• Thu, Apr 18, 2024

Pragmatic Push For Original Marathi Music

features Jan 28, 04:26pm

A Marathi bassist, a Marathi guitarist and a Marathi drummer walked into a bar, and they performed Hindi songs. 
 Photo Courtesy: 90 Feet Road

Kolhapur born rapper Bhau, with his fiery verses, grabbed the spotlight at India’s Got Talent where he performed his original that “stood different” compared to what the stage had to offer so far. Bhau qualified for the next round, and after the show, collaborated with entities like Universal Music and Qyuki for wider outreach. The musician also tied up with Silk Road record label for studio efforts. His decade long journey in hip-hop finally started taking important pit-stops.


Bhau, a Marathi rapper who prefers his local dialect, found his true break, but the story doesn’t necessarily progress the same way for dozens of other promising musicians who rap or write in their local tongue – Marathi. Dedicated to the road (located in Thane’s outskirts) – quite literally - that played a major role in their music journey, 90 Feet Road is a creation of three musicians, Ajinkya Jadhav (bass, Sparsh), Rahul Bhavsar (guitars, Sparsh) and Shakyamuni Pawar (guitars).  “We have similar taste in music and a similar vision.  Our primary focus is to create original music in Marathi, and currently we are looking at hip-hop,” informs Jadhav, the co-founder of the collective.


The first single released under 90 Feet Road, titled ‘Laaj Dhar’, to the uninitiated, would sound like a good old funk anthem and sonically it indeed does. However, the dark essence in its lyrical message would go unnoticed for someone unfamiliar with the language. Jadhav claims the contrasting nature is intentional adding that the concluding message of the composition ends on a hopeful note, one that a conscience-strong listener would pay heed to. The collaborators - Marathi Hip Hop trio comprising Akshay More aka Axs, Ashok Kadam aka MC Vinashak and Shashank Katkar aka Jazzy Nanu - will repeat a similar effort with 90 Feet Road for the next single. The collective/label now plans to “go live with these collaborators.” Kadam argues that the entire scene should be built around “giving and taking”. The independent scene, in a way, had always existed but it truly became an ‘industry’ of its own over a decade ago. So why could the trend not manage to impact the Marathi speaking community into creating one of its own?


Listen to the single 'Laaj Dhar':


Any takers for Marathi musicians in the city?


Kadam’s argument of ‘giving and taking’ sounds wonderful on paper, and worked really well for the independent scene at large, but the problem for this sub-culture has always been the non-existent community. Music director and Kadam’s bandmate at Sparsh Soham Pathak points out at a few factors responsible for the lack of evolution of Marathi music scene. “Who are you going to cater to?” asks Pathak. “If you look at Punjab, North-East, South or Rajasthan, independent music scene strived because of the existence of a close-knit community. “Even if musicians fail, investors ensure they will work with the artist again. In the longer run, it’s helping the community grow,” adds Pathak, who has performed in bands and projects ranging from alternative rock to Hinudstani classical. Pathak’s remarks arrive from an observation that shows dearth of promoters showcasing initiatives to push Marathi music to larger audiences. Popular songs have gone viral from other regions of Maharashtra but the template is repetitive and, definitely, not independent. Their contribution to the Marathi music community, however consistent and commendable, sadly, is neither enough nor competitive to uplift the scenario at large.


The last edition of NH7 had Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna on the big stage; Punjabi rapper Prabh Deep has graciously found a spot in (almost) everyone’s playlists; record labels continue to sign and promote acts dominated with English lyrics, but when was the last time you noticed a ground-breaking, emerging and refreshing Marathi act that headlined a college festival or performed at antiSocials or Hard Rock Cafes? Ajay-Atul, quite possibly the biggest names in Marathi music today, managed to ride on the mainstream wave that arrived with their hit single ‘Zingaat’, thanks to their association with movies. So if language isn’t a barrier in the music, why has the Marathi scene failed to make a noise loud enough to be noticed? Pentagram’s vocalist and Bollywood music director Vishal Dadlani lent his voice for a couple of Marathi songs, but the singer emphasised that this will not be a regular affair. “You cannot expect an outsider to keep singing songs that are meant for the local voices,” Dadlani told this author once. “Hence I do not accept every Marathi project because there’s such an immense talent that goes unnoticed.” added the vocalist, who also collaborated with Soham Pathak for another Marathi movie ‘Paisa Paisa’.


