It would be fair to say that film and classical music have been the most popular form of music in India. However, there was always the presence of artists who made ‘independent music’, which was mainly influenced by western genres like rock & roll and pop. This meant having almost no formal support for production and distribution of their music. Some artists stand out as having made great music despite the odds. Let's take a look at them, shall we?
Formed in 1974 in Calcutta, besides performing mainly covers as the audience preferred at the time, High was one of the first few bands in the country to make original music.The originals are mainly credited to their lead singer Dilip Balakrishnan, after whose demise in 1990, the band disbanded. Many people considered Dilip Balakrishnan to be one of the most talented musicians our country had seen.The remaining band members have reunited for several occasions over the last few years and also released 'High Again' in 2009, a compilation of their original tracks.
Great Society was formed in Shillong around 1980. The band had released their first album by 1983 and would go on to release one more, before they disbanded in 1993. They were probably one the very few bands who managed to release original material at that time. However, being from the north-east hampered their ability to receive much exposure in other parts of the nation.
band members included Lou Majaw, who still continues to perform across the
country and is well known for covering Bob Dylan songs. Rudy Wallang was
another member who would eventually go on to form Soulmate in 2001 with Tipriti
Kharbangar, which is currently one of the biggest acts in the country. The
story of Great Society was documented by Shivajee
Ashim Das in his documentary film named after the band itself.
Lou Majaw of Great Society
Rock Machine was formed in the early 1980’s and went on release an original album by 1988. In an environment not favorable to original rock music, they managed to make a mark and connect with the audience. They evolved into Indus Creed in 1993 and continued to make music before disbanding in the late 1990’s. Some of the members went on to form other bands during this phase. They finally reunited and then came back stronger and better than ever with their latest album ‘Evolve’ in 2012.
Indian Ocean started their journey at Delhi, in 1991 and have come to be one of the most respected and loved bands in the country. The band managed to fuse together different forms of music like folk, rock, etc. beautifully and created their own unique sound. Their journey over the years saw them release four albums along with giving music for a few films. The untimely death of Asheem Chakravarty in 2009 was a great loss to the band. He was one of the founding members, whose talent was irreplaceable. They released a documentary called "Leaving Home" about their experiences in 2008.
They are probably the only band who despite having been around for over twenty years, still haven’t released a full length album. With the spread of the internet, they have made their music freely available for downloads and never really feared the concept of free distribution.
Parikrama came together in 1991 in New Delhi and continued to rock the nation with their music by performing very regularly at various places like colleges, music festivals, etc. In 2007 Parikrama became the first Indian band to perform at the Download music festival held annually in Donington Park, England with the BBC covering their appearance.
Formed in 1994, Pentagram started off as a rock band and released their first album in 1996. Over the past few years they have incorporated electronic music into their sound and are well-known in the mainstream too.
The members of Pentagram have taken up other musical projects as well. Vishal Dadlani, the vocalist, become one half of the music director duo Vishal- Shekhar. Randolph Correia, the lead guitarist, formed Shaa'ir + Func with Monica Dogra. They’ve released four albums so far and have the distinction of being the first Indian band to perform at the Glastonbury music festival in the United Kingdom in 2005. Their most recent release was with a new album ‘Bloodywood’ in 2011.
Though not a musician, Amit Saigal is considered to have made extremely important contributions to the independent music scene in India. He started the ‘Rock Street Journal’ in 1992 when there was no real source of information for those who followed rock music.
He was also responsible for launching several competitions and events to promote independent artists,giving them a platform to showcase their talent.His unexpected death in 2012 was heartbreaking for independent artists and fans alike.
All these artists had certain values in common which got them to where they are right now. Apart from having the talent and skills, they were determined, committed and truly passionate about their art. They also prove that the important thing is to make the kind of music you love, be it rock, folk, fusion, metal, etc. Today, with the help of technology, producing and distributing music has become much easier. However, whether one is successful or not still depends on one’s dedication and ability to stay the course even if there is a lack of instant success.
These artists have been active for over two decades and through the years probably inspired many people who wanted to be musicians. The independent music scene in India right now is bigger than it’s ever been due to the artists who believed in doing what they were passionate about.
Changes in technology and culture have also helped to provide a wider platform. However, there is still a long way to go before being a musician can be the sole occupation for artists as seen in other countries.