Harmonicity – Synchronicity of Singers?

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By the way, this post blew up my web browser repeatedly while this was prepared by my web team; my longest post to date is LOADED with information, lol.

As “the Internet changes everything,” the so-called commercial music industry is also undergoing a rapid evolution around the planet. I see and hear a number of important trends.

In India, musical influences include not only our own ancient folk-musical roots. We also get inspiration from the musics of many other places and schools of both music writing and performance, plus like nearly everywhere else, our music for the masses (including songs and instrumental-only dance tunes) is a rich combination of many styles and influences.

Our primary music engines in India (obviously, I’d say this) are our Hindi film industry and its cousins voiced in other South-Asian languages.

While India’s film industry may seem like a sort of imitation of the U.S.’s Hollywood, and to some extent it is (as a portmanteau of Bombay-Hollywood), it’s also unfair to claim that only film songs form the core of our everyday song and dance scene. I love playback singing, but it’s not our only music.

When India’s Hindu classical tradition was studied by western academic experts, one aspect that was then agreed upon by music historians is its basic feature of being primarily composed as melodic (meaning monophonic, as opposed to harmonic [multiple-voiced] or polyphonic [multiple independent yet related voices, often interactive, like Bach fugues]) and rhythmic in form and nature (substance, or primary thrust). Well it may be primarily rhythmic-melodic, but it’s become more than that, especially in recent decades!

We can eventually debate any or all of the preceding ideas in my forum, if anyone wants to do so. I want to let you know that while film music is my passion (and I know I’m not alone in this), I would never suggest it’s all we have! Nor do I necessarily succumb to any such simplistic notions of music theory as indicative of the entirety of a musical history of such a large region! Surely India had the santour and harmonium long ago (ditto for the guitar, which circled the globe via the Portuguese and other explorers), and people could sing in harmony from ancient times. Again, whether harmony was as prominent or even examined by our early music teachers could be debatable.

What about music for karṇāṭak (Eng. Carnatic | Hin. करनाटक) dance? Or just pure Hindipop, and songs in English or whatever? These along with a multitude of folkloric styles tied to cultural/religious tradition and/or regional/sacred dance (much of India’s culture is tied to our spirituality) styles are surely also valid music that people buy in India. It may be the case that one singer (with some extreme exceptions) can produce only a single pitch at any moment, but I don’t need a Mus.D. degree to know that more than one singer or pitched instrument can sound together to produce chords. That’s harmony! Done well (often, intuitively), I like to call it harmonicity, harmony well in sync.

Do you have a favorite musical artist or group that you would follow for years and thousands of kilometres, or even by air travel to enjoy their concerts in very remotely distant places? I can think of (and have been honoured to work with) some of the best, like Shaan and Pritam.

Both have fans around the planet. I’ve been blessed to witness and revel in their stardom on tour. They both earn their fans at every turn! Also, I cannot tell you how exciting it is to play to diverse audiences on such exciting away-from-home concerts!

My own theory about Pritam’s universality is the simple excellence of his work (if it’s not too self-serving to point this out, lol—I’ve helped a little, some say!). From one show to the next, he always keeps his music at its best, and audiences respond accordingly. We all work hard to keep up with him, and everyone benefits, including Pritamda. Likewise Shaan is amazing and consistently sways (some say slays) audiences; I am blessed to work with such greats!

I am definitely staying open to working with the music giants of Bollywood for (I pray) many more years, even as I cautiously branch out a little to record and perform live and record in various more independent (non-film) channels. Part of my own musical evolution includes work with my friends. The fans are equally amazing! They inspire all of the artists whom they support. I know that I thrive on the love I feel from fans.

Most of my fans and friends also know of my admiration for and fervent wish to work with Gulzar, another proven film music genius (whose main vocation is writing lyrics) and director. Did you know that (according to 20000-names.com) Gulzar (गुलज़ार) is a Hindi unisex name meaning “garden of flowers”? Well that’s evocative, whether exactly right or not. He is amazing.

