Ethnomusicology and the threat posed by Bollywood

Listening to a very interesting episode of Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 today, focused on ethnomusicology -- the comparative study of world music within its cultural context. One of the talk show guests was an individual who studies Indian music and its anthropological effects. The conversation stuck out, hence this post.

To paraphrase the discussion:
On the value and uniqueness of Indian music, a point came up about the role of Bollywood film music as the single most popular form of music in the country. While being that, Bollywood poses a threat to the other forms of music. The guest noted that a few years ago, one would go to villages and hear musicians play their own tunes. Now, there is a surplus of musicians playing Bollywood tunes instead, with the same musical instruments.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the argument was made about the erosion of individuality, and the limitation of original works in forms of music other than those endorsed in and by Bollywood. Both of these could well be because of the economics involved. Supply must meet demand, and the in-demand music is the popular music, which more people will pay to listen to live.

My thoughts:
Without question, Bollywood and its commercial nature poses a threat to the more traditional forms of Indian music. It is of concern to note that even in rural areas, Bollywood tunes are replacing the traditional ones, including classical music. I am a huge fan of Indian classical music. It is by far the purest form of music in the country. No wonder we have individuals like Lata Mangeshkar, Sonu Nigam, and A.R. Rehman trying to bridge the gap. To go over to the 'other side' to explore its purity. and to share in its abundance of wealth. For that, they are well worth respecting.

As a Bollywood fan, I am happy to know that from the standpoint of ethnomusicology, one can appreciate the grassroots to which Bollywood now appeals. But I seriously hope that Bollywood music does not replace the traditional forms of music. That would be sad indeed.

Here is to the ongoing retention and balance of diversity in India's music landscape.

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