Friday, May 15, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence IV

In the earlier essay, we found that the non-Khayal repertoire of Khayal vocalists achieves a much higher level of audience involvement than their Khayal repertoire.  The musician lives with this reality every day and responds according to his temperament and inclinations. He does not need to figure out the extent to which this is attributable to his Khayal-related status, to the independent appeal of his non-Khayal repertoire, or to the uniqueness of the combination. But, the researcher does need to resolve this issue.  

If we are to judge the strength of the non-Khayal segment of the musical culture as a possible challenge/ distraction to the fundamental character of the Khayal as we know it, we need to isolate the non-khayal segment for measurement. Circumstantial evidence of this can be obtained from the analysis of audience involvement in the music of the specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres. In this analysis, the absolute numbers delivered are as important as the trend of obsolescence. This essay attempts to look at these patterns.

Research design

The methodology followed is identical to the earlier studies conducted on samples of Khayal vocalists.

The sample of available Youtube recordings was drawn from the leading specialist performers of non-Khayal genres in the segments of the Thumri and allied genres, Ghazals, and Bhajans. For want of the author’s knowledge, specialist performers of the regional devotional genres were not included.  The musicians were chosen for the significance of their presence on the concert platform over a long enough period.

In the Thumree segment, two of them – Girija Devi and Chhannulal Mishra – are still alive, and are included.  In the Ghazal segment, the sample selection was restricted to the singers of the classical ghazal – Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan, while the more recent singers of the modern ghazal have been excluded.

This approach has given us a sample of 11 musicians in whose case, a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 35 recordings were available for the measurement of audience involvement.


The graphic plot shows a long-term growth trend of audience involvement. But, it also exhibits two waves within the period considered. The two peaks are represented by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan. Two waves, within a long-term growth trend is a pattern very similar to the pattern noticed in the earlier study of the non-Khayal repertoire of Khayal vocalists. The generational interpretation of this graph could be similar to that of the graph seen in the earlier study. 
 It would appear that at this particular juncture in history, two generations of audiences are involved with the music of the specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres. However, the two titans who dominate the two visible peaks – Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan are born at an interval of only 13 years. This might mean that, in effect, only one generation of musicians appears to dominate the non-Khayal music-scape at the moment. This compares with three, perhaps four, generations of audiences involved with the Khayal music of the past generations of vocalists.

While we may consider these two giants as representing the same generation and appealing to the same generation, a certain obsolescence factor is evident even in their relative scores.  It is probably the younger end of the audience generation which gives Mehdi Hassan a score almost four times the score obtained by Begum Akhtar -- ostensibly emanating from the older end of the same generation. 

The power of the specialist non-Khayal indicator as an influence on Khayal music is more sharply reflected in its absolute numbers than in the obsolescence trend. The bar-graph tells the story.

The Khayal music of Khayal vocalists begets only 203 viewers per month of recording availability. Compared to this, their own non-Khayal music notches up 914 views, and the non-Khayal music of the specialist performers of non-Khayal music crosses that 1000 views per month. 

Admittedly, this average for specialist performers of the non-Khayal genres is greatly bolstered by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan, and not every musician achieves their level of audience involvement. However, the average of over 1000 views per month cannot be ignored as a perceptional reality of the musical culture and of relevance to professional musicians.

By pure arithmetical coincidence, if we add the audience involvement ratings for Khayal and non-Khayal repertoires of Khayal vocalists, we get a figure almost exactly equal to the audience involvement rating of the specialist non-Khayal performers. We may then surmise that the primary motivation for Khayal vocalists to perform non-Khayal music is reaching out to a much larger audience.

The interaction of genres

With audiences exhibiting a marked preference for non-Khayal repertoire, the Khayal will tend to shrink in terms of its durational presence on the concert platform. As this trend gathers momentum, Khayal vocalists will begin to lose their aesthetic grip over the Khayal as a genre. Their approach to the Khayal will increasingly reflect the aesthetic values of the non-Khayal repertoire in vogue.

This process may be better understood with a historical analogy from the print medium in the country, which is familiar to most of us.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the mainline dailies published a sports page only twice a week.  In those days, several sports magazines (weeklies/ fortnightlies/ monthlies) showed a healthy growth in sales and revenue. The mainline dailies saw this opportunity for an enlargement of their share-of-mind and share-of-market, and stepped up sports coverage to every day. By the 1980’s all the specialist sports magazines had died for want of readers and advertisers.

