May 25, 2013

Desi beat

If you grew up in the sort of cities I did, or attended colleges or workplaces like mine - very likely if you're reading this blog - there are good chances you have a lot of friends who love English music of one or more genres.

Now, if you're like me, you don't really get it and don't really care, but probably had to pretend to enjoy listening to it at some time or the other. You couldn't openly admit to your ignorance of - and indifference to - most English music, because you feared being labelled uncool, or a 'country bugger'. (I'm deliberately using the umbrella term 'English music' as I'm equally indifferent to Rock, Country, R&B, Rap etc. In fact, I don't even care about the differences between them). If you relate to any of this, this post is for you! :)

Over the past few months, I've tried to understand why I'm so indifferent to English music. The question intrigued me because I like listening to music (the desi kind), and I live on English (mostly American) movies & TV series, so why the combination of English & music didn't work was something I didn't understand. Here are some of the conclusions I've reached after thinking things through:

1. I don't get the accent most of the time. 'Accent' is the phonetic prominence given to a particular syllable in a word, or to a particular word within a sentence. It takes time and effort to tune one's ear to a particular accent, and only then can one understand what is being said. The accents in song are not the same as those in speech, and need to be learnt separately. But I simply wasn't motivated to learn these, because I just didn't care what any of these people had to say:

Exhibit A: These are the kind of folks I've generally stayed away from, since I was a kid, for my own safety, and to keep my lunch money.

Exhibit B: He probably still believes that women and black people shouldn't have the right to vote, among other things.

Exhibit C: He calls himself 'Snoop Dogg'. While he could possibly have a 3-digit IQ, I'm sure he doesn't know what the differential of a sine function is.

Exhibit D: This useless bloody 'entitled' generation. They DESERVE to lose all their jobs to us in Asia.

2. In some cases, I was motivated enough to try and understand someone's accent.

Exhibit E: She's close to my favourite F1 driver and seems to be making some important points ;)

However, when I did unravel what they were on about, it broke my heart. Most of the songs were about hot women in sucky relationships with douche-bags who didn't value them. It felt all wrong, but I couldn't do anything about it, so decided to turn my attention away.

Then I came across this lot:

I figured she was whining about her relationships. While she sounded sensible and all, I just couldn't relate. In our country, young men and women don't date a lot. They DO expect to hear the words 'I love you' fairly early, and it's not a big deal. They don't start living together before, and generally even after exchanging those words. Relationships are expected to culminate in marriage most of the time, especially if you ever stay together or spend a lot of time alone with each other indoors. As a result, we don't generally get into deep-yet-non-committal relationships & get our hearts broken too often. I'm not saying the western culture is better or worse - it's just very different. The culture divide means I'm unable to appreciate most of the things they sing about.

This 'culture divide' isn't limited to songs about relationships. Pink Floyd may have been great, but the notion "We don't need no education" has absolutely no place in India today.

When it comes to movies & TV, the culture divide isn't as much of a problem. For one, they generally tend to pick up simpler, more universal themes. Secondly, many series are set in workplaces, which are starting to look and feel similar across the world now. Finally, humor, mystery and action are easy to appreciate in any context. That's usually not the case with drama.

3. Sometimes people tell me 'never mind the words, just appreciate the music'. That just doesn't work. In the real world, it is all about 'the story'. That's what people emotionally connect to, and you need the connection for something to succeed. To appreciate music, I NEED to know what a song is about and what the singer's saying. Otherwise, it's just guitar/drums/synth work without any context, and that's not going to strike any chords!

So, to summarize:
1. I don't understand the singers' accents most of the time, and I absolutely do not care to learn them because I don't think it's going to enrich my life
2. When I do understand lyrics, I usually can't relate, probably as a consequence of the culture divide
3. Without an emotional connect with the lyrics, it's just meaningless sounds

All that said, we definitely need music in our lives. I think we've got enough good stuff at home. Sure, the 80s and 90s were a dark age, with only stale formulaic filmi music produced in India, but things have changed so much in the last decade or so. Now we have guys like AR Rahman, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar producing some really good, contemporary music for the movies. Then we have people like Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar who - through movie scores as well as independent channels like MTV Coke Studio - are innovating with blends of indigenous folk songs and western instruments and technique, with brilliant results!

I do occasionally listen to and like Western music as well, but I feel no desire to make it a bigger part of my life. If someone thinks that's 'uncool', that's their problem.

I have two other peeves that I want to mention here.

1. A lot of people - especially those from South India - seem to snobbishly avoid desi music. When asked about it, they say they it's because they don't fully understand the language. How come the language barrier doesn't stop you from going nuts over 'Gangnam style', then?

2. In December, many people had a problem with the kind of songs Yo Yo Honey Singh sings, and called for him to be banned. They claimed these songs were corrupting people's minds and turning them into rapists.

Well, please pull your heads out of your asses and see daylight. Honey Singh is a rap artist. Talking trash is his job description and no one takes his words seriously. I mean, if people were really taking life lessons and learning their philosophy from someone like Yo Yo Honey Singh, the problem would be way more fundamental and banning the singer wouldn't help. And I'd be looking for a way out of the country. In truth, Yo Yo is no more responsible for our social problems than Eminem is for the economic crisis in the west.

And how come the same people don't have a problem with Eminem or Akon? Just a few years back, everyone was grooving to 'Smack That' and 'I wanna fuck you'. People even attended his concerts in India. Now the same people want to ban Honey Singh?! Why the double standards? Why does the westerner have 'artistic license' but not the desi? Think about it.

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