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Forget Michael, will India learn to rock?

By Sumit Bhattacharya
September 30, 2005 16:10 IST
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Michael goes to Bed, declares Alec Smart in a tabloid headline about the Danish rock band visiting a Mumbai lounge bar. India is finally rocking, is the general feeling, with everybody from Eric Clapton to Megadeath rumoured to be India-bound soon.

Please give me a break. Somebody.

I have nothing against the mush factory's, or greats', discovery of India, but it makes my blood boil to see the marketing and media juggernaut put its weight behind anything that comes from the West, no matter how dated or clichéd it might be.

And that when we have killed some great rock music from India by our ignorance.

Like Lou Majaw, the grand old man from Shillong whose life reads better than any bestseller. He fronted a band, Great Society, that was as good as any the West has ever produced.

When he sang his Sea of sorrow, you could feel the pain of a man who had even worked as a labourer in Calcutta to survive.

I've known hunger since I was ten
Loneliness is my good friend
I've learnt to laugh when I feel sad
When I see good times turnin' bad

And when he asked you to Paint a picture, you heard, mesmerised.

Tell a man to paint a picture
To paint in sorrow, paint in pain
I will look through the eyes
Of a world driven insane

To this day, the 50-plus Majaw organises a Bob Dylan festival in Shillong every year during the Tambourine Man's birthday. But he seldom sings his own songs, songs that will give you gooseflesh with their sheer starkness. Songs like Shadow of the sun, songs like Little man.

Then there was High from Calcutta. With singer-songwriter Dilip Balakrishnan and bass man Lew Hilt at the helm, till Dilip passed away. For those of you who haven't heard Monkey's song, with its out-of-the-world chorus of Sing, sing, sing for a bottle of wine, you have missed some great music:

And he knew that his days had come and gone
But in his heart there was this burning, raging storm
To be free…

Stuck in past, I am, you think? Think again, my friend. Lew Hilt now plays in a band called HFT (High F**king Time) in Delhi. The trio – with Hilt on bass, Arjun Sen on guitar and Adhiraj Mustafi on drums – plays some sublime instrumental rock music.

Then there's 40-plus Amyt Dutta, guitar god, who just teaches students in his Calcutta house on Wednesdays and Sundays. Though he plays in a band called Skinny Alley, the mastery and emotional appeal of his guitar sound goes beyond the band's mostly alternative songs. Catch Skinny Alley live – where they shed their strictly-songs skin -- to know what I mean.

Regional bias, you accuse me of? Go catch Thermal And A Quarter (The name derived from three Mallus and a quarter Mallu who make up the band) in Bangalore with their funk-driven Phish-esque sound.

And come back to Calcutta to watch Orient Express, a ten-piece, authentic Latin rock band with five percussion players playing Latin instruments the way they should be played.

Don't miss Cassini's Division, a punk rock band with stunningly original songs, while you are there.

I am just talking about rock bands and musicians I know about. There are many I haven't heard and don't know about.

In Bob Dylan's words, 'I could forever talk to you, but soon my words would turn into a meaningless ring, 'cause deep in my heart I know there's no help I can bring.'

No record company will touch an Indian rock band -- that sings in English -- with a barge pole. They will push for sick remixes instead, and suffer plummeting sales.

No one will organise enough concerts so that musicians like Ranjit Barot, Dhruv Ghanekar, Sanjay Divecha can free themselves from studio and sessions prisons.

You will just want Pink Floyd covers from an Indian band that manages to stage a show.

And you will still go watch any old trash that comes from the West.

And we, the media, will trip over each other to catch you gushing about it.
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Sumit Bhattacharya