorio. Stirring stuff.

  11. I read your posting. Although Desi tunes are not more popular in west,but some our Indian people will make it popular over there.

  12. They don’t look dookhi….They maintain a demeanor that is expected out of their art. What do you want them to do? Wear makeup, colorful clothes, and dance around?

    whoa! dont be putting verds in my mouth. didnt i just give an example of nusrat fateh ali khan and of pavarotti. hardly glamor cats, either of them – but if you’ve seen one of the better ustad’s qawwali recitals you’d have seen a 300 lb man levitate off the ground. best that mindfreak. and here’s the deal – these guys are all entertainers. i go to these concerts to be entertained not to see how smart they are. So i need to feel the music, not measure the complexity of their piece while looking at their dour saggy profiles.

  13. I happened to catch a bit of this concert where pavarotti sang with u2. i thought bono had pipes, but comparing him to pavarotti was like looking at a mouse compared to the lion. stripped of the glamor, the shades, the yeahyeahyeahs, bono is a shaved cat.

    Bono’s claim to fame has never been his singing per se (although he is quite good) but more so his lyrics and the passion he brings to his songs. He puts forth his thoughts, ideas, observations, faith, and philosophy into his music. He’s not all glamour, shades, yeahyeahyeahs, etc. He’s a poet and he has touched millions of people with his creations.

    Pavarotti may have been an enormously gifted SINGER…but what did he create by himself? What could he claim other than brilliant interpretations or performances of others’ work? Not trying to diss him but I don’t think the comparison to Bono is completely valid. Yes he was a better singer.

  14. 53 · Meena said

    Then of course, there is the fact that a lot of Carnatic music is basicall improvisation. I guess this ties Carnatic to jazz in a way. In Western classical music there is very little freedom to deviate from all the composers little notes! Another point is that Western classical music basically evolved throughout Europe.

    You must be thinking of very recent 20th c. Western classical music when you speak of a lack of improvisation. Think of the Cadenza in the Concerto form, an entire section of a formal piece set aside for improvisation! Most of the great composers who also performed (Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Paganini) were expected to improvise and were known as great improvisers. Even very rigid performers like Glenn Gould were excellent improvisers.

    Carnatic music is a little like jazz in this respect, however, yet it lacks the complexity of harmony and the range of movement.

  15. Barring a few comments, the discussion on this thread for whatever reason has been quite ordinary at best. Not to take anything away from the wonderful posts by the bloggers, IMHO SMs forte was always the quality of discussions and in recent times a lot of the people who used to make some great comments are no longer active :-(

  16. People are right to point out that different forms of music are being compared here. With respect to pop music, I think in India and the West the differences are matters of texture and timber but otherwise structurally are very minimal, even regarding lyrics content which covers a wide spectrum on both sides. There seems to me plenty of western pop music that is not post-modern but instead very innocent or simple.

    Regarding classical music from the West and Carnatic music the differences are great. Both are rich traditions, but Western Classical music seems the more dynamic and varied and evolved of the two. I wish everybody listened to more of both! Off the top of my head:

    Teleology. I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned. Western Classical music is built on harmonic, contrapuntal or melodic progressions, that depart and evolve more throughout a piece. You can begin one place, travel to another and return or go elsewhere as the center moves, whereas in most Indian classical music there is an ever-present steady center. Western Music toys with burying or hiding and then changing that center, or even toys with keep it in marvels of instrumentation like Ravel’s Bolero.

    Harmony. Notes are overlaid upon each other in Indian classical music, but it is not harmony. The complex harmonic structure of Western Classical Music is its own unique invention.

    Instrumentation. I am partial to Carnatic instrumentation and timber some days and western on others. But the Western instrumentation, such as seen in the symphony, allows for a conversation and harmony between instruments that of such varying types that you don’t find elsewhere. Imagine, a piccolo, flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoons, contrabassoon (double bassoon), horns, trumpets, trombones, bass trombone, tubas, timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, wood block, tambourine, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, gong (tam-tam), tubular bells, violins, violas, violoncellos (cellos), double basses, all orchestrated together!

