Friday, 31 August 2018

Native and Immigrant Sounds

By Arvind Brahmakal

This last month has been an interesting mix of ideas, thoughts, actions and emotions by Carnatic musicians, audiences and organisations. Some feeling threatened, some threatening, some giving up and many others pouring out either anguish or encomiums. Several clich├ęs are freely being used – creative liberty, communalism, spirit of oneness, spewing hate, plagiarism, etc. All these have resulted in a muddled discourse from all sides and the final schema could evolve only with more discussion and debate. It should be welcomed that this dialogue is happening and is providing publicity (good and bad) for the art form and for the artistes. 

In the middle of all this is the person who goes to a music performance. If a person, in these busy times, spends couple of hours travelling to attend a 2-3 hour concert, there are certain expectations - that of coming back home relaxed, happier and satisfied. If these are not achieved, what is the use of such music and of spending so much time at a concert? One could possibly explore other avenues to achieve similar results. 

One dimension of the recent debate is whether songs on Jesus and Allah (unfortunately, others like Buddha, Mahaveera are left out) should form part of the Carnatic Music idiom. Every faith has some native sounds and the people practicing them are conditioned to listening to them, over several centuries. This is very much like symbols, structures, culture, etc. Compositions on Hindu Gods are in Carnatic Music idiom as these sounds are native to this faith. Hence, the audience you find in any Carnatic Music concert is largely ones who practice Hindu faith. Feeding these audiences with songs on other faiths is like thrusting other faiths on Hinduism. The question to then ask is towards what end is this experiment aimed at? 

Similarly, there are sounds that are native to Christianity and Islam. A deep sense of reverence for people of these faiths arises when only those native sounds are heard. By thrusting the native sounds of Hinduism on followers of different faiths, what is the intended purpose? Christians and Muslims may not feel the same reverence when songs on their Gods are rendered in immigrant sounds as opposed to their native sounds? The audiences may also feel threatened that there is an ulterior motive of thrusting Hinduism on them. 

There could be another experiment of using native sounds of Christianity and Islam and superimposing lyrics on Hindu Gods. The same set of apprehensions as listed above apply – will Hindus feel the same reverence with these immigrant sounds and will they not remain in a lurking suspicion of an attempt to impose other faiths on Hinduism. 

Freedom of expression, subject to reasonable restrictions, has to be protected for every artiste. Artistes being creative people will want to explore different dimensions to expand the acceptability of their art. Let the experiment be to promote social harmony in the true sense of the term by not mixing everything up but by respecting and honouring each for what it is. Within these confines, surely there is plenty to be done as music is universal and can provide peace, happiness and relaxation to everyone on this planet. Artistic freedom is good but artistic adventurism can be lead to a more hateful world, which goes exactly opposite to the purpose of practicing the art. 

After all, why change something that is not broken? The audiences of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam could all rebel in equal measure. Every innovative artistic attempt without a sound rationale and a purpose may be viewed as a back door support for inter-faith conversions. Music collapses…

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