Rhythm divine: Musicians from south-east Asian nations find inspiration from their neighbouring countries

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New Delhi | Published: March 4, 2018 1:26:01 AM

In India alone, there are several examples of artistes who have transcended regional barriers to become bestselling musicians.

south-east Asian nations, south east asiian nations, asia, south east asiaMembers of Brunei-based A Band Once during a recent performance in New Delhi.

Music is subjective. For some, it’s a stressbuster. For others, it’s a way to communicate with self. But whatever it may mean to you, what’s undisputed is the fact that music as an art form has the power to change lives. It’s an all-encompassing art form that can cut across cultural, regional and international barriers, uniting listeners and artistes alike.

In India alone, there are several examples of artistes who have transcended regional barriers to become bestselling musicians. Take, for instance, Monali Thakur. Born in a Bengali musical family, this singer made a name for herself in Bollywood following her success on a TV reality show. Today, Thakur is a much loved artiste in the country, having belted out hits such as Moh moh ke dhaage (Dum Laga Ke Haisha), Sawaar loon (Lootera), Khol de baahein (Meri Pyaari Bindu), etc.

If we talk about transcending international boundaries, composer AR Rahman and sound mixer Resul Pookutty are two names that immediately spring to mind. Both won the Oscar for their work in Slumdog Millionaire in 2009.

And it’s not just Indian artistes who are setting the music scene on fire. An increasing number of musicians from south-east Asian nations are cutting across boundaries, promoting their indigenous forms of music in neighbouring countries. In fact, India regularly plays host to music bands and artistes from countries like Singapore, Philippines and Myanmar. Take, for instance, Tim De Cotta Trio, an R&B-style assemblage of musicians from Singapore, which played in the country recently at a music fest. “I hadn’t even heard about the band, but they have such a nice variety of songs. The tempo and rhythm are different from what we usually hear,” said Ashfaque EJ, a New Delhi-based documentary filmmaker, after listening to Tim De Cotta play.

Commonalities in music

The Philippines is an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands. And Filipino indie folk band The Ransom Collective (TRC) traces its roots to the formation of these islands. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that Filipino culture was influenced by India. “Like India, Philippines is very family-oriented,” says Raymond Fabul, member, TRC, which was in India recently for a music festival. “The people we have met here are very warm and hospitable. They made us feel comfortable and welcome.”

Brunei’s artistes, too, believe there are many commonalities between India and their country. The Hindu-Buddhist influence is the biggest of them all. “… Indian culture has always been a part of Bruneian culture, through Hindu-Buddhist influences, before Brunei was even an established kingdom,” says Syafiq Affendy, member, Brunei-based A Band Once. “These deep roots have inevitably become a part of our culture… the music and style that can be heard now, despite no prior direct influence of current Indian music, may contain melodies or styles similar to Indian music and culture.”

If there are similarities, there are differences as well. “We differ in a lot of traditions. Religion is one aspect that differs between the two countries. While the Philippines is predominantly Christian, most Indians we have come across are either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh,” says Fabul. And this diversity in Indian culture reflects in its music as well. “The music we have experienced here has more obvious traditional influences through percussion and vocals,” says Fabul.

Myanmar-based The Ugly Band credits India’s traditions for the depth in its music. “Indian music is enriched with tradition and culture, which artistes combine with western styles of music like fusion. Our music isn’t that inclined towards fusion,” says Zaw Minthein, a member of the band.

Another unifying aspect of south-east Asian nations is the existence of a multi-racial society. “We come from the same type of society (as India)… In Singapore, there are Chinese, Malay people, etc… it’s more of a cosmopolitan society,” Tim De Cotta of Tim De Cotta Trio says.

Apart from music festivals, another medium that’s helping take native forms of music to distant territories is the Internet. Today, you can watch an African musician play the djembe in your home in New Delhi. Fabul of TRC believes that in times to come music will get more and more accessible and will, hence, be more appreciated across different cultures and geographies. “Due to strong forces of globalisation and the Internet, musical styles will continue to adapt and be influenced by many different forces,” he says.

Cotta of Tim De Cotta Trio, too, considers the development of technology as a key driver for music to reach different parts of the world. “These days, you have Spotify and many other such apps. These definitely act as mediums for artistes to showcase their talent. It might or mightn’t work, but it’s a platform nonetheless,” he says.

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