    Scale or melody. Indian classical music has more color and complexity here. In small discrete units anyway. It seems Western Classical abandoned the Greek modes and restricted itself to the diatonic scale because there was a great deal of freedom with that restriction, such as advanced harmony.

    I think Indian Classical is becoming better known in the west, but even Western Classical music has faded in the West. I could be wrong but I think Western Classical music is a little easier to learn which might help its survival in places like China.

  17. First of all, you do not see that much world music in the US anyway. How much African music has really seeped into American music? Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sting all did their African collaborations. But that was just a short period of time. We have seen that Mudiya whatever it is called(the one with the Knightrider theme sampled in), then some Lata Mangeshkar song get sampled. Even the cheesy songs that have become buffalaxed on youtube such as Benny lava and the Indian Thriller song from Donga have caught on not just in terms of cheesy hilarity but some of the responses indicate that people find the tunes guilty pleasures. A boring bad song can’t be a guilty pleasure, just something to sneer at(which I find a lot of Indian movie songs in recent years to be).

    They used Dum Maro Dum in one of the GTA3 ads. Ghost World had one of those 60s Hindi Shammi kapoor style rocknroll songs that imitated the west, but had its own special Bollywood stamp.

    I personally find a lot of recent Indian movie music to be unlistenable. They seem to lack the melody of the older songs while their “english” vocals sound like they were sung by a deaf person. Indian classical music puts me to sleep unless there is a heavy percussion element to it.

    And yes, a lot of people in the West find Indian female vocals to be too high pitched. Also, I noticed a lack of enough variety in the female singers.

    As far as Eastern Asian music, other than Japanese garage or kitsch rock, you never hear any Chinese or similar music in the western music scene. The only thing I find worse than recent Bollywood music are those Taiwanese pop songs.

  18. “…First of all, you do not see that much world music in the US anyway. How much African music has really seeped into American music? Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sting all did their African collaborations…”

    What is “African music” , pray? its all mixed up . From spirituals to Gospel to three chord rock and roll to rock to urban west africa to slide guitar to township jive to roots reggae back to America. Peter Gabriel and Sting are just the over-produced sheen after two centuries of mashing.

  19. What is “African music” , pray?

    Vampire Weekend…you can’t get more authentic than them

  20. What kind of music? All the traditional, classical forms are worlds apart from bubble gum Hindi filmi songs, from funky bhangra from the diaspora, from sufiana folk music. India’s music is so vast and varied it resists categorising, unless you’re Mike Myers with a sitar in the Love Guru. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Punjabi MC and bhangra – hip hop fusions are popular in the West. And there is a definite appreciation for classical Indian music in the West too ever since the Beatles landed in Rishikesh. Lennon and McCartney’s music was definitely influenced at a deep level by the modes of classical Indian music, and you can hear that in some of their later work. Those are just a few examples. But each one is so different. Let’s not forget Talvin Singh style electronica, Nitin Sawhney, all those musicians from the diaspora.

  21. Neale, I make a distinction between african music and african american music. And I mentioned Gabriel and Simon only because we are dealing with mainstream music mostly when talking about influences being popular.

    Another pet peeve of mine in Indian movie music is the overreliance on a few singers for most of their music. For so many years, it was pretty much Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bosle for most tunes. NOw you got more singers. But there is too much freakin high pitch singing by the females. Also the number of music producers is not that much for such a huge population. Sure there are the cream of the crop in India and everyone wants to hire them. But you can get some really offbeat stuff if there is more variety. Though I do see a trend towards that in recent years. THey seem to have more bands come out with music. Unfortunately, I can’t relate to any of it.

  22. Ilayaraja when asked o compare ICM and WCM replied that the former is lonely, the latter never lets you feel like that. The Sri Lankan maestro Khemadasa too said more or less the same. Harmony in WCM although very complex isn’t pure time art – it is considerably space art, as it is designed on a sheet of paper by layering many strands of notes. Counterpoint, inverse counterpoint, and such structures can be very fascinating, as long as someone tells you what it is about. Modern music in the West has gone way beyond that. And as Chuck Berry puts it, has truly Roll[ed] Over Beethoven. Rock and Roll is a truly wondrous musical form, richly complex beased on just guitars, drums, vocals, and the occasional keyboards. While I am sure there are many obscure WCM composers who have ccreated truly philosophically rich works, the large mass of WCM from the times of Bach till the advent of Impressionists in the late 19th century, deals with very simple themes, quite simplistically.

