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India Rocks music researcher’s world

Published in the November 2013 issue

India is a fertile ground for growth in the creative industries, particularly music education, according to a Southern Cross University researcher.

Dr David Cashman, an adjunct senior lecturer with the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS), is researching the live music scene in India as part of the India Rocks! Project. This research, funded by SASS, focuses on performance and education and is an ethnographic project.

“Music is a big part of the Indian culture. Indian classical music has been around for millennia and the music of Bollywood is huge. Live popular music is currently somewhat of a niche, but when you’re talking about a niche in a country of 1.2 billion, you still end up with large audiences,” Dr Cashman said.

Dr David Cashman

Dr David Cashman

“Jazz had a heyday in Bombay and Calcutta in the 1920s and 1930s, while cover bands were popular in hotels and night clubs during the 1960s. Indian music has also influenced western music, in particular Indian classical music had an influence on psychedelic rock. Of course, popular music has had a huge influence on Bollywood film music and commercial recorded Indian pop.

“While the live music scene has traditionally revolved around Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, Delhi is now beginning to develop its own unique live music scene. From the traditional venues such as blueFROG and the Hard Rock Café, to smaller independent venues in Haas Khaz and South Delhi and venues opening in Gurgaon, Delhi seems to be developing its own live music identity.

“Festivals are incredibly important for Indian popular music, more so than in Australia. The genres are more mutable due to the lesser importance of traditional models of music sales. I’ve also noticed that there are few local instrument manufacturers and the cost of imported instruments is high meaning they are out of the reach of many Indians, which confines music making mostly to the expanding middle and upper classes.

Dr David Cashman (left) with the band Map at CelesteFest,

Dr David Cashman (left) with the band Map at CelesteFest.

“The other side of the research is music education. Essentially, there are three institutions that offer popular music courses, which is incredibly small when you consider the size of India. This is heightened by reports that the growth of creative industries in India are expected to skyrocket.”

The purpose of the India Rocks! Project is significant for several reasons, according to Dr Cashman.

“Firstly, India is a massive market, but it is under-represented on the world music stage,” he said.

“For many years Bollywood music has been dominant, but recently this has started to change. For pragmatic reasons, the global music industry will benefit from a greater knowledge of this enormous market.

One CelesteFest performance stage was the former home of George Everest, the surveyor-general of India in the 1830s for whom Mount Everest is named.

One CelesteFest performance stage was the former home of George Everest, the surveyor-general of India in the 1830s for whom Mount Everest is named.

“Secondly, many of the models of popular music studies are necessarily western-centric, based around how music operates in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. A few studies have investigated non-western popular music, but investigations into India’s live music have been limited.

“Thirdly, popular music education is emerging in India. This research is observing the birth of an industry with a few western education partners getting involved combined with a few Indian institutes. The global music education industry will benefit from understanding how tertiary music education may work in India and of the potential role of international institutions.”

Last month Dr Cashman travelled to the inaugural Celestefest, a music festival held at Mussoorie, six hours north of Delhi in the foothills of the Himalayas. The festival’s line-up featured all Delhi bands and DJs.

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  1. As a Non Resident Indian , I hope this study will also try not to impose western values on music educations and understand the “classical” indian music market . Classical traditional indian Music is also heavily linked to religious institutions. A lot of local music education, consumption and production also occurred around religious institutions live e.g. Chanting of hymns and prays. The article definition of music seems to ignore tradition indian and Bollywood music. The article talks about Bollywood music is limited to north India Hindi speaking India only. The article Appears to impose a western construct of music i.e Bollywood music influence by Jazz etc.

    I get the view that the article views popular live music as that which has strong western influences. The view appears to be biased that western influences on live music is a good thing. This can also be at the expense of indian music . I suggest care in this matter.

  2. Dr David Cashman says:

    Dear Shakti,

    Thanks for your comments. It’s always a positive process to consider and defend one’s work processes.

    In answer to you, I’m here as a popular ethnomusicologist. My work doesn’t involve traditional music, nor making value judgements on the ‘worth’ or ‘appropriateness’ of music education or music. You’re quite right in that the ‘Bollywood’ traditions is a Hindi-language, and therefore typically northern performance model, and that other subcontinental languages have their own film genres. Other scholars have investigated Bollywood, but it falls outside my research area. Similarly, the Indian classical traditions fall outside what I’ve been researching.

    On the performance side, I’ve been interviewing and investigating musicians who perform rock music, typically in English. (I don’t think I’ve come across a single Hindi song in the corpus I’ve been researching). Rather than putting classical instrumentation into the context of Indian rock, however, these musicians see their identity as coming from the topics covered, their accents and their appearances, regarding the imposition of classical instruments in their music as a ‘gimmick’. A great deal of scholarship has been written on classical Indian music by Indian scholars, and there was little point in my attempting to contribute to this area. Nor do I desire to. That’s an Indian tradition, not a western one.

    I’m also aware of the various manners in which classical music can be taught in India and have met with some traditional educators here. However, this is not the focus of my research. Rather I’m looking at the nascent area of contemporary music education as it occurs in India. Indians who wanted to pursue rock or jazz education, in the past, have left India to go to Berklee and other foreign institutions, so this development is quite significant, but separate to the classical institutions.

    The bias towards western music of which you accuse me can’t really be said to apply more to me than to the Indian musicians to whom I’ve been talking. They are themselves are dominantly western-leaning, western-educated and English speaking. I’m not going to make pronouncements about Indian classical music or Bollywood…those are not my areas…contemporary music is. Equally, whether the fusion of Indian music is a good or bad thing is not what I’m interested in. The Indian adoption of western popular music models is occurring, in the same way it occurred/occurs in Africa (as documented by Waterman’s *Juju*), C-pop, K-pop, in the various rock genres of Aboriginal Australia and elsewhere in the world. I came here to document and contextualise this music – something no-one else has been doing. If it’s not done, no-one would ever know what music in Delhi was like in 2013. And I’ll say here that I’ve had nothing but support and acceptance from the Indian musicians I’ve met.

    In her classic book “The Music of India”, Bonnie Wade made the point that (and I’m paraphrasing) it’s hard to make sweeping generalisations about India as, being such a huge country, any statement you make about India has a whole will by absolutely wrong in another part of the country. I was very aware of that when I started out, and have confined my research to Delhi only. (A city of 10 million is quite enough for me!)

    In summary, I’m looking *only* at western-influenced Indian rock/jazz/blues, *only* in Delhi (and Noida and Gurgaon) and *only* in live performance (except as recordings influence such performances). I make no claims about any music outside of those restrictions. Nor am I interested in whether it’s a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing… a thing that’s been more fascinating and multifaceted than I could have imagined before coming out.

    Kind Regards