Compassion, Collaboration & Acceptance: How Music Collectives In South Asia Are Forging New Paths For Artistes
The creation and nurturing of a ‘community’ through music collectives have given rise to some of the most powerful social and cultural movements in South Asia. While some strived to construct a space for artists beyond the conventions of mainstream culture, others offered a safe space for dialogue on prevalent issues including discrimination, social injustice and cultural diversity. Such collectives have played a crucial role in organising artists from diverse backgrounds by offering a ground where varied artistic explorations could co-exist. We strike a conversation with some of the collectives in the region and understand in depth how their journey helped pave the way forward for a generation of artists.…
Growing up in the 80s, Mae Mariyam Thomas would record radio shows on blank cassettes. Back then, radio was a space for discovering new or forthcoming music, staying informed, but the reality was far from it when Mae joined 94.3 Radio One, a commercial radio network in India, as a presenter. She quickly discovered that you had to “be popular or Bollywood” to get any airtime. Even the best independent acts of the day like Pentagram were a no-go on her afternoon requests show.
Today, as the founder and host of indie music podcast Maed in India, she helms one of the leading platforms showcasing independent musicians in the region, carrying the legacy of radio forward in her own way. Inspired by the format of BBC Radio 1’s Peel Sessions, Mae’s show embodies the seasoned integrity of live music production in the studio, in turn, acknowledging an oft-ignored reality for independent artists. “It’s not always easy for musicians to record, produce, mix, master and release their music regularly,” Mae tells Border Movement.…
Image Credit: Prasiit Sthapit / Sine Valley Festival 2016: Rajan Shrestha (Phatcowlee), Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey (Alien Panda Jury), Ranzen, Chandresha Pandey, Pranav N Manandhar and Irina Giri (Flekke), sitting – Manal(Autonomotor)
“It seems like every time there is a momentum here in Nepal, we are struck by some sort of calamity”, Prasidha Yonzon almost laughs it off, reflecting on the unfortunate obstacles that have hindered the growth of audiences and infrastructure around electronic music in Nepal – the latest of which has been the COVID-19 crisis. Prior to that was the disastrous earthquake in 2015. A little more than half a decade before that, the nightlife industry had to lobby and protest against an 11pm curfew imposed by a Maoist-led government that cited clubs as spaces harbouring illegal activities.
Image courtesy of Booka Booka
In 2018, popular British-Norwegian EDM artist Alan Walker graced Sri Lanka for a performance. The country’s foremost alternative electronic music label Jambutek Recordings went to Berlin for a showcase. Burgeoning homegrown band The Soul crowdfunded their way to a tour across the Maldives. International heavyweights like Sébestien Léger and Guy J were booked for parties on the island. For what it’s worth, even Irish boy band Boyzone brought their final concert tour to the country, choosing the occasion to debut an entirely new song. Yet, just 10 years before that, Sri Lanka was trying to end its nearly 26 year-long civil war.
Staying The Path: How Bangladesh’s Music Scene is Evolving with the Help of Dedicated Grassroots Movements
Image of Embers In Snow by Siam
If you’re looking for an institution that can help you trace the evolution of Dhaka’s independent music scene, look no further than Rainbow. Founded in 1982 by Abdul Kabir Murad, the small store served as a space for young musicians and fans to access catalogues of international and local artists, promote local shows, and according to one report in The Daily Star, get married to their significant others as well. In a state of flux post the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 and with a population hungry to embark on their own cultural journey, Rainbow, and music stores like it, played a pivotal role in the evolution of the city’s music scene – helping introduce their customers to a wide range of western music genres that inevitably influenced young musicians alongside iconic local bands such as Uccharon, LRB, Naga Baul (fka Feelings) and others who were a part of the first wave of independent musicians in the country.
Image of Sunara playing at Pettah Interchange in Colombo. Image credit Malaka MP
Old-timey incarnations of record labels — glitz, glamour, big money and big exploitation — are great to watch in movies, but their relevance has diminished over the past two decades. The music industry, internationally, is in a perpetual state of rebuild. And so new ways forward emerge from time to time.
In South Asia, the young, independent, non-film music communities — the ones with roots in traditional western sounds — remain on the fringes of the mainstream, if at all. They’ve grown almost as countercultures, gradually finding some footing in the culture space of the region over the past decade or so, through dedicated ground work by artists and industry-persons. In such an environment, record labels no longer play traditional roles. Instead, there’s a coexistence of multiple bespoke approaches. What we get, really, are collectives — organisations that, depending on their scale and the interests of the people involved — work within loosely defined capacities within the industry. …
Credit: Magnetic Fields Festival image taken by RC Photography
Image credit: Andrew Charles Edman
There’s a conceptual design to Sasha Perera’s sound. Here, the metaphysical form transforms into an architectural sonic unit: one that sustains emerging tonal patterns and unorthodox harmonies. You can often anticipate the non-sequitur in her sound collages. There are no linear narratives in her sonic movements. “Music is a reflection of our reality. It reflects what’s happening around us. It’s a conversation,” says the London-born, Berlin-based musician, producer and songwriter who goes by the moniker Perera Elsewhere.
Image credit: Royville Media
Fantasizing about a noise that could bludgeon an audience into submission, William Bennett from the band Whitehouse coined the term ‘power-electronics’ in the early 80s. The genre draws on static, screeching waves of feedback, analog synthesizers, warping sub-bass pulses and the high-frequency clamor of screamed vocals. Mostly harnessed through deep meditative improvisation, you could compare the process to spilling ink to see where it lands or furthermore setting the easel itself on fire.
Image: Still of BMR film by Petra Hermanova
A cracked version of Ableton changed the game for Gowri Jayakumar. She was studying guitar and bass at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai, India, back in 2012. She got the DAW so she could record herself — Jayakumar has been for over a decade, and remains, a popular singer-songwriter, often armed with an acoustic guitar and her voice. But then she found herself experimenting with the platform: “I was just making sounds,” she says. “Everything was muddy; it was shit.” A new path, however, had opened up.