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Goa

 (Published in "Studio Systems" March-April 2003)

 After the enormous traffic and frantic work schedule in Metropolis Mumbai, it was with a great sense of relief that I took off for Goa for a performance at the Taj Village. According to original plans, I had decided to stay only for a few days but as usual, I ended up hanging on for the whole week! The ‘joie de vivre’ of the people, the excellent environment, great food and the beautiful beaches makes Goa a veritable paradise for guys like me who love to party all night long. It was obvious they had not heard about the Supreme Court ruling to shut shop at 10.30 pm as there was a huge crowd, with blasting music at 2.30 in the morning. People were partying the whole night long without being harassed by the authorities, and we were thrilled to know that the spirit of the people was alive in spite of the constant fear of the government closing in on you to take their pound of flesh.

On the other hand, Bombay, the entertainment capital of the nation, has slowly lost its charm over the years! The Maharashtra State Government has heavily taxed anything remotely smelling of entertainment, and is steadily pushing it beyond the reach of the populace. The ridiculous logic of punishing people, with high rates of taxes for their enterprise and hard work, has proved self defeating, and it has pushed the entertainment business, in all its avatars, to the neighboring states. The recent delegation of the newly formed Event Managers Association to the Chief Minister seems to have had an impact, and hopefully there might be a shift in their thinking.  The Maharashtra government has finally made an announcement that there would be a cut in the entertainment tax on the Rolling Stones concert. This will signal the return of a mega concert in the city after years, the last being the Michael Jackson concert. In the earlier wasted years, Maharashtra has lost many crores it badly needs because of its short sighted policies, to the advantage of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

I guess it makes excellent political sense for the vote hungry politicians to tax entertainment, so that they can show emotional commitment & loyalty to the poor of the nation. This constant pandering to emotions has totally subverted the role of the Government in our society. The focus of any government should be to fuel progress through people’s enterprise, and empower them so that they can take care of themselves. This can be the only way to eradicate poverty in this nation, as no amount of ‘looking after’ is going to satisfy our growing masses. People have to stop looking for hand outs & free lunches as the price we collectively pay for them is huge. What we urgently need is a healthy dose of self respect!

Norah Jones

The music of pop-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones swept the Grammy awards this year, as she won eight Grammy awards, including album and record of the year. It was only a few months before the Grammy Awards that I first heard Norah’s CD at a friend’s house. At first, we were all interested as she was Ravi Shankar’s daughter, but I had noticed on the inlay card that she was produced by the legendary Arif Mardin. I immediately sensed that this album had to be important! As the music enfolded, Norah entranced us with her sultry voice and minimalistic arrangements. This was music returning us to an early age where understatement was appreciated. It was a wonder that in today’s time this music actually got released and a video made! EMI chose to release this album on their small jazz label Blue Note, and I am sure they must have been shocked by the success and attention it received. Her sales figures were better than many Pop acts, and today, with 8 Grammies in her pocket, Norah is on top of the world.

Norah’s sweeping of the Grammy awards is truly an important statement by the Grammy members against the crass commercialism that has invaded the Music Industry recently. Norah, wearing a simple black dress seemed almost embarrassed by the enormous attention paid to her by the fans, and it was great to see that her talent overtook the flashy clothes, sexy overtures, violent lyrics and brash behavior that has become the norm of her competitors. It is sad to see an important and powerful artiste like Mariah Carey cavorting on screen with almost nothing on! Surely her incredible voice and talent is enough to grab the attention of the public. The song says that the ‘Video has killed the Radio star’. In reality, it may have almost succeeded in killing Music itself, as today the visual has become all important. Sex seems to have become the only way to sell Music. This certainly holds true in India as all the videos have sexy dances and lots of women (the less on, the better). It is truly amusing to see the Music Industry actually spending oodles of their hard earned money on these girlie videos, and then wonder why the Music is selling so badly!

