You just can’t escape it. It’s in the streets, in the stores, in the taxis, in the blood of the people that call India their home. Music pervades every inch of this city, from the pavement to the palaces, and for many, it’s the lifeblood that propels them towards another day.
I came here to explore the impact of Bollywood, the billion-dollar industry and musical export heard the world over. Five years ago, Bombay possessed only a handful of nightclubs, each pulsating with Hindi film songs and Bollywood dance moves, the Bombay Romeos purring lyrics from their favorite hits. I was surprised however to find a contemporary Bombay quite different from the one I had known. Globalization brought to Bombay German cars and Japanese electronics, Italian food and New York styles. It also brought a completely revolutionized music scene that represents a new generation of Indians. In the Bombay of today, there are dozens of nightclubs spread all throughout the city and a new wave of genres that cater to a new class of Indians. With the explosion of new media and nouveau rich Indians traveling the globe came new styles of music reserved exclusively for an upper class society that separates them from the common folk. I’m discovering that amongst other things, music is a major representation of the vast socioeconomic class divide that pervades the city.
In Bombay, a new nightclub opens every week, and the “Page 3” crowd (India’s version of New York’s “Page 6”) surely grace the launch parties with their presence. Chinahouse and Prive represent two of Mumbai’s most posh nightclubs, frequented by the socialite and wealthy class, where the bottles of Belvedere and Dom Perignon rival New York and London standards. The girls with highlighted hair and colored contacts wear little black dresses and stilettos while the men sport collared shirts and designer jeans. At these clubs, Bollywood music is almost non-existent as the DJs spin a blend of House, R&B, and Hip- Hop (Akon and David Guetta are perpetual favorites). This upper echelon of society in fact often looks down upon the mainstream Bollywood music scene that they deem reserved for the masses. They pride themselves on their more “modern,” “refined,” and “cultured” Western taste that breaks the traditional mold. You’ll often hear that a particular club now has a dodgy crowd because they strictly play Bollywood music; the club is no longer exclusive and lets “just anyone” in. I’ve visited the more local, lower class scenes as well, which I have to admit was a bit of a daunting experience. It’s not as acceptable among the lower class for women to go out dancing in public, so the scene was mostly male with men often dancing with each other. The stereo pumped Bollywood tunes and the crowd literally went crazy to the beats. It was a hands flailing, on your knees, free-for-all chaotic experience as they let the music consume their entire being. The music was their escape, even for just a second or a song.
I recently met with two British girls that came to Mumbai to break into the music scene. Nic and Nicole came to India to create a unique sound that bridged the gap between English, Hindi, and Punjabi music with a blend of international pop and eastern rhythms. They came here to pioneer a unique sound that would appeal across cultures and would, in their words, bridge together ignorances between western and eastern perceptions. They arrived 5 years ago and spoke about the difficulty of breaking into an industry that was, at that time, almost entirely Bollywood driven. At that time, managers wanted them to do purely Bollywood songs and covers and they offered them roles in Bollywood movies where they could perform the “item number,” (the main song/dance sequence of the film). Recently however, they have seen a change in the industry as it has opened up and encouraged new and unique blended sounds. Nic and Nicole have performed in a variety of shows, from public appearances in remote villages with an attendance of 60,000 to elite Page 3 soirees with a smaller, hi-profile crowd. Their elite performances in Mumbai feature a more reserved crowd, with the organizers requesting a more English, Western-geared show. Contrastingly, they once performed in a village in Assam, where they had to wear more culturally sensitive clothes and the organizers requested a more Bollywood beat. The girls described the extreme emotion of the audience at these public performances as the crowd let themselves go, throwing their arms up in the air and singing along to the tunes. The singers understood that their show provided the villagers a three hour escape from the severity of their lives. They let the villagers enter into a world of music and glamour, bringing to them the Mumbai they so often dreamt of. Many came up to them after, praising the singers and claiming what an inspiration the show was to their own lives.
I look forward to exploring the emerging music scene and the different niches it represents in Mumbai. I also want to organize a free show for the Akanksha kids in the New Year that features Nic and Nicole and their high energy fusion of music. I think the kids will really enjoy it. Keep reading for updates!