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Fusion Music - Rhythms in Harmony

The arts, be it music dance or even painting have a history of borrowing freely from different traditions and yet retaining their identity and the core of their being. Fusion music is a new in this trend where eastern and western traditions mingle, uncaring of geographical boundaries.

The spectrum of music practised in India ranges from simple tri-tonic structures to the complex rage based classical music. In between lie myriad lighter forms, folk styles, tempos, variations and applications creating an incredible variety of living music. The era of commercially available recorded music began in India in 1907. In the early stages such music comprised basically Indian stuff including classical renderings, folk forms, devotional and romantic numbers. The advent of the talkies changed the scene and the record industry became an adjunct to the film industry. Non-film numbers came to be called ‘private numbers’. Such numbers included classical music, ghazals and geets etc., and their popularity was dependent, to a considerable extent, upon the All India Radio playing them. Film songs rode to popularity through amateur singing in functions of clubs, societies and institutions and by being played on brass bands in marriage processions.

The period around Independence brought about a turning point in the styles of film music and popular music. The old guards, for various reasons, were out and gave place to the new generation. It was a period of change and experimentation that brought about the golden era of film music a decade later. Blending of musical forms began on a big canvas provided by the requirements and possibilities of the film situations. Effects of Punjabi fold beats and giving rhythm a dominant role in the structure of songs were significant features of the music of the nineteen fifties, sixties and seventies. Western harmonies and chords were freely deployed. There was a progressive use of Western instruments that could not be resisted even by the conservative. All India Radio and Indian television, the Doordarshan.

The decades of the eighties and nineties have seen an unprecedented popularity of light music of all hues. The most noticeable feature of this period, which has continued well into the mid nineties, is experimentation and aggressive marketing of recorded music. There has been an explosion in the sale of sound reproduction systems making it possible for persons with lesser means also to have easy access to music. Exposure to Rock and Pop music created a desire in the Indian that could serve the purpose of dancing, using steps of such popular folk forms as Bhangra and Dandiya. Bhangra is a vibrant folk dance of the rustic people of Punjab. Dandiya is a gregarious folkdance from western India, Gujarat. The result is the birth of a form which has thrown up singers like Daler Mehndi and given birth to several groups practicing this form in which synthesizers, pad, guitars and the dholak provide the accompaniment to a basic folk based composition. The dholak is a drum used in northern parts of India. Almost everybody knows how to play the dholak for it accompanies all excursions into singing be it during a wedding or just an evening with friends.

Fusion music has assumed several other forms also where Rap, Pop and Rock structures have been presented through the medium of Indian languages. Some good compositions hve become immensely popular such as Alisha’s ‘Made in India’. There are several attempts to combine elements of both form and content in the current scenario. Thus, we have language combination in a single number in a continuing beat with simple chords as well as some features of Rock, Pop, Rap and Reggae used as patching. Some artists with classical training have come out with skilful blending of snatchings of sargam (the octave), double language singing and pop treatment as in the case of ‘Colonial Cousins’. Nusrat Fateh Ali of Pakistan had also entered this form in a big way and was very popular in India.

A noticeable feature of this phenomenon is that the fusion movement is being furthered not by the established front rank composers of established reputation and superlative but mostly by newcomers including Indians living abroad who have the will, means and tenacity to enter an increasingly competitive music industry making use of aggressive marketing. Live performances have gained unprecedented popularity in India as well as in countries with applicable Asian population.

The first attempts at creating fusion were made in the nineteen thirties by Timir Baran who created orchestra compositions making use of Harmony and deploying Western instruments. Film music directors have often resorted to experimentation deploying exotic instruments and refining folk based melodies by garnishing them suitably. Fusion experiments made by composers like Vanraj Bhatia and Louis Banks also deserve mention although they do not form part of the mad race for big commercial success in this brand of new-found musical form.

The mid-nineties have seen the arrival of Fusion music almost as a movement. The term implies several meanings but its foundation is the combination of two or more different elements of Indian and Western music. There could be a combination of folk music and disco beats thereby turning the composition into a modern dance number. Ethnic flavour is preserved but the instrumentation is a combination of the electronic and real. Thus, in Bhangra-pop, the dholak is retained but the beat is reinforced with base guitars and octopad-generateed drum strokes. The foundation of this music is the beat capable of energizing the audience to rise and tap the floor remix versions and medley. Reissue of old numbers under technically improved sound quality and their cover versions are also coming out.

The possibilities opened up for a new aspirant is limitless in the present circumstances when rhythm is king, the Synthesizer keyboard is the Guru and public demands are uncomplicated. Whether melody will return after some time, only the future can tell.