Savage Encounter

The 8th of March, 2003 saw the reunion concert of my former band, the “Savage Encounter” at the jam-packed “Not Just Jazz by the Bay”. The nostalgia packed event saw the coming together of some of Bombay’s finest musicians, on stage and in the audience, and it is an event that will not be forgotten in a hurry! My musician colleagues, Leslie Lewis, Frederick Michael, Barry Murray, Bashir Sheikh, Ralph Paes, Darryl & Loy Mendonsa, Joe Alvares, Prabhakar Mundkur along with Gino Banks (drums) and Sheldon (bass) rocked the audience for three hours with memorable songs from those flower power days. As usual, the show had to be stopped by the cops and with the adrenalin high, the audience hung around for almost an hour after the music stopped. A great time was had by all!

The sixties and the seventies saw a multitude of ‘beat’ groups make their appearance in Bombay. The Jets, Reaction, Beat 4, Mystics, the Combustibles, the Lone Trojan (Biddu) etc. were some of the names of these bands, and Bombay was buzzing with musical activity. As a kid, I used to attend the various shows that took place in auditoriums like Shanmukhananda Hall, the Bhulabhai Desai Auditorium etc. and there was one band “The Savages” that was a particular favorite of mine. Many years later, when I had started my music career, fate brought the members of the Savages into my band, and we began to be called the Savage Encounter.

It was indeed an honor for me to perform with these musicians, who were my heroes, and today, after more than thirty years, members from this musical association have become major achievers in their various fields. Bashir Sheikh, the drummer/singer is now a director in BMG Crescendo, Ralph Paes, (bassist) the head of ‘The Statesman” in Bombay, Prabhakar Mundkur, (singer/ guitarist/ organist) CEO of Everest Advertising and Frederick Michael (keyboards), a multi-millionaire Industrialist in Goa, Remo Fernandes (guitar) and Leslie Lewis (Colonial Cousins) went on to make major careers in the emerging Indi-Pop scene, while Barry Murray (guitar) has a major electronic repair centre that services the Electronic Musicians of Mumbai.

Survival of the Cheapest

Western Outdoor Sound Recording Studios closed shop on 28th February 2003 and it was truly a sad day for the Media Industry of Mumbai. Daman Sood, Avinash Oak, Uday Chitre & Victor Dantes, the recording engineers had set high standards in recording, and the excellent equipment along with the professional environment, will be missed by the hundreds of musicians who were their patrons for the last 25 years. The location of the studio which was in the heart of the business district of Bombay was always an irritant to the musicians of Bombay who mainly lived in the suburbs, although the advertising fraternity found it conveniently near their offices. The enormous traffic and parking problems made the journey into town a nightmare for musicians, and with the proliferation of excellent studios in the suburbs, the preference of music directors slowly shifted to them. Western Outdoor shifting to the suburbs was always on the cards, but for some reason, this never took place. Finally it was too late, and the new owners, USL studios decided to call it a day for this excellent facility.

The recessionary trend in the Indian economy, coupled with the 60% drop in music sales, has seen an inordinate pressure on the profitability of recording studios in Bombay. The media boom of the early nineties has seen the rise of a number of studios in Bombay, and today there are said to be nearly 275 studios catering to a demand that is reducing day by day. “Dear Studios”, another old recording facility, has closed it’s A studio, and the countless studios in Bombay’s studio world have begun to feel the pressure of meeting their overheads. Rates have fallen across the board, as supply oversteps demand, and the maxim “survival of the cheapest’ seems to rule! Surely, this strategy will prove to be a short sighted view of meeting this crisis as the studios will not have enough money to upgrade, and obsolensce will set in. The effects of this crisis will have a derogatory influence on the progress achieved so far and standards will deteriorate.

Unfortunately, there seems to no other way for those who have rushed in with enormous investment in equipment and infrastructure, and a lot of studios will shut shop. What an enormous waste of scarce resources in an industry which was seen to be, till recently, a sunrise industry with a bright future! And yet, there seems to be no collective action taken by the industry to galvanize the Government to stop the punitive taxes it attracts, and to forge steps to revitalize the Music Industry. What is even more sickening is to hear an advertisement on the Government owned radio channel Vividh Bharati that actually exhorts listeners to stop buying music as they can all listen to their favorite songs on the radio for free!

Nandu Bhende

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