[Reader-list] street musicians in mumbai (project)

navin kanabu at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 25 08:59:18 IST 2002


While travelling through various parts of the country,
I was exposed to a lot of rural folk as well as urban
street music. I noticed that the amorphous nature of
music had given rise to a unique marriage of folk
music coupled with popular ‘Bollywood’ cinema sounds,
being performed by musicians in stages and arenas
which intensify and interact with the cultural
experience of urban life - the streets.
There is an evident cross fertilisation between the
two musical forms, with both taking from and
responding to, the other. The Indian ‘filmi’ music
industry has a strong influence on popular Indian
culture and while it has shaped public preferences, it
has also borrowed from classical music forms. For
example, the ‘shair-e’, a musical form performed in
public where two people interact with each other
through poetry and song is evident in popular cinema,
where the hero and heroine play out a more stylised
version of the former.
One popular image of street musicians is of them being
too lazy to get a real job, harassing people on the
streets with ‘inferior’ or ‘crude acts’ to solicit
money to support a degenerate lifestyle. This
perception is not confined to this part of the world.
As late as the end of the 1970’s, street artists
everywhere were arrested and charged with begging and
obstruction. Even today street musicians at the
Gateway of India are usually whisked away or fined.
Street music is perceived as a ‘baser’ performing art
– an illegitimate art form. However, it continues to
endure this viewpoint, surviving elitist ideas of
‘high’ art.
Moreover, street music is being increasingly absorbed
into mainstream musical forms without recognition.
This resonates with implications with respect to the
ethics in art, wherein the art form and its
practitioners are ignored. Besides the obvious ethical
violations of this practice, it puts in question the
future of street music and the way it is practised.
Lack of recognition of the agents of the art form;
deprive the artists of social and economic benefits
that are rightfully theirs. Street music is fast
becoming an endangered resource.

The purpose of this documentation is to study how
street music, with its influences of popular and folk
music forms embodies the developing times, attitudes
and the temperament of people in ever-changing
conditions. Taking into consideration that the streets
are a stage used by artists and performers alike, part
of the research work would also go towards studying
musical performances, the corresponding public spaces
where they are enacted and the kind of audience and
response it receives. The streets are one such setting
and it would be hard to ignore the influence of street
culture on this particular art form. One cannot
delineate street music from the multi-dimensions of
street culture. The study would therefore be
incomplete if the cultural settings of these
performances are not considered and researched.
In the course of fieldwork, photographs of musicians
and their musical instruments, sound recordings and
field notes will be compiled together to fully
represent the performances. The value of this
multi-faceted collection is that one is invited to
hear the voices, see the faces, and sample the
cultural context of the performances being recorded.
The notes will be of an ethnographic nature, studying
the individual performer, pertaining to his economic,
social and cultural conditions. The homespun, creative
and intelligent construction of musical instruments
made by the artist’s themselves, will constitute an
undiminished part of the documentation. These
instruments mirror the many dimensions of the artist,
helping us gain a further insight into the realities
that exist, in this particular form of music. 

Streets and their culture lie at the heart of public
life in contemporary India, especially in cities where
urban housing is crowded and uncomfortable and its
streets act as thoroughfares, bazaars, theatres and
most of all a setting whose culture is constantly
changing and where much of life is lived on the
I will be exploring street musical performances in and
around Mumbai City. This is an ideal location for this
study as the City is a large metropolis with a
multi-cultural population consisting of diverse
cultures from all over the country. Specific areas
appropriate to this study would include the Hajee Ali
area, Grant road, Churchgate, the Flora Fountain
vicinity (including Pherozshah Mehta road) Chowpathy
beach and most of all the various bustling train
stations in the city.
Although each item in the field collection will have
an individual value, it will gain added significance
when viewed in the context of the other materials
gathered during interaction with the people and
activities being documented. At the end of this
project, the entire collection of recordings,
photographs and research notes will singularly as well
as collectively be important. Each work will have
merit as an individual piece as well as when viewed as
a part of the whole collection.

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