The same thing happened to the film-magazine boom of the 1960s and 1970s. By the year 2000, mainline dailies which earlier had only weekly/ bi-weekly cinema supplements, began cinema coverage on a daily basis. Almost all film magazines have since been gasping for breath. This history repeated itself with the arrival of specialist society/celebrity magazines in the 1980s.  By 2010, society and celebrity coverage has become regular Page 3 material in the mainline dailies. The specialist magazines in this segment of journalism are now virtually extinct.

As a result of these changes, India's mainline English dailies have changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years.

In the present context, there is no reason to believe that a transformation of the Khayal will drive the Ghazal or Thumree totally out of circulation. But, as the Khayal starts resembling the relatively Raga-neutral genres in some respects, it will shrink the aesthetic space available to them for remaining in independent circulation. And, some would argue that this tendency is visible already.

It has been argued, for instance, that Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan brought so much melodic sophistication to the Ghazal, that they left the original Banaras Thumree struggling for survival. It has also been noted that once the Khayal genre annexed and enriched the Bandish-ki-Thumree as the Chhota Khayal, the Bandish-ki-Thumree lost its footing in the musical culture.  Further, it is observed that with the advent of the romanticist brigade in Khayal vocalism – Kumar Gandharva, Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar – the Bol-banav Thumree and some other semi-classical genres lost a good deal of their aesthetic  territory.  These are purely aesthetic observations, which are impossible to either prove or disprove. But, they are not  rendered invalid by this alleged infirmity.

Here we go back to Prof. Ranade’s argument stated in the earlier essay. The dominant mainstream genre tends to protect its dominance – amongst other tendencies – by adopting the musical features of ascendant rivals.  By this reasoning, Khayal, the dominant mainstream genre, is likely to respond to the threat/ opportunity presented by the non-Khayal genres by adopting their musical values. This possibility does suggest a paradigm shift because the Khayal is founded on the durable musical value of Raga exploration, while the aesthetic assumptions of the non-Khayal genres are fundamentally Raga-neutral, even though Raga-s may in practice, inform their melodic content.

Is this happening already?

The Youtube data studied so far pertains to vocalists who are either already departed, or in their advanced years. We need to examine several additional pieces of contemporary and/or  trend-related evidence to support the hypothesis emerging here. These may constitute the objects of continued enquiry.

© Deepak S. Raja 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence III

In the earlier essay, an attempt was made to ascertain the patterns of aesthetic obsolescence in Khayal vocalism across the last century over the period 2010-2015. Appropriately for the focus of the earlier study, the non-Khayal repertoire of the considered vocalists was left out of the measurement. However, as a parallel reality, and a component of the share-of-mind a musician enjoys with audiences of his own and future generations, it cannot be ignored.

Unlike practitioners of the medieval Dhrupad-Dhamar genre, Khayal vocalists have, for long, retained an involvement with the semi-classical genres. This facet of Hindustani vocalism acquires greater importance because of the major changes that have taken place in the music-scape, particularly after independence. The specialist singers of the semi-classical Thumree and its allied genres have virtually disappeared from the scene. Simultaneously, vocalists trained in the Khayal genre have adopted these genres in performance, and also added the Bhajan to their musical persona. Several leading Khayal vocalists of the 20th century are acknowledged to have contributed significantly to the evolution of these two genres.

It is neither possible, nor necessary, for us to ascertain whether their non-Khayal repertoire has contributed to their share-of-mind as Hindustani vocalists, or the other way round.  There exists a synchronous relationship between them, which needs to be examined from the point of aesthetic obsolescence. This essay attempts to explore this relationship.

Research design

The research design is identical to the design of the study of aesthetic obsolescence of Khayal repertoire. The sample consists of the same vocalists, truncated by the non-availability of data for some of the vocalists.  Of the 21 vocalists considered in the earlier study, 8 had to be dropped on account of inadequate or missing data. Expectedly, the number of Non-Khayal recordings available for logging was consistently much smaller than Khayal recordings. The minimum readings considered acceptable for considering any vocalist were 3, and the maximum readings available for any musician was 34. Average views per month of exposure were computed precisely in the same manner for comparability of results.

The repertoire considered in this study covers Thumree, Tappa, Dadra etc., Ghazal, Natya Sangeet, Bhajans, patriotic songs, regional devotional music, and songs performed in Hindi or regional films.


The first table and graph plots average views per month of recording availability against the year of birth of the musician. The picture differs substantially from the pattern seen in the earlier study of Khayal recordings. While the Khayal viewership graph showed a long-term linear trend accompanied by a series of wave patterns, this graph is predominantly an exponential graph, with the hint of a wave within it. This means that the more recent the musician, the more disproportionately he gains viewership amongst present-day audiences for his non-khayal repertoire. Worded differently, non-khayal repertoire music tends to become obsolete faster, and with greater certainty, than Khayal music.

