Carrying on the tradition of Indo-Western fusion, where Indian musical instruments are played with foreign devices, musicians are creating a whole new genre called electro-music. A peek into the rising popularity of this musical form
Music transcends the barriers of geography and language. It unites people across the globe as multiple genres, artistes and styles merge to keep the excitement flowing. One of the most interesting genres that not only thrills music aficionados but also brings people and cultures together is Indo-Western fusion. This musical style, where compositions are played with a traditional Indian instrument and a foreign musical device, has existed for quite some time.
On June 1966, the audience gathered at the Recreation Ground in Bath, a city in the county of Somerset, the UK, listened with rapt attention to the melodious classical duet performed by the late Indian sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar and American violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin. A year later, this collaboration was recorded in an album aptly titled West Meets East.Then, in 2007, came the Grammy Award-winning album Global Drum Project that had Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain matching beats with celebrated American drummer Mickey Hart, Puerto Rican conga (a drum) master Giovanni Hidalgo and Nigerian artistes – drummer Babatunde Olatunji and percussionist Sikiru Adepoju. With time, music has evolved and so has the way India perceives fusion compositions. While collaborations amongst classical artistes continue to mesmerise audience the world over, a new form of musical amalgamation has evolved – that of electronic music. Popularly called electronic or electro-music, this genre, brings together the melodies of Indian classical instruments and electronically-produced sounds to result in a captivating track. The genre is now making its way to mainstream music, owing to the ceaseless entourage of artistes who travel across the world to create something unique and contemporary attuned to the taste of millennials.
The great Indian effect
It was in 1969 when Indian classical musician Gita Sarabhai brought the Moog synthesizer (named after its American inventor Bob Moog) to India. Said to be one of the world’s first commercial synthesizers, it changed the landscape of music forever. The Moog allows the creation of modular sounds through an array of modules like filters, oscillators, etc. The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad was one of the first recipients of this device in India. For the next four years, sound engineers at the NID’s Electronic Music Studio created some phenomenal music under the supervision of noted American pianist and experimental music composer David Tudor. These experimental melodies, believed to be a few of the first works of minimal techno and Indian electronic music, were composed with the Moog synthesizer, tape-recorded, archived as academia and eventually forgotten, only to be re-discovered by UK-based Indian musician Paul Purgas in 2017. One of the earliest recorded albums to feature melodic Indian ragas performed on a synthesizer in sync with machine rhythms was Ten Ragas to Disco Beat, recorded in 1982 by Charanjit Singh, a noted Bollywood musician. These melodies actually formed the base of House, a musical subgenre that started in Chicago a year later. Over the next 20 years, Indian instruments like the sitar (string instrument), the tabla (a pair of small hand drums) and the bansuri (Indian bamboo flute), along with Indian vocals, made their way into electronic music experiments happening across the world.
The resonating beat of the tabla found its electronic avatar with Talvin Singh, a Suffolk-based music producer of Indian origin. Singh trained in tabla under the tutelage of Pandit Lachman Singh in Punjab as a teenager and is credited for creating the now popular musical subgenre Asian Underground. This subgenre led to the rise of Britpop and the UK bhangra music scene that produced such sought-after artistes as Bally Sagoo, Apache Indian and Panjabi MC. Rooted in tradition, Singh’s experiments primarily involve the marriage of traditional Indian instruments and sensibilities with Western elements. His debut album ‘OK’ won him the prestigious Mercury Music Award which grabbed the attention of musicians worldwide. Singh’s rise in the late 1990s marked the beginning of a new wave of electronic sound that had a global appeal.
The 21st century finally saw the development of India’s very own electro-music scene with such music festivals as SuperSonic, NH7 Weekender, Magnetic Fields and Enchanted Valley Carnival not only being organised in the country but also inviting participation and collaboration of electro-music artistes from all over the world. In the last 10 years, with increasing global exposure, India has seen a remarkable rise in specialised studios dedicated to the experimentation and creation of electronic sounds. This new genre of music has, today, become a multi-million dollar industry. Many Indian artistes like Arjun Vagale, Sahej Bakshi (stage name Dualist Inquiry), Vishal Malik (popularly known as OMA), Nikhil Chinappa, Praveen Achary and Udyan Sagar (widely recognised by his stage ame Nucleya) have now carved a niche for the Indian element in electronic music worldwide.
Taking centre stage
India’s impact on world music has been tremendous and praiseworthy, be it classical fusions like those of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia with celebrated Jazz guitarist John McLaughlin (the US) or British rock band Coldplay with the popular music composer AR Rahman. With electronic music, the story is getting more profound. Many popular international DJs, including TroyBoi (Troy Henry), Marshmello, Deadmau5 (Joel Thomas Zimmerman), Tiesto (Tijs Michiel Verwest) and the late Avicii (Tim Bergling) have prominently used Indian elements and music in many of their compositions. This connection has grown organically and consistently, and the rise of Indian labels like Wind Horse Records, JuiceBox Music and Contrabass Records has simultaneously fuelled the flame of electronic music in India. Today, as Indian music lovers continue to nurture their passion for classical and folk melodies, the world electronic music seems to be influenced more by Indian elements. As the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented rise has been noted in worldwide collaborations through online events. It would be interesting to see the growth of this genre of electronic expression in coming times.
As the world slowly adapts to the new norms of socio-cultural experience, it is expected that Indian music, be it much-celebrated Indian classical genre accompanied with traditional instruments or the new genre of electro-music, all will find the same amount of appreciation in the global community. Until then, let’s patiently wait and prepare for when the new beat eventually drops! About the author: Dr Namal Wahal is a medical practitioner from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi and is trained in the tabla. Wahal also performs as a House and Techno DJ incorporating sounds of traditional Indian instruments and world music.