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Swinging It From West to East: The Hip 60s and 70s

Sound Plunge

Swinging It From West to East: The Hip 60s and 70s

Trailblazing through avant-garde music, the 60s and 70s was a time of discovery and owning at once. From the beat groups of Bombay, to hard rock in Chennai, Kolkata’s adhunik gaan and Bollywood’s psychedelia, this was the time that the country woke up to indie.

Music for music’s sake

A Bajaj scooter and disapproving parents as my uncle made his way for rehearsals to Kabir Suman’s group, a synth tied down to the back. This was the late seventies, and he had left home yet again, unemployed and devil-may-care as he expected his music to make him rich and famous. Soon. This was a story oft told at family get-togethers while I was growing up after a session of good music in which my uncle had led the family. It was a story told with slight wistfulness, an example of the many compromises of growing up. For a generation that looked back to a history that had just started with the heady scope that independence offered, even pay cuts, strikes, innumerable prohibitions on importing goods and even no money did not stop the youth of the 60s to be fascinated with the pull of ‘new’ music, adhunik gaan. My uncle never made any money with music, even though he made a lot of it, some of it which went on to become songs which made Kabir Suman a cult figure in Bangla adhunik gaan. The ethos of those times was political, the attitude impetuous. Indie music had started off with a clean slate.

The Beat Groups of Bambai

Ardeshir Damania reminisces about the 60s in his blog, “The Catholic guitar maker and violin repairer was always boozed up and took weeks and weeks to make the guitar. Finally when it was ready to be picked up my friend and I picked it up on my father’s BSA motorcycle. All the way from Dhobi Talao to Dadar-Matunga, where we stayed, people were staring at us since we had a guitar in our hand and looked like the Beatles. The scene in Bombay was about to explode.” Ardeshir Damania went on to form the 60s band Gnats, one of the many beat bands that would populate the garage rock circuit of Bombay. Soon there were the Trojans, The Savages, The Jets, and Brief Encounter which would start playing covers of the rock and roll legends of America and the UK. The Jets came up with their album Black Scorpio.

The Beat Groups of Bombay, The Mustangs perform in a hipster era

The Beat Groups of Bombay, The Mustangs perform in a hipster era

The British Invasion and Late Night AIR shows

America itself was witnessing an upsurge of the British invasion, where rock and pop music from the UK was taking over the charts from The Rolling Stones and The Beatles to The Who. The bands back home would emulate the moves, the hairstyles, the dress and even the oeuvre of these bands. Yet, rock music was still elitist, as records were difficult to get hands on, and live concerts befell only the vilaayat-returned’s destiny and international live concerts were virtually unheard of. Bombay and Kolkata bands would perform a lot of events at neighbourhood parties, community events, birthdays, and even gigs at the local pub and restaurants. The gramophone, and then the cassette became a very important part of distributing sound, as did the radio. Malini Gupta, 45, remembers how important a place radio occupied in their lives while she was growing up. “Then there was this programme on All India Radio which would feature all our favourite rock and roll hits of the age – Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, you name it ”. The lounge and swing scene of the 50s had led to a growing interest in Western music among the youth. The flower generation of the West had taken a vivid inspiration from the music of India, and people like John Coltrane, George Harrison, Paul Mc Cartney and John Lennon on one side and Ginsberg on the other hand.

Helen and the Cabaret Magic

Helen and the Cabaret Magic

Indo Western Projects and Psychedelic Bollywood

The Mahavishnu Group formed around 1970 by John Mc Laughlin, attempted to formulate jazz into an Indian aesthetic. The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Band with its numerous Indian influences, and The Velvet Underground came up with its iconic album Velvet Underground, majorly influenced by Indian music. Western music was increasingly looking towards the orient for inspiration. Post colonialism was in the air as the ‘natives’ got credit for a richer culture than they ever had from the West. India itself was waking up to western influences. The Junior Statesman was the authority on Indie music then, and would keep on covering the gigs and events regularly. The Simla Beat Contest had started in the 1970s, and sponsored a battle-of-the-bands concert. Bands would compose original music which would then be recorded in an LP and distributed in public. Bollywood picked up from where the hippies had left off and musicians like RD Burman, Mohammed Rafi, Anandji Kalyanji and others came up with music radically different from the past generation of Bollywood ballads. These numbers were peppy, involved four rhythms, used western instruments and western song structures. In the 70s especially, trance, Western pop, rock and jazz started impacting the music of the commercial film industry to a great extent. Indian folk was seen in a new limelight. Jamaican and Latin American influences were soon to follow. The first clangs of metal were felt with the later rock bands, especially in the south and the north east. The Silencers and The Confusions had come up in Chennai and were the hottest bands around then.

The 60s and the 70s were principally involved in introducing a new aesthetic, a modern outlook for the coming decades. The whole world was awakening to new music and foreign landscapes. The westernized dandies of India were also reading their Perry Masons, listening to their gramophones playing The Doors, throwing devilled eggs and draught beer parties and doing the swing. Hip was in. Hip would then never be out.

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