Now back to the area of radio-driven diverse songs, for some more vocal-pop perspective:

I’ve learned that some of the most exciting times in U.S. popular songs (collectively the best examples are called the Great American Songbook) grew to national and later international prominence from their beginnings in certain main music cities, especially in New York (classical western European, Broadway, Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, folk/protest singers, the singer-songwriter movement of the 1960s, and dance music–from ballet to Latin, later to disco and avant garde), Los Angeles (TV songs, girl group pop, harmony vocal bands, R&B [Rhythm & Blues] and later urban rap, boy bands, and west coast Latin and Jazz) and Nashville (country and so-called hillbilly songs) being the historical U.S. music centers that produced the vast majority of pop records for many decades from about a century ago, until the idea of key music cities became less critical to the trends.

Whew! That was a fairly sticky wicket to ford, but if all these issues were easy or simple to learn, the entirety could be far less interesting (for the music of any country or people)… I might never get paid for what I do!

We have a somewhat similar evolutionary path from our own various styles having begun in diverse, even seemingly remote (or so it may seem to city folk) places (e.g. the Pubjab’s colorful bhangra festive dance music, that has become in later variants as popular as some English-only pop styles in certain Indian-rich places abroad, like Indian-expatriate parts of London), although such style evolutions in India and amongst Indians living abroad and/or their descendants and cultural affines and admirers may be unique to our so-called sub-continent. Or not, lol; I don’t pretend to have a deep background in music history or musicology.

I will post separately on the topic of chutney music from Trinidad & Tobago which being a newer variant of soca (soul-calypso), is yet another popular dance style dear to Indians in diverse places. Better slip on your dancing shoes for that one! It’s coming after a couple of posts I’m doing on fine art and languages. Gotta love it… Culchah!

I have only learned a few of the above styles of singing. In fact, among them I haven’t yet felt especially strongly which I like the best, but I do love several styles and have received advanced tutoring in some (mainly south-Asian styles like Bengali folkloricghazal, Hindu classical, and of course my main work in filmi music, plus the occasional great western song). One fact is clear: The more we study and learn, the more we realize there remains much more learning and practice to do! I certainly practice something daily, you can be quite sure of that!

Another important U.S. music city is Detroit, Michigan (aka Motown–from its earlier nickname “the motor city” due to the big auto factories based there before and after World War II, obviously long before my family was much enamored with American pop music). Certainly Motown Records, which moved to Los Angeles in 1978, had a large impact as it brought “crossover music” [that appealed to both white and black (African-) Americans] to a global audience, much like Jamaica brought reggae music and the Spanish-singing Caribbeans in New York brought salsa (with later hits in English) also in the 1970s. Also, Prince put Minneapolis on the U.S. music production map some time in the 1980s.

I’m not pretending that the U.S. is or was the only or main place of significant music productions worldwide.

We actually produce more songs in India today, but we’re still slowly catching up on global sales by comparison with western countries.

Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro, and other historic cities are other centers of great popular and dance/folkloric music production. My tastes are rather eclectic! I love dance music, too. Dance music can be popular or even obscure and may or may not enjoy any commercial parity with vocal pop! Now when great very-danceable songs have great lyrics (a là Bob Marley and the Wailers or his admired ska forbear Desmond Dekker), I’m potentially enthralled. When that happens, I gotta dance!!

Germany is actually the world capital of western classical (symphonic) music, much as Italy is the natural home of grand opera. Since we’re also not doing much Italian grand opera in India, my friends and I obviously have no immediate plans to record in either Berlin or Rome, lol.

However, we Indians have made good use of western orchestral symphonic music at some concerts and in film music for many decades (e.g. the great film music team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal). I think that’s fuel for the argument that much of not only our film plots but also music scores are strongly informed by western-style orchestration, if not simply being our imitations of them.

I don’t mean to make this a boring music history lesson, it’s just fun to look at the gradual trends in pop and other music business over the decades around the planet, because for over roughly a full century, widespread air travel and certainly radio and TV broadcasts have been exposing many artists (now including me) to wider and wider audiences.

The audiences themselves drive the music industry; that is a given.

I’m very grateful to have opportunities to concertise in remote locales like Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is a very modern city that recently came into prominence (especially after 2000). So it’s not a completely new city, but it is largely new and growing rapidly. I’m still almost new to touring, but it looks like I’ll be doing more and more in the years ahead. Touring has already taught me a lot! One of the few downsides is that air travel is generally dehydrating. Drink up, my loves!

