Is Fusion the only way to take Indian Music global?

Speech by Bombay Jayashri at India Today Conclave, on 15th March 2013

Fusion as we know is an exchange between two or more cultures, a collaboration, a dialogue between artistes of two or more styles. The more appropriate word for “musical exchange” would be “confluence. Like the meeting of two rivers, the meeting of diverse musical traditions..

The concept of fusion music was introduced to the world by George Harrison of the Beatles, who played the sitar. Pandit Ravi Shankar collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin. Shakti had John mclaughlin play with many indian artistes. We see shades of this confluence in Indian cinema music, in the works of C Ramachandra, Salil Chowdhry, R D Burman , Illayaraja . So, the concept began decades ago and has stayed and will continue to.

National boundaries or musical cultures no longer prevent musicians who are keen to experiment or explore new horizons.

As a keen student, growing up in Bombay, I was blessed to be part of a family that encouraged me to listen to, experiment with and learn a variety of styles. That has only been an enriching experience and invaluable learning for me.

Confluences and fusion music is popular today, but Indian music will continue to retain its originality and traditions and at the same time adapt itself continuously in new avenues.

There is a lot to search for, and create afresh within ones own idiom and tradition. One does not need to experiment for the sake of experimenting.

Having said that, I believe that as artistes, one is constantly searching for that excitement of doing something new; for treading a path less known, for the euphoria of creating jointly with another style; for celebrating the differences and appreciating the similarities of another culture; And enjoying the texture of melody and rhythm that emanates from these exchanges. And this enjoyment spreads to the audience.

I had the opportunity first to sing with the Finnish chamber orchestra in Lapland, next to the North pole. I realized that the residents from Lapland came to the concert to listen to Carnatic music performed as part of an ensemble which they related to. And in this way became aware and interested too in Indian classical music.

When cultures meet and merge and yet retain their individuality the outcome is beautiful.

We are in a modern era, very much influenced by the changes and rifts which affect us and our art. The changes in technology, the access to music at the click of a mouse- all these factors impact the art, and the artiste.

As a teacher I find myself hugely drawing from these cross cultural inspirations to create both a pedagogy and interest in the students. Notions like folk music for the villages, Sufi only for a religious sect, or classical only for the knowledgeable- all these seem like myths.

So is fusion music the only way?

It is not that these exchanges are the only way, but it is one of the ways in which music can be made beautiful with insight and passion. These world music exchanges are initiatives that create opportunities and avenues and as a result bring in newer audiences.

Having said that, I also believe that even in order to create or enjoy good fusion music, we need to be grounded in our own original traditions. It is only when we understand and appreciate the nuances of our own music that we can really create, or enjoy a meaningful dialogue or confluence with another kind of music. So I’d say that there is no substitute to knowing our own music first. But we need not be limited or bound by that knowledge of what is ours. To be grounded and respectful of our original musical traditions, and yet be free to experiment and soar with the melodic notes of another culture – that is the ideal musical challenge for all of us. It is not either /or, but really a case of ‘both’ enriching each other.

Thank you!