If you were ever part of--or witness to--the rock scene in a major Indian metropolitan city,
you'd notice that no matter where you went, the cast of characters stayed pretty much the same. There were always young earnest boys, with hair as long as they could get away with, bandanas with skulls on them tied around their foreheads and mostly, nine times out of ten, looking vaguely like they had been smoking some sort of
a banned substance. Rock was mainly a male forte, at least, when I was growing up. You had your rock boys and then, you had their girlfriends, the ones with black nail polish and lots of silver rings and heavy eye makeup, who were generally somewhat small and skinny, but looked as though, if you came close enough, they would smell clean and fresh, unlike the boys.
Most people went on to outgrow being a rock person after college. Being in India, all Western rock bands were primarily imitations, doing cover versions of songs by Pink Floyd or Metallica or The Doors. People still formed bands, but as something to do when they weren't at their day jobs, a way to make a little extra money doing something they were good at. Bands that followed their own beat--like Indian Ocean or even the wildly popular B****C*** Sutta by the Pakistani band Zeest--did the best; the other cover bands were mainly hired for college rock festivals, adored generation after generation by youth not old enough to know any better.
Or perhaps they are old enough to know better. We were old enough to appreciate good music at 19 or 20. We were not quite the "rock" people, but separated from them by only one degree. The point is, at that time, in the early 2000s or late 1990s, there really weren't that many gigs coming to India. We had one or two popping in and out occasionally, but these were few and far between. And so the closest we could get to listening to live music was these cover bands.
That's not the case anymore. In the last year, we've had Roger Waters, Aerosmith, Beyonce, Shakira, Akon and probably a bunch of others that I can't remember right now. That's right. There are so many acts coming to India, I can't even remember some of them. 50 Cent came and left this weekend. Jethro Tull and Iron Maiden are scheduled for next year, along with, no doubt, scores of other people. No longer is it only has-beens--Air Supply or Shaggy--who pass through the country, now we're getting several top artists.
Which brings me to the point of this piece. The Celebrate Bandra festival is on in Mumbai, and, with it, a lot of live music. I was at a jazz concert on Sunday night, and yesterday, I decided to drop by on a gig by two bands I had heard a lot about when I was in college, but had never actually heard--Advaita and Parikrama, both Delhi-based bands. Advaita did a fusion set, which, while not terribly exciting was at least original. Parikrama, on the other hand, did a series of metal covers, at least, the bit of the concert I sat through, before I had had enough and left.
For a while, I was quite happy to be sitting there listening to the music. I'm a sucker for live music, even if it is karaoke, and feeling the sea breeze in the air was quite pleasant. From where I sat, I could see the "rock guys", unchanged across the years and across the cities, raising their arms to dance. But after a point, it began to get to me. I'm all for music and cover bands, but the fact that Parikrama is probably one of the most popular rock bands in India right now is slightly shocking. Their music is not original, and, when we are in an age and time when the original artists of all the popular songs are coming to our country anyway, why are we wasting time listening to second best?
Here's my two cents for the Indian music industry, especially when they want to launch into rock. Keep your strengths in mind. Incorporate the tabla player. Remember fusion is the future. And, for god's sake, don't take yourselves so seriously.