  23. I like instrumental versions of Western classical music and vocals of Carnatic (though Violin is an exception). Though vocals are amazing in Western classical, perhaps the complexity in instrumental music, as mentioned by Akut, makes me more partial to instrumental versions.

    To appreciate energy in the performance of Carnatic music, I suggest Thayagaraja’s Jagadananda Karaka by MS Subbalakshmi.

    A pet peeve of mine is when commentators start with “Indian Film Music” and go on about Lata Mangeshkar. If someone knew enough about Indian Films to know Lata M, please note, Indian Film Music =! Bollywood Music. I like my Jikki and hate later day Bhanumati, thanks! Language barrier doesn’t exist only for English speakers, it exists for all non-Hindi speakers too. Especially, listening to literal translation of “Mother, a Crow has crowed on our porch today” puts one off from all the Bollywood music.

  24. Though I don’t discount the fact that liking for a different/new music can be developed later on in life I do have a heuristic theory that some of the music tastes independent of the kind is hardwired during your adolescent days. The genre of music that you have listened to a lot during your growing up years probably influences your ear-buds.

    I’m going to go way way way out on a limb and toss out another personal, vastly underinformed, pet theory on this question. Instead of musical structure, language barriers, and the like I also wanna toss in some cultural context…

    Btw here is some science of human obsession which I picked up recently – This is your Brain on music

  25. First of all, it was a nicely rounded up blog with a lot many edges and sharp points; felt good reading it. I chanced upon this terrific blog (?) in a sort of big-time-crash. I had been so put off by the plethora of rubbish in the name of blogging that I’d lost all hope that a space like this could exist.

    Now, back to the blog. Tyler gives his informed opinion on the “technical reasons”why desi music is not so popular in the west. I guess by “desi” you would mean the folk and classical traditions. Of course, Tyler’s opinions are pretty comprehensive (even though only a few important points are given) and they pretty much seal up the matter regarding the technical aspect.

    Vinod has freely expressed some interesting possibilities:

    I can still readily feel a certain cultural optimism / fantasy in a lot of Indian music.

    That is to say, the so-called love-songs are idealistic. Our conception of love differs from the western in that it is something perpetual, something meant to stay. (I personally have found this to be ridiculous, though I am a conservative Indian in almost every sense.) The western conception of love is, of course, a functional one, something which translates immediately and irrevocably into actions. It is not an ideal. It is always a yes or no proposition, with (to extend Vinod’s idiom) “zero waiting time.” And, of course, in this way of seeing things,

    there’s a lot of escapism.

    Vinod also informs me (it is information, since I stopped listening to western rock/pop since about 1995) that a lot of today’s western music is about the tragedy of the postmodern world. I think he is or used to be a rock fan; otherwise, he’s seeing only the morally sunny side of things. I wouldn’t dare to label the music of Shakira, Twain, Spears and the rest of the chicky-nonsense as bemoaning the postmodern dilemma. Now seriously! That’s a seriously blown-up extrapolation. I was once a fellow-rider with all those U2, Underworld, Metallica, Prodigy, and above everything else, Leftfield fans. I worshipped acid house music, because I felt it was the successor to the Beatles, bottled like new, of course. But that promise…has remained underground all the time.

    Seriously, I don’t think the popular music (meaning, the music of the films) of Hindi and other languages are mainly tapping into the hit Billboard tunes. We have something like a desi crooner trying to ape a Spears crescendo, even the sighs, gasps and the in-taken breath, and then you have it followed by the male/boy/brat singing the duet. It’s inescapable, though I make it a point never to listen to the mushrooming FM channels. I can’t run away from it because it’s blaring from every rooftop. The indolent youth of this wretched place is deluded, once more, with a fancy that will pass when they are married and have a kid. Then they will have other things to care about. But they can still phone in and request and dedicate and be damned.