I’m not sure exactly how I feel about the cultural practices and customs that tend to apply more to women than men in some places. Certainly I do respect other cultural traditions, just as I hope visitors to India respect ours (even if not everyone embraces our culture and religious practices in all their ritualistic forms and aspects).

I haven’t spent enough time abroad to form strong yea or nay opinions on others’ religions (anyhow, it’s often a very personal 1:God matter—I don’t pry).

Our last few music travels and visits went well, and all of the people who attended seemed to enjoy Bolly hits (as they do anywhere else where our films are widely enjoyed). I am definitely looking forward with vigor to our many upcoming appearances when and wherever they occur. I hope you do, too.

I look forward to both future music tours and pleasure travels, and all I know for sure about them is that I will remain curious and eager to learn about other cultures, as others also learn about our music. Thanks again, God, Allah, Shiva, Krishna, Lakshmi, Brahma, Buddah, Yaweh or whatever your name is! (I seriously doubt it’s Luke Skywalker, lol.)

Part of my personal evolution is a turn at home-brew recording (well, we used a bit of pro audio gear and talent, too)… some friends and I formed a female vocal quartet to do more multipart harmony songs that we love. So far, you can see and hear our first song on YouTube. Here’s more about this song:

Pari Main Hoon” by Lesle Lewis (orig. sung by Suneeta Rao. Our a capella vocal cover was arranged by Harpreet Singh, with Meenal Jain, Prajaktra Shukre, Mauli Dave and myself on vocals).

It’s sort of a paean to my II2 contestant friend Monali Thakur, who starred as the 13-year-old abused titular girl in Nagesh Kukunoor‘s award-winning film Lakshmi (2014). These film [aka audiovisual] projects certainly do take some time to get done. Well, we’ve all been very busy, too. ;)

I also explored this rocky emotional vocal terrain in a cover of “Aal Kal Paon Zameen” with lyrics by Gulzar and music by R.D. Burman from Manik Chatterjee‘s Ghar (1978). In that film’s original version, the tragic newlywed Aarti (picturised by the incredibly glamorous Rekha) bemoans her lonely fate and attempts to move past the new couple’s sudden criminal victimization’s emotional trauma.

Some of the best songs are about either very happy or very sad topics! Music can help people get over worries. I hope ours helps you!

Well this is another little synchronicity, as the other reference to 1978 in this post mentions the earliest beginnings of online computer “Bulletin Board Systems” (BBSes) that year, in the context of how such systems began to foretell the digital audio revolution’s impact on music sales as our planet began its inevitable, slow shift to a music download store paradigm. Were you alive then? I was still just a twinkle in my father’s eye, lol!

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(Pictured: the ladies of VIVA, one of India’s first female pop vocal quintets; courtesy of Indian blogger extraordinaire missmalini.com.)

We’re not exactly the typical SATB choir voices, and our first number isn’t a power pop anthem. Actually it’s not distantly apart from other girl-group fare. However, our taste is a bit different from the usual girlie-pop (certainly the J-pop or K-pop) stuff. We aren’t VIVA either, lol.

We do enjoy working together and get great audience response. Please stay tuned and help us reach a wider audience (with no film distribution bump-up). This could lead to more gigs in or near Mumbai, or maybe points remote if opportunities arise.

I also have some very exciting film work this year, though we have to allow the producers to drop the music releases and film promotions according to their overall distribution plans… so I can’t discuss film songs until then. I’m glad to be doing a mix of playback and other music.

Here are a couple of top pop-vocal girl-group video playlists: the quartet Little Mix and quintet 5th Harmony. Nice production values; I can get too absorbed in this, lol.

Here is a cool Billboard.com page about top-40 girl groups (according to their criteria): this page discusses the above-noted groups, and top girl groups in general. Girls, women, ladies; let’s not trip on terminology. We’re far more about the songs than the gender term.