The two-wave pattern evident in this graph also has a defensible generational interpretation. It would suggest that, currently, the non-Khayal musical values of two distinct generations of musicians engage the attention of Youtube listeners. The first is represented by the musical values of Bade Gulam Ali Khan and the second predominantly by Bhimsen Joshi, but also Kumar Gandharva and DV Paluskar. It is interesting that the same set of musicians showed a three-wave pattern with four peaks for Khayal music. This further establishes the difference between Khayal music and the non-Khayal repertoire of the same musicians. Their Khayal repertoire has an audience of three or four generations, while their non-Khayal repertoire repertoire commands the attention of only two. 

These patterns support what is known about the semi-classical and allied genres of vocal music. Relative to Khayal vocalism, they are designed to appeal to a much larger audience, which is more likely to respond to ephemeral musical values the the more durable musical values. 

There are no significant cycles apparent in this graph, and the possibility of a paradigm shift does not appear to arise from available data.

The second graph below provide further insights.

On an average, vocalists considered here have logged almost double the viewership for Non-Khayal recordings compared to his/ her Khayal repertoire. Even within the overall pattern of faster obsolescence of non-Khayal recordings, the absolute level of durability of appeal is substantially higher for non-Khayal music than Khayal music. But, the pattern deserves a closer look.

DV Paluskar’s non-Khayal repertoire logs twice the rating of his Khayal repertoire. After him, the multiplier shows a smart rise. Bhimsen Joshi’s non-Khayal repertoire is almost 4 times more popular than his Khayal repertoire. And, finally, with Kumar Gandharva, the non-Khayal repertoire almost touches 8 times the Khayal level in terms of audience involvement.  The sharpness of this trend would suggest a backdrop of fairly radical changes in the social and economic environment of which musicians and their audiences are concurrent products.

It appears that the non-Khayal repertoire, which has a faster rate of obsolescence, is claiming a progressively higher share-of-mind amongst audiences. This has several implications for the musical culture, all of which are already on the horizon.

Implications of the patterns

The inflow of fresh talent into classical vocalism could shrink, with more and more trained singers opting for a career in the non-Khayal genres. Because of this, the non-Khayal genres could witness the emergence of high quality specialist performers. Khayal vocalists  -- once they have established their credibility as trained classical singers -- will be drawn towards increasing their involvement with non-Khayal repertoire to protect their share-of-mind and share-of-market.  

The most significant implication of the patterns evident here is that the Khayal appears to be a receding genre in terms of the society’s share-of-mind, and the non-Khayal genres of vocal music appear to be the ascendant genres. This indication may require further evidence to be stated with greater certainty. But, it is not insignificant even with the evidence available here.

The eminent musicologist, Prof. Ashok Ranade made some interesting observations about the behavior of the dominant genre in times of challenged dominance.

“.... we should look at how any musical form achieves and sustains its dominant position. First, it attracts all kinds of performers towards it. Second, it tries to assimilate the musical tendencies of other forms. Third, it allows individuals enough freedom to express themselves, especially in the initial stages. Fourth, it makes allowances for a distinction between the larger disciplinary model of a gharana, and the style of an individual musician.” (Journal of the Indian Musicological Society, 1999)

This summarises the history of Khayal vocalism fairly accurately. For the present, we may focus  sharply at the prospect of the Khayal as the threatened genre adopting musical values of its challengers as a protection against its own extinction. 

The Khayal is three-dimensional genre – it is a contemplative art, an expressive art, and a communicative art. Its contemplative facet involves an improvised exploration of the Raga’s melodic and emotional personality. It is this facet that distinguishes it from the non-Khayal genres of vocalism. If the Khayal is tending towards imitating the non-Khayal genres, what it is abandoning is either the Raga discipline or the deliberate exploration of the Raga’s melodic-emotional personality, or both. It is in this context that the issue of an impending paradigm shift may be relevant.

At this point, we may recall what a paradigm shift means in the present context.  When a musical value, considered fundamental for long, is abandoned by a majority of  performing musicians -- without necessarily identifying an emergent alternative -- a paradigm shift can be said to have taken place.

The contemplative facet of Khayal vocalism, and the centrality of Raga elaboration to it, is a musical value considered fundamental for at least more than a century.  It faces the prospect of being abandoned in favour of the more ephemeral musical values of the non-Khayal genres.  The architecture of Raga rendition  characteristic of the Khayal may remain in circulation even with a shrinking presence. But, its distinguishing feature, as has been understood so far, could be headed for extinction.

