A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to our local club for an evening of old Hindi songs. It was a one-man show, the singer belting out old medleys and ghazals and also managing the keyboard and arrangements. People had a really good time as happens in all such programs that transport them to an era when they were kids or young adults and bring to mind a bygone, perhaps simpler era, the sepia tinge blurring most nasty memories, while bringing into soft focus the good ones that lead to a general feeling of warmth and at times, goose pimples.
What an era that was! Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and to a lesser extent Talat Mehmood, Manna Dey and Hemant Kumar! Thirty years of Hindi film music dominated by five-eight singers. Matched by an equally small number of amazingly talented composers and lyricists, who too you can count on the fingers of your hands.
They gave us many phenomenal songs. But it is also a fact that we didn’t have much of a choice. The songs we remember, the songs that make us feel comfortable and nice, are the best among the ones created.
I have a hard time convincing people that while there is no question of the vast treasure of terrific music we have from the past, the vibrancy, the variety and the complexity (and simplicity) of today’s music is better. Because of the increasing choice of composers, lyricists and singers and the ability to find the correct voice for the right song, we have equally or perhaps even better songs than in the past…songs that a generation from now, we will be (at least I will be) happy to listen to during live performances.
Just take the last couple of years and the sheer variety. “Raabta” in all its versions from Agent Vinod. Or Kailash Kher’s unplugged version of “Tu Jaane Na” from “Ajab Prem Ki…”. Or “Khuda Jaane” by KK and Shilpa Rao or “Nadaan Parindey” by Mohit Chauhan, or Shalmali Kholgade belting out “Pareshaan” from “Ishaqzaade” or Deane Sequeira helping Mohit Chauhan with “Bezubaan” from “ABCD”…and the list goes on.
I asked around. Anand Desai, an extremely knowledgeable music aficionado gave me some explanations…and we both agreed that while the music of the past was simpler and more “real” than today’s computer generated and engineered sounds, if the same variety and choice that we now have, had existed in the past, the music would likely have been much much richer. In those “dark ages”, there was little innovation, limited variety and a virtual lid on new talent. Preeti Sagar sang one great song…imagine how many more terrific numbers she could have sung, if she had just been given the chance.
There is a limit to the number of great songs and compositions an individual or group can create in one’s lifetime. Some lyricists and composers have just one great song in them, some ten, some 100. But there is a finite number. And the larger the base to choose from, the better has to be the quality!
Another friend Ramnath believes that a lot of this change is due to one person…A R Rahman and his experimentation with “uncut” voices that finally ended the monopoly of the few. In the end though, I believe that the quality of music in this decade is better than any other similar decade in the past 120 years, our golden, mellow memories not withstanding.
And, we have the next few decades to find out!