By the way, I can suggest both bmi.com and billboard.com (and their free apps available at the usual sites) for those doing song research (e.g., author and publisher details), and especially for those wanting to do cover version “answer songs.” The criteria Billboard uses to form its charts is also gradually changing, as music download sales continues to eclipse that of hard copies like CDs, tapes and phonorecords. I’m told the BMI song catalogue is quite enormous ( ~ 10.5 million songs)!

Recording cover versions may seem easier than only doing originals, but dealing with intellectual property like music and patents in India has never been our forté, so to speak. Our country is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, as distinct from alliances of western countries whose published works are administrated by the top music publishers, however virtually every country that produces intellectual property is a party to the Universal Copyright Convention. Sony Music is valiantly trying to improve our music administration infrastructure, yet given the Asian propensity for piracy that the compact music cassette era brought us, it’s neither a single clear road to enforcement, nor as strong of a cultural imperative as managing copyrights seems to be in other regions.

Actually, given the economic damage done globally to writers and artists by the Internet file sharing web sites, (since Napster‘s June 1999 inception, but originally by various BBSes and UseNet in the late 1970s! And FTP and IRC in the mid-late 1980s–the Internet as we know it is mainly a thing of this millenium), and certainly many other later questionable cloud-based free or paid mega-sharing sites like LimeWire, have competed and combined to fragment the music distribution thing to a vastly different paradigm typified by first Ritmoteca.com (yes, after making deals with several large music publishers a Miami, FL, U.S. firm was first to sell significant volume of music downloads online in 1998), then clear market leader Apple’s iTunes Store (2003; the phenomenally popular iPod (2001) preceded and built market share for iPod and soon the online music would explode following the iPhone’s 2004 introduction), then in 2008, iTunes became THE #1 distributor of music in the U.S. (Earth’s hungriest and by far largest market).

Am I the only one who noticed the coincidence with the the global economic downturn? Surely U.S. music sales is NOT the primary factor driving the global (or even the U.S.) economy! But it does bear upon people’s emotions, including those of American business magnates (directly or indirectly, I would assert).

Who can deny the truism that the music world is quite different from what it was in the second half of the 1900s? Whereas radio airplay and disk sales were the obvious engines of the past, now online streaming audio is seriously threatening terrestrial radio, and most successful artists make the bulk of their income live, not via selling LPs, cassettes or CDs. It’s now a new digital era in which the money pie is increasingly-thinly sliced! But along with amazing variety comes access to/for artists whose work only sells modestly. Like ours starting out, lol!

Whereas in the 1900s, radio and nightclub licensing by performing rights societies like ASCAP, BMI, Sesac, PRS, etc. was big business, they’re currently either stagnating or in decline, and the new music economy a) presents less of an entry-barrier to newer and aspiring artists, while b) the sale of music has become even more fragmented as the Internet has to a great extent equalized the playing field (which means now tens or hundreds of thousands of lesser-known artists can market directly to consumers affordably).

This also implies consumers have unprecedented variety and access to such unique styles as you-name-it-in-a-search-engine. The Internet as a distribution platform is both to be thanked and blamed for the current state of affairs. One thing’s certain: there is no turning back now.

For detailed background (especially in London, U.K.) on efforts to curb illegal music distro (distribution), you can find plenty of it on the English (en.Wikipedia.org) article titled Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.

Will we ever land on the Billboard charts, and be able to maintain independent careers apart from our film work? In May 2016, it’s still too soon to know. That’s not our main objective; again, we’re more about the quality of the songs.

What do you think about all of this? Feel free to comment on our YouTube videos! Or catch us on social media and send us your feedback.

I’m still hoping for the best and we (my three talented singer friends and I) are working to release our best material. The current lineup is: Meenal Jain, Prajaktra Shukre, Mauli Dave and myself on vocals. I’m not sure if this is subject to change any time soon, but each of us does other work, too, so we combine our talents when we can if and when the times and materials are right. I find our collaborations fun and stimulating, so I’m working on this from both the participant and promotional aspects. More on the group later, as it develops!

While at this point, maximum skin exposure is not part of our style of music, we’re looking to the perfect songs, vocal and instrumental arrangements, performances, great production value and well-timed releases (at the best moments in time) to help us get the right attention here in India and wherever else we’re heard and seen.

If you like us, we take booking requests via Purple Star (Mumbai).

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