This study began with looking at aesthetic obsolescence of the music of eminent Khayal vocalists, and incidentally of the major Khayal gharanas. Now, having considered the divergent patterns in the non-Khayal music of the major Hindustani vocalists, it has raised issues relating to the aesthetic obsolescence of the Khayal genre itself. There is insufficient evidence yet to permit a categorical view on this possibility. It may therefore remain, for now, a hypothesis based on astute observation, and theoretical speculation.

© Deepak S. Raja 2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence in Hindustani music II

In an earlier paper, I have suggested (1) that aesthetic obsolescence is a reality in classical music, and (2) that a paradigm shift in aesthetic values can be expected at intervals of 50-60 years.  Those propositions were based on anthropological, and macro-economic constructs evolved in the American/ European/ global context. Despite their intuitive appeal, they are not sufficient to support a definitive view with respect to Hindustani music.  Indian evidence with respect to such phenomena needs to be considered.

Aesthetic obsolescence and paradigm shifts in Hindustani music I

The Hindustani music audience accesses and consumes music through an increasing variety of sources, and their mix itself is changing constantly. Many of these sources are either informal, or generate quantitative information on consumption patterns, which is available only to its providers. The Hindustani music market is just not large enough to spawn independent sources of reliable quantitative information. The glimmer of hope in this regard comes from YouTube, which now features an substantial and increasing volume of Hindustani music, and is emerging as a valuable source of archival music for music lovers.

YouTube as data source

Every video recording featured on YouTube now provides information on the date of uploading, and the number of views against each recording. By dividing the total viewership of a recording by the number of months/ weeks since the date of uploading, it is possible to get a measure (views per month/week) which enables a comparison of individual recordings and musicians on the level of audience of involvement and interest logged up to a given date. This simple measure can be submitted to statistical analysis for extracting valuable insights.

YouTube is, admittedly, not a perfect solution to our problem. Even amongst internet-based music repositories, it is one of the many, though perhaps the largest and the most popular. Net-based repositories are themselves one of the many media through which Hindustani music is being accessed. It is impossible to account for the various determinants of availability of any recording on YouTube or alternative internet music portals/ archives.  It is also impossible – without access to YouTube’s internal analytics – to appreciate how YouTube defines viewership, thus making a comparison between recordings and musicians an uncertain exercise.  

Another major issue concerns YouTube itself. The portal itself is growing constantly in terms of content diversity, content volume and usership base. Inevitably then, its global audience profile is also changing constantly. So, it becomes conceptually tricky to compare, say, 50 views per month for a recording Ustad Fayyaz in 2010 with 50 views per month of the same recording in 2014. Do the two represent the same level of public interest and involvement? 

The methodological issues raised by this data source are innumerable.  With all its limitations, however, YouTube is the most substantial repository of Hindustani music, which also reports quantitative information on the level of audience interest and involvement in archival music starting from the early years of the 20th century. It therefore makes sense to examine YouTube data for possible indications of aesthetic obsolescence and paradigm shifts with respect to Hindustani music.

Research design

This study is based on recordings of deceased Khayal vocalists because, in Hindustani music, only the Khayal genre enjoys considerable structural stability across the century we are looking at, and features a continuous flow of significant musicians to monitor. Admittedly, several Khayal vocalists have achieved additional popularity and stature because of their non-Khayal repertoire such as Bhajans, Thumrees, and Tappas. There is clearly no way of isolating the effect of this facet of their musical personality on their mainstream persona. To keep all musicians and recordings comparable, the study chose to ignore the non-Khayal recordings of the considered musicians available on YouTube.

The selection of significant musicians to monitor was based on the author’s knowledge of Khayal vocalism, sometimes constrained by the availability of sample data. An attempt was made to ensure that significant vocalists from every major Gharana of Khayal vocalism were included in the study. Even an otherwise significant musician was not considered if his/ her YouTube presence did not cross 5 different ragas. This gave a total listing of 21 vocalists, whose YouTube presence was even indicatively measurable.

For every significant musician considered, at least one recording of every raga available on YouTube was included. Wherever more than one recording of the same raga, or even the same performance was available, all were considered. Because of the varying pattern of availability, it could not be helped that, the study considers as many as 58 recordings of one musician at the upper end, and as few as 6 of another at the lower end.

In a vast majority of the cases, the considered recordings had been uploaded between 2010 and 2015. In very few cases, upload dates go back into 2008 or 2009. The number of months for which each recording had been available was computed using May 1, 2015 as the cut-off date. The data was recorded between May 2 and May 4.