Pathak cites a personal experience to elaborate further about the common issues in this isolated scene. The director ideated a project, titled Soul Curry, for a regional TV channel that focused on original music. Pathak collaborated with several musicians and recorded at least 50 songs for the series, a project that was essentially inspired from the Coke Studio. However, the channel eventually refused to sign the project for the fear that a single composer for the entire series may not appeal to the viewers. Pathak’s investor behind the project proposed to postpone the project until right ‘takers’ show interest. The concerned regional channel went ahead and released a similar series, but that too, failed to create an impact.


Promising moves


All India Bakchod (AIB) performed an instrumental task in releasing singles of four young eletronic music producers. Riding on the popularity created through comedy, AIB drove its audience to these musicians and their music, acting as a massive catalyst in the eventual outcome. 90 Feet Road isn’t the only collective force trying to grab your attention towards the sub-culture that’s, geographically, not too far from the Mumbai’s underground scene. Hit YouTube channel ‘Bharatiya Digital Party (BDP)’, responsible for several viral interviews and sketches on the digital platform, has been lately experimenting with original music. “The birth of music outlet for an otherwise satirical comedy project was purely accidental. Our Canadian colleague is a musician herself. One thing led to another and the team took a chance in creating a platform for musicians. We run ‘Music Diaries’ where musicians perform some covers of popular Marathi tracks, and we’ve released two singles so far too, titled Maharashtra Desha and General Alert,” said the entity’s founder Sarang Sathaye.


How can a songwriter write a Marathi song, effortlessly, if it doesn’t dominate his/her conversations anymore? Or does not consume its content any longer? Sathaye, a theater actor and creator of the platform, assures the approach of initially building a community and then offering them options has not disappointed a bit. “We’re making money out of it, in fact,” adds Sathaye, also a director at Gulbadan talkies, the mother company. “The idea was not to become a record label or licensing company, but that came along the way. We own the copyrights of our originals so musicians are making money out of every view or download, and we own only the video rights for Music Diaries. The two projects have been effective, to say the least,” informs the young director. The channel’s outreach due to several of its viral flagship projects like Casting Couch put them in a comfortable position in terms of attracting brands. From Lokmat to Star Network, BDP music is backed by one associate or another. Rejecting the narrative that Marathi musicians or acts get ignored, Sathaye repeats what a theater senior once told him - “if your voice is strong enough, you will be heard.” Pune-based Sathaye is keenly following the trends in venues across Mumbai and Pune, also cites the rise of Marathi comedy scene in local pubs and venues to prove that the language is certainly not the barrier. “We have the resources and talent to have a dedicated music festival of our own, and we need people to look into that direction,” suggests Sathaye, whose BDP music is now one of the few catalysts pushing the sub-culture to the evolved times.


Listen to 'Samajik':


‘Instrumental’ Hip-Hop


Once again, it took a community a bit of hip-hop overdrive to realise its true potential and that’s certainly not the first sub-culture that the genre has managed to immediately adapt to. Marathi Hip-Hop, the trio that collaborated with 90 Feet Road for ‘Laaj Dhar’, will now collaborate with BDP music, an association that lends them a paid deal with BookMyShow. BDP music, similar to 90 Feet Road, assures further that the exercise will not only stick to hip hop and will gradually add other sounds to its programming.


The Usual Suspects


YouTube led to the birth of several artists, and while it’s cute to perform a Arijit Singh song on your own YouTube channel, Pathak believes that kind of approach  should not hold a place on ‘live’ stages - surely not the stages meant for original music. “Stop having someone else’s orgasm,” Pathak quotes Amit Saigal pointing out the strangely growing cover and tribute gigs that have, if not directly, affected the concerned sub-culture too. Pathak began touring live as vocalist for Hindi projects but the musician, now, vastly dedicates his professional time to original Marathi music - most of these land him a movie deal. However, Pathak too, is yet to deliver an EP in Marathi. "Although Soul Curry project didn't take off, the music director now plans to release its singles accompanied with music videos. "That's the option I will consider because the songs are ready, and if we do not find a TV channel, then I plan to create my own YouTube channel to push more original music."


The attempts to record an EP or perform at a music festival seem to be a bit far-fetched now for these existing acts, and bassist Jadhav would prefer one step at a time. Record labels and streaming services will come knocking at the doors quite later. Creating compilations and going live with rappers seems to be the way ahead for BDP Music and 90 Feet Road in a DIY push to promote original music. ‘Universal’ labels often fail to grasp the local essence, and therefore, these latest move initiated by neighbourly faces does reflect the desperate-yet-promising times for original Marathi music. Mumbai suburbs is a tricky place for a songwriter or a musician to live in, one that usually leads to a strong multilingual personality. The native tongue, for many Marathi musicians, simply remained another mode of communication. Marathi musicians, even in remote areas, took the support of Hindi’s popularity for outreach while the old-schoolers refused to delve into evolving styles.

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