Pop! Why did our music stop?

Indi-pop welcomes an amalgamation of singers from across geographies, who played with different genres of Indian music, voices, and themes (some were into classical, others folk, while still others fusion – the opportunities were endless).
Pop! Why did our music stop?

BENGALURU : The school bell goes ding-a-ling...! It’s a typical ’90s after-school scene, with boys and girls in their uniforms jostling towards the outstretched arms of their parents, who are eagerly waiting on campus. I reach out to my father, and we both walk to the car as I regale him with my day’s tidings. In the automobile, the AC is on, and our talk ceases. There is another familiar much-loved tune coming from the car’s music system, popularly called a deck. There is a cassette inside, playing out Alisha Chinai’s Made in India, a classic that mesmerised music lovers of all ages in 1994.

Through the 1980s and ’90s, a new music revolution was taking shape in the Indian subcontinent, captained by a hearty talented bunch of independent musicians, who pushed the envelope of creating music that was a mix of beats and composition, stunning visuals, and lyrics that read straight from the heart. Bollywood reigned supreme, and the ’80s disco music scene of the Hindi film industry, and the advent of cable TV, inspired music for the then modern Indian, and the genre of ‘Indian pop’ or ‘Indi-pop’ was born.

Nazia Hassan, with her sublime voice and a singing style unique to the ’80s, enthralled audiences. This paved the way for experimentation, and Indians were overjoyed. In the 1990s, cable networks began to crisscross Indian neighbourhoods, shrinking our vast world through the favourite ‘idiot box’ in the living room. All things beautiful, including music, began to beam on TV, and India was swayed. This was an age that preceded the advent of the home computer, the internet, YouTube, the smartphone, and Spotify. The launch of dedicated music TV channels – MTV and Channel [V] – brought Western pop music in its video format into Indian homes, paving the way for Indi-pop to mark its place. Indians had always tuned into the legendary Binaca Geetmala with Ameen Sayani on Radio Ceylon and Vividh Bharati, at 8pm each Wednesday for over four decades, and then watched Chitrahaar, another memorable Bollywood film song show on DD National.

Succeeding generations seamlessly transitioned to the countdown shows on the cable music channels, where Indi-pop became a rage from the late ’80s onwards. Hasan Jahangir’s Hawa Hawa and Suneeta Rao’s Paree Hoon Main were hit numbers. Indi-pop welcomes an amalgamation of singers from across geographies, who played with different genres of Indian music, voices, and themes (some were into classical, others folk, while still others fusion – the opportunities were endless). Singers brought their best talents and shades of music to the stage; there was pop – Bombay Vikings’ Kya Soorat Hai; rap – Baba Sehgal’s Dil Dhadke; Sufi music – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Afreen and Junoon’s Sayonee; Bhangra – the iconic Daler Mehendi and Bally Sagoo; and even Carnatic music – Colonial Cousins, headlined by the magical Hariharan and Leslee Lewis.

Above all, were the spectacular music videos made for television, which did full justice to the Indi-pop renditions they accompanied. The videos shot at stunning locations, were embellished with captivating choreography. The dancing sand dunes, with the Pyramids of Giza as the backdrop, was picture perfect to the already poetic O Sanam by Lucky Ali. The smooth Ho Gayi Hai Mohabbat Tumse by Aslam was romantic and trendy at the same time, while Dooba Dooba by Silk Route helped one drown their sorrows as the song played. Euphoria was indeed euphoric, while Altaf Raja’s Tum To Thehre Pardesi carved a lovable niche for itself.

As the decade blended into the new millennium, more artistes joined the Indi-pop ensemble, from the groovy Bombay Rockers, the suave Rabbi Shergill, the baritone of Strings’ frontman Faisal Kapadia, to Egyptian Hisham Abbas with his Nari Narain. There was music for everyone, with DJs and remixes. This was the era of the music store. There was a Music World or Planet M, alongside a host of standalone outlets, across Bengaluru. I often visited one such music wonderland to pick audio cassettes, to either play in my tape recorder or Walkman. Cassettes made way for CDs, even as the face of FM radio changed. In all these periods, Indi-pop flourished. However, in the last 15-odd years, Indi-pop as we knew it, began to fade away for a range of reasons, including a lack of sponsorship from record labels, who had almost ceased to exist in their earlier avatar, with music getting on board MP3 and online streaming platforms. Also, the Bollywood behemoth was growing in parallel to Indi-pop, and many independent performers found future in the film industry as playback singers.

As a man from the time that jived to Indian pop, this music is more than a memory to me. From antakshari to musical chairs, its songs rent the air on every occasion. Their lyrics are like time capsules embedded in my being. Thanks to modern streaming apps, a jukebox of 50 songs from those years takes me back there, while a host of young musicians are trying to revive that tradition today, through newer online modes. I’ll pop the champagne to that! Encore!

Open Space

Hrithik Kiran Bagade


News Editor

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