Joi's Notepad: Kill the Monster in the Head
Posted on 17 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry
As a musician, I often get to hear of a lot of different types of music and a whole lot of different perspectives around it. One vs the other. Nothing stands out in a conversation or debate more than the Bollywood vs Independent, though. It rages like a tempest, every time one gets to discuss the challenges and perils of being a musician in this country.
I have never heeded this class divide. There can be only good songs vs ‘not so good songs’, maybe. For long here, we have heard of how Bollywood has drowned out all other music; and there are times when you think that is right. After all Bollywood is a monster, churning out content. But this is nothing new. Since the middle of the last century Bollywood has managed to hold the nation’s attention.
BUT DOES IT REALLY STAMP OUT INDIVIDUAL WILL, TO PRODUCE A GREAT PIECE OF MUSIC, WHICH IS OUT OF THE NORM? SHOULDN’T ARTISTES HAVE AN INTRINSIC SENSE OF COUNTERCULTURE?
THE URGE TO TELL A STORY WHICH HASN’T BEEN TOLD BEFORE.
India is many Indias, with such a variety of races, ethnicities, cultures, peoples. One really looks forward to find more stories that smell of local histories, passion, love and sacrifice. We can look at contemporary artistes abroad and see how they are amalgamating their histories to state of the art modern musical thought and production.
For example, if we take Kendrick Lamar’s ‘King Kunta’ which references Alex Haley’s novel, ‘Roots – The Saga Of an American Family’, and its principal character ‘Kunta Kinte’ - the archetype rebellious slave. The first time I heard the song, I knew this was some different magic. There was something special about it. This only happens when we dig deep into our reserves of things. It references Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and also James Brown’s music amongst others.
We all love to hate Kanye West. However, the rise to the top can not be only attributed to PR & gimmicks. There is much thought that goes into deciding what they are doing. Take the case of his song from last year ‘Only One’, where he’s collaborated with the great former Beatle, Paul McCartney. Here, Kanye sings from the perspective of his late mother Donda West, and one can hear her singing through him to his daughter North. This is one of the most beautiful songs that I’ve heard in recent times, and for somebody who has grown up on a staple of rock & heavy metal, you would know this means a lot.
I chose to bring the instances of these two contemporary artistes because they exist right in the crosshairs of the commercial music space in the US & the world. But their narrative is broad. It brings a lot to the table. So much to learn from. And they survive within and without Hollywood, the biggest monster of them all.
Sometimes we should just cut through the fat of whatever shit is being said about music, and approach the matter with individual passion and clarity. Why did we fall in love with music, with songs? Why did we stay up nights to listen to the ‘Sounds of Silence’? I remember, when I was in college in Shillong, I would walk about with earphones listening to Iron Maiden’s ‘Alexander The Great’. Under those blue skies, it was a different magic words can’t even express. We loved the music because of the music. Because of the stories – historical, literary, geographical, etc.; of the soul that was hidden in them.
To tell an honest story, we first need to kill the monster in the head. Magical India must bring forward a 1000 stories. There are many narratives in this ancient land. And we can choose any to represent.
I always go back to Maya Angelou when she said – ‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.’
This is my one & only gospel.