The brave new music landscape

Indian music scene is changing like never before. Roots, jazz, indie and a lot more is on the platter for the aficionados

Supriya Sehgal

With most of the country’s pop culture firmly hinged on India’s vibrant Hindi film industry, music is no exception. The backbone of the musicscape of India is essentially made up of hits from blockbuster Hindi movies, concerts by playback singers who now don a rockstar status, phone ringer tunes and live events. Even though there is little room for other music genres to make a huge commercial impact, this year brought the listeners a variety and freshness never seen before. 


Music has always been vital to films in India, especially Bollywood. The last decade can be blocked off for remixes, but this is an era of fresh, never-heard-before sounds that have colonised our ears and minds. And there’s no complaining. Composers like Amit Trivedi, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are creating a new landscape where the inspiration is anywhere from roots music, jazz or indie depending on the mood of the moment in the film. While Sneha Khanwalkar grabbed our attention with her use of indigenous sounds, those songs fail to fade from memory. Bollywood music has made another leap in the past years — one that has added to the labels’ coffers. Caller tunes on the phones is a sharp market with a constant churn of sounds and money, with new films releasing every single day in the country.


Only a decade old, the music festival scene in the country is a burgeoning one. Unsurprisingly, it has burst into the youth psyche, reaching out to both Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Electronic music festivals like Sunburn, that once graced only Goan beaches, have branched out to include many more cities. While Magnetic Fields in Alsisar draws crowds to Rajasthan, Bacardi’s NH Weekender has tapped audiences in Pune, Shillong, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Mysore and Jaipur, apart from the metros. There is also a palpable indie music culture that is fast occupying the minds of the youth ever since Coke Studio made an appearance 11 seasons ago. Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro, Enchanted Valley Carnival, Covelong’s Surf Festival and Beantown Backyard in Bengaluru have loyalists and the numbers are only increasing. Root music is led by the Mehrangarh back-dropped Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) and others like the World Sufi Festival in Nagaur and Jodhpur. 

The jazz enthusiasts are delighted by the extended music season in different cities across the country. There are others that are lesser known, more intimate and on regular rosters for music lovers. Needless to say that the winter weekends have ample options of music festivals of diverse genres.

Regional notes

Among the regional music, Punjab stands to be the forerunner of non-Bollywood with a strong affinity for rap and underground creations. Artists like Badshah and Diljit Dosanjh have paved the way for hundreds of other singers and ringing in cash for 400 registered labels of which about 20 hold the commercial reins. At approximately Rs 700 crore, the Punjabi music industry, including live events, is almost five times the size of the Telugu music industry, that stands as the second-largest market in the category. Santhosh Narayanan is a name to reckon with if you’re looking southwards. Edgy creations structured within sophisticated production are the hallmark of this composer.

On air and online 

While radio has been relegated only car time, online streaming has broken the mould in recent times. With a smartphone in more than 300 million palms in India, companies like Gaana, Saavn, JioMusic, and, soon to launch, Spotify, have already widened the listening scope. Bollywood, regional, English, devotional and other genres are now only a swipe away.

Music is one part aural and one part visual for some. Even Netflix has stepped into the fray with shows like Harmony, where musical maestro A.R. Rahman traverses the length and breadth of the country to get inspired by regional and traditional instruments and sounds.

On the periphery of these ecosystems lie self-releasing and crowd-funded emerging artistes and unique music pop-ups like LVNG. LVNG is focused on bringing back the intimacy to music by organising small gigs in living rooms of people, touching base with authentic audiences and enthusiasts who thrive on good music and the camaraderie it brings. Isn’t that what all of us look for in music?

Breaking the mould in Punjabi Music

  • Badshah continues to claim the top spot in Punjabi contemporary music scene with non-Bollywood singles like ‘Mercy’ and international collaborations with ‘I Wanna Be Free’ with Mazor Lazer.
  • Among the hip-hop and underground musicians of Punjab, the spotlight has been on rappers like Divine, with chart topping songs like ‘Farak’ and a Bollywood debut with a collaboration with the Nucleya. Other Punjabi rappers that have kept the energy up are Bilal Saeed, Rap Engineers, Imran Khan and Bohemia. Prabh Deep’s name has etched itself firmly in the top with his album Class-Sikh.
  • Other popular artistes from Punjab include Swadesi, Khasi Bloodz, Enkore, Kru172 and Seedhe Maut, who are regulars on the festival circuit and live events.

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