Music does not have geographic barriers but it comes with a strong cultural identity that is highly contextual and aligned with certain belief systems. Music fans, critics, listeners, and musicians themselves have been constantly questioned on the legitimacy of the Indian rock music scene. The answer to this question keep changing - not because of factual inaccuracies, but because there are multiple facets to that question. There is no one silver bullet that serves as an answer to address this scenario. On the contrary, it requires an analysis to develop a series of responses. If we look at the history of Rock N Roll as a genre, we understand that it originated somewhere in the early 1950s in the United States as a definitive musical style that had influences of Jazz, Blues, Gospel and Western. The reason it became popular is because it created a platform for people to express their political, cultural or sexual angst. This had a deep impact on societies all around the world. This genre went through various stages of evolution and still has a large following despite the fact that the current music scene is dominated by pop icons like Bieber, Taylor Swift, Drake etc.
Coming to the Indian rock scene, the first ever formal rock band ‘Rock Machine’ (later, Indus Creed) emerged in the early nineties. Then came bands like Parikrama, Pentagram, Bhayanak Maut etc., who became part of the generation of that period. Despite their popularity, none of these bands could sell their music successfully and had to be content to play cover versions of international bands in public. There hasn’t been a single band till date that has made an effort to break this trend and be at par with bands like Doors, Nirvana, G’N’R, Beatles, etc. These bands not only created a sensation in their own country, but inspired millions across the world. They broke all the rules of the game, and created their distinctive style. Why don’t we see such artists who created rock music that resonates with the Indian audience? Even Pakistan, Iran, Japan and other south Asian countries have imbibed the essence of rock music to become successful. Junoon from Pakistan is known for blending the Sufi element in their music and they became the pioneers in a genre that never existed before. Why is India unable to groom a home grown rock band or star? The answer lies in this country of extreme diversity. We have 29 states and only 30 percent of this vast geography speaks Hindi with the rest having their own dialect. Additionally, the language that we get educated is predominantly English which has affected our ability to create prose and poetry in our mother tongue. Also, the music scene is going through a major transformation across the world and this generation is more tuned to genres like trance, hip-hop and pop and in India, film music rules the roost. Bands that are formed in college or high school dismantle as soon as they graduate, or sooner, as they are not musicians per se but consider themselves as stars. In addition, there are no platforms for them to showcase their talent. Of course there are annual competitions in some premier institutions, but they do not create a sustainable ecosystem to nurture and nourish bands. Apart from these factors, we haven’t yet spotted talent that can be compared to artists of yesteryear who had the proverbial passion to set the world on fire with their music. Such gumption is definitely lacking in Indian rock musicians, and they also grapple with a dearth of paying audiences.
However, what’s crucial is for Indian teens to learn how to develop their song writing capabilities, play instruments professionally, train hard, and create their own sound and identity. Understand that just doing drugs and strumming a guitar won’t make you Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, or Axl Rose. Getting stoned has never been the answer to become great artists. Hopefully we will someday see an honest Indian artist playing with an instrument and incredible vocals to create history. ROCK ON!
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Credits: Varun Rajagopalan.