Often, a reality check comes from the most unexpected of avenues. A few days back, during a round of channel surfing, the subject matter of a particular documentary on BBC caught the eye. The show was about Taiwan’s emergence as a global music destination.
Through the eyes of a Taiwanese Rastafarian indie musician, dreadlocks and all, we were taken on a road trip of the thriving music scene — from EDM, and new age to traditional and indigenous bands. But what really got us thinking was the explosion of music venues in the tiny island country. We were stumped. The voiceover was telling us of how music had become a way of life, and how musicians from the West were now ensuring that their global gigs did a pit stop in Taiwan. The local itinerary on this 36,193 km country was chock-a-bloc, with concerts, festivals and shows that celebrated local and world talent, around the year.
It was interesting to note how this tiny country, and its capital, Taipei, in particular, had managed to keep their music scene alive and kicking. Cafes, sidewalks, promenades and libraries even, were gladly renting out their spaces as alternative music venues. The vibe was infectious that one could almost hum along as we savoured this musical joyride around the island.
Cut to our city. A few venues (and thank god for them) are our only solace for live gigs. Forget about music festivals; the odd international act in the city is like manna from heaven, and will cost you the Moon. Or else one will need to head out to Pune or Goa for a slice of the music mojo. Truth is that we are way behind to adopting a music culture. Gone are the days, when bands would play live music at venues by sea-fronting promenades, or when international acts and Indian artistes’ shows vied for space in the city newspapers’ listings columns.
Smaller, standalone establishments are doing their bit to inspire and ensure that live music gets a short in the arm what with interesting acts being flown down from not just Europe and the US but also Africa and South America. Then, there are venues that encourage Indian artistes and performers to showcase their talent. But they will be the first to tell you how tough it is to swim against the tide, what with insufficient budgets and unsteady sponsors. A solid game plan is the need of the hour for the arts, as a whole. We need a blueprint to ensure the city gets viewed as a must-go destination on Asia’s music map. For starters, revive the Banganga Festival, bring back the Elephanta Festival to its rightful venue and allocate budgets for music and dance events throughout the year.
The city deserves to hear the sound of music, again.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day