The Republic of India is the second most populated country in the world and the seventh-largest geographical area. A multitude of ethnic groups with distinct cultural traditions, languages, and dialects comprise the South Asia subcontinent, and such a factor is reflective in the music. Rich and diverse, Indian folk music is utilized for special occasions and educational purposes (Courtney).
The sources of Indian music are endless, and its potentials are without limit. In the past Indian music obtained its inspiration and its ingredients from generations of inherited popular and classical music, as well as from western music.
Today, as nations have achieved a much greater degree of closeness and cultural exchange has become so much easier, the opportunity for Indian music to disseminate widely and to expand its vision presents itself (Chowdhury).
Instruments & Voices
How do they produce sound? What are they made of?
Indian folk music makes use of non-crafted instruments made from readily available material (bamboo, coconut shells, pots, etc.). These can be considered percussion instruments because they make a sound when their surface is hit.
There are also wind instruments like the Bhankora, Bansuri, and Bombashi. These operate similar to flutes; in fact, they are considered as Indian flutes. They are crafted using bamboo.
What classifications do they belong to?
There is Carnatic and Hindustani music primarily comprise classical/ traditional Indian music. Divinely orientated and mirroring Persian as well as Islamic influences, both genres emphasize instrumentation but is vocal-centric. Carnatic is primarily associated with southern India while Hindustani the northern part of the country.
Bhavageete, Lavani, Bhangra, Dandiya, Rajasthani, Kolata, and a host of other forms constitute Indian folk music which unlike the classical forms is dance orientated
There is also Filmi – popular Indian music specifically written and performed for Indian cinema.
What scales and/or tuning systems does this culture use? • Is their musical system notated or written down?
Carnatic music is melodic with the occasional improvised variation. As it is vocal-centric, the emphasis is on the singer rather than the instruments supporting the singer. Carnatic music rests on two main elements: rāga, the modes or melodic formulæ, and tāḷa, the rhythmic cycles.
Hindustani music is older, dating back to Vedic times. Also, vocal-centric is based on notes. Hindustani relies on melodic modes or parent scales called Thaats, which are how it is notated.
Filmi, as it is modern contemporary music, is notated using notes. It uses western orchestration but plays out as classical Indian music with a modern appeal. Modern notations are used to make recording the music easier.
Bhavageete, Lavani, Bhangra, Dandiya, Rajasthani, Kolata, and a host of other forms constitute Indian folk music, which unlike the classical forms, is dance orientated. These older forms were not written down until modern scale rendering became available.
Performance and composition
Is music composed or improvised? (or both?) • How is music preserved and passed down?
Filmi is composed prior to being played. Like the other elements of a movie, Filmi is prepared long before the actual filming of the movie. Filmi uses playback singers; this means that the artist record the songs, and the music is added later. Like all modern music, Filmi is preserved in digital format and can ever find its way on the internet where it gains a level of immortality because the music on the internet will endure even if hard copies are destroyed.
Indian Folk Music is improvised and is handed down from generation to generation by teaching the next generation how to perform the music.
Filmi provides the music for Bollywood films. Audiences, in the movies, are expected to participate and even dance along to the songs. Those who are watching the movie itself are encouraged to sing along and perhaps learn the dance routine as well. Contemporary Filmi is free from any gender discrimination. Women are just as welcome to sing and dance in Bollywood films.
Meaning and Significance in Music
The trends of modern Indian music include Indi-pop, dance music, and Rock & Metal emblematic of Western influences. Rooted in Indian traditional/classical and folk music, a music genre indicative of Indian music changing with the times is Filmi – popular Indian music specifically written and performed for Indian cinema.
Cinema/film industry has become a very conspicuous form of mass entertainment since the inception of the 20th century.
The Golden Age of Indian cinema (1940s-60s) commenced with India’s independence (Gokulsing). “It is through Film music that Modern Indian music finds its most popular expression,” stated acclaimed Hindi, Malayalam, and Bengali composer/playwright/poet – Salil Chowdhury (Chowdhury).
Chowdhury was a master multi-instrumentalist and one of India’s most prodigious composers ever. Indian cinema covers a broad/vast spectrum: however, it is often incorrectly associated solely with one element of the film industry – Bollywood.
An informal expression used to describe the Hindi-language film industry in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), Bollywood is a linguistic mixture/portmanteau of the words Bombay and the pinnacle city of the American film industry, Hollywood (Corliss).
Suffice to say; music/Filmi music is the common thread throughout diverse Indian cinema. Accompanied by plush costumes and scenery, numerous melodramatic plotlines, and extraordinary choreography, Filmi music helps.
Folk music, by comparison, was used to convey the religious significance and to increase the celebratory mood.
Rabindranath Tagore, a profound Indian-Bengali polymath of the late19th/early 20th centuries and credited with having transformed/reshaped Indian literature as well as music, described music as the “purest form of art” that arises from the inner soul and is based on life experiences (Indie-Music).
Indian music – an infusion of traditional/classical genres as well as popular, folk, and R& B genres – was and continues to be a vital source of cultural expression, religious inspiration, and pure entertainment in the lives of the Indian people. As Indian music evolves, it will continue to have an indelible and profound influence on its people in the country, throughout the Diaspora and the international community for years to come.
“Carnatic music.” In Encyclopedia Britannica (2007).
Chowdhury, Salil. “Evolution in Modern Indian Music.” Published in “Sangeetika” magazine, 1st Year Puja Issue (1959). Translated from the Bengali original.
Corliss, Richard. “Horray for Bollywood!” Time Magazine.
Courtney, David. “Indian Folk Music.”
Gokulsing, Moti K., K. Gokulsing, Wimal Dissanayake (2004), Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change, Trentham Books, p. 17.
McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 63–69. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books
Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music, Translated by Carol Abate. (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987 (1990), 47-48, 55.
Rajamani, Radhika. “Realising a dream.” The Hindu: (2003).