    I think the end-of-blog apologies were quite unwarranted, because we’re not talking about Karnatik music or Hindustani, as these require, and demand, a proper setting (context) for its performance. Karnatik is more or less devotional, and Hindustani likewise is expositional, making incredible demands from the listener–who should be quite proficient at least in listening. It requires literate audiences, and of course, we need not stretch the matter further because nobody here in India really cares about classical western guitar or classical western music in general. And, the catchy tunes–Bhangra beats and so on–do get some exposure everywhere. Especially helps if there are car stereos, as Vinod rightly pointed out.

  26. Vinod,

    You may be correct about the difference in the meaning behind Indian songs vs. Western songs, but if you can only presume what they are about based on how they sound, then you can’t really understand their meaning. One shouldn’t judge music simply on its meaning. There is no Indian equivalent to American indie rock or Brazilian hip hop, and my point has more to do with evolution of the sound of music than its meaning. In mainstream India there are really only movie soundtracks, carnatic & hindustani music, and western cover bands. There are exceptions, but those are few.

    *

  27. 74 · jyotsana said

    While I am sure there are many obscure WCM composers who have ccreated truly philosophically rich works, the large mass of WCM from the times of Bach till the advent of Impressionists in the late 19th century, deals with very simple themes, quite simplistically.

    Err, what? That’s a huge and controversial statement to make, whatever do you base it on?

    Akut, really interesting comments. I agree with you on pretty much everthing, didn’t know also that earlier pianists and conductors were expected to improvise. It’s certainly a technique that has been pretty much stamped out of the current learning repetoire. Which is a pity sometimes. It was only when playing in a band that I learned to transcribe and transpose chords by ear. Although when I sang classical for three years I did learn some improvisation and acquired better pitch sensitivity by singing intervals.

  28. The post before this one was Singh is Kinng, all about how American Hip-Hop is collaborating with desi music. Now this post saying the twain shall never meet.

    I don’t get it.

    Only thing is that most popular desi female vocal artists voices are waaaaaaay to shrill for the non-initiated ear. That is the only general drawback. And some of the male classical singers sound like sick cows wailing and mooing with their aaahhhhhh …. uuuuuhhhhhs. You know, those classical ragas where the human voice is made to sound like an instrument. That is also an acquaired taste over time. But stuff like bhangra I can see becoming popular over here.

  29. Vinod, interesting points, but a fair comparison would be how popular Indian stacks up against popular ‘Western’ music (at least that derived from blues and jazz). Most popular music on either side is well packaged trash, however, there are a lot more artists in the west pushing the envelope in many ways. 4×4 rock and roll / pop is surely more accessible to many more people, but most Indian popular music is just that. If you look at Bollywood, at one point there were three Macarena ‘covers’ on the TV/radio/the local paan shop. There are exceptions – AR Rahman, Vishal Bharadwaj and Shankar/Ehsaan/Loy. But of all these, none is a patch on the likes of Floyd. Popular Indian music lacks depth and there is not enough experimentation. Ennis or Amardeep wrote a post sometime ago about song writing being a highly personal experience in pop/rock/blues/other derivatives. This is absolutely correct. As with sport, I’m afraid a generation of Indians is only engaged passively with music, as the average listener, not actually experiencing it. The number of Indians who can play an instrument, Indian or Western, is not very high I’m afraid (much more of a concern than olympics medals). This reflects in the talent on display. I cannot comment on classical music though.

  30. Does this also mean that Asians are more open minded and can appreciate music from vastly different cultures? :)

  31. i dunno. i think the microscale thing might be a step in the right direction i dont know much about theory well lil wayne lollipop’s chorus had something kinda desi about it Asha Bhosle goes over well she kind of has a soft attack that doesnt sound so saturated I think the Americans are fond of the “space” so to speak while alot of Indian music is very indulgent how many notes can we fit into this space I dunno just my two

  32. furthermore I’ll say this and shutup y’all know it, mainstream America kinda like post-culture, streamline, steamline but Ravi Shankar Philip Glass ‘Passages’ is the sh#$