The table below shows the computations of audience involvement/ interest/ viewership of the considered musicians. The graph below presents average viewers per month of the musicians plotted against their year of birth. Admittedly, the year of birth is not the ideal landmark for comparability because different musicians have acquired stature and influence at different stages in their lives. No stage-of-life-cycle alternative would have been satisfactory because that would have left out a musician like DV Paluskar, who achieved considerable stature in his short life of 34 years.


The graphic representation of the analysis should be considered first for its conceptual and theoretical implications.

The graph supports the proposition that aesthetic obsolescence is a reality in Hindustani music. It exhibits a clear trend of viewership favoring musicians born more recently as against musicians born in earlier years. A long-term trend-line would suggests that, on an average, a musician born in 1930 would have 5 more YouTube viewers per month than a musician born 60 years ago, in 1870.

In addition to a linear trend, the graph also exhibits a cyclical trend. Every once in a while there appears to emerge a breakthrough vocalist whose music achieves a higher level of audience involvement than expected. And, this booster evidently provides the momentum for the subsequent breakthrough to seek an even higher intensity of audience involvement. Here, of course, we do not know how much of this booster effect is attributable to the music, and how much to the dynamism of the media environment – most notably YouTube itself.  But, then, media grow on the strength of their content. Therefore, which is the cause and which the effect, is an intractable issue.

This three-wave pattern has a defensible generational interpretation. From this, it would appear that currently, there are a three -- probably four -- sets of musical values which command the involvement of Youtube audiences. The first wave, represented by Abdul Kareem Khan, the second by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the third by Mallikarjun Mansur, and the fourth by Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, and DV Paluskar. This would suggest that three -- perhaps four -- distinct generations of listeners are currently involved in the recorded Khayal music of the 20th century.

In the history we have plotted, Abdul Kareem Khan (born: 1872) appears as the first breakthrough Khayal vocalist. After him, Bade Gulam Ali Khan (born: 1903), represents the next peak.  Ameer Khan (born: 1912) defines the following peak. The last peak covered by this study is defined by Bhimsen Joshi (born 1922). It will be noticed that the time-gaps between the successive peaks are not even approximately similar. This is not surprising because art is not obliged to provide the econometrician with convenient solutions to his problems.

The peaks are, undoubtedly, defined by those we consider “landmark” musicians. But, do we have any indications here of a paradigm shift or a long cycle of 50-60 years? Possible, we do. On the graph presented here, we are looking at three smaller waves with the chronological distance between the first and the fourth peak being exactly 50 years. We could well be looking at an Indian version of a large Kodratiev wave of 50-60 years, which subsumes three shorter Kuznets waves, as described in my earlier paper on this subject. If this speculation has any merit, Hindustani music could today be on the threshold of a paradigm shift – this being the hypothesis I have articulated during my speech in Bangalore in December, 2014, which triggered off this inquiry.

Of course, we need to be circumspect about such speculation because this study does not permit a view on this aspect of the obsolescence theory. This is so mainly because the data source itself is constrained by the history of electronic amplification and recording technologies. It is known that developments in recording and storage-media technologies made a significant contribution to making Abdul Kareem Khan, Bade Gulam Ali Khan, Ameer Khan and Bhimsen Joshi “landmark” musicians. By the same logic, the recordings of “landmark” musicians from the early days of sound engineering – such as Kesarbai Kerkar and Fayyaz Khan – could have suffered truncated aesthetic lives on account of a comparatively primitive acoustic environment.   

With the recording industry itself being less than 120 years old, it would be impossible to observe even two full long-cycles of 50-60 years, even if they existed, because reliable quantitative data to support such a theory would be impossible to compile. Therefore, the notions of paradigm shifts or long cycles will perhaps remain in the region of scholarly opinion and public debate.

Gharana perspectives

While the individual viewership ratings of the various musicians are of wider popular interest, the Gharana affiliations and stylistic legacies reflected in this study are of greater importance in understanding the cultural process. The groupings, as attempted, reflect my understanding of stylistic tendencies.

Those who described the demise of Bhimsen Joshi as the “End of an Era” were probably more prophetic than they realized. If there is a 50-year cycle culminating with the musicianship of Bhimsen Joshi, the event might have been acceptably described as the “End of the Kairana Era”,which began with Abdul Kareem Khan born exactly 50 years before Bhimsen Joshi, and spawned a veritable galaxy in between. 

It is easy to see the Kairana group heading the list with an average of 313 viewers per month. It does so, on the strength of Bhimsen Joshi (652), Ameer Khan (486) and Abdul Kareem Khan (410). Patiala stands tall alongside (301) with just one vocalist, Bade Gulam Ali Khan holding the fort.

The Gwalior group (156) stands almost on par with the Jaipur-Atrauli group (125). But, they present a picture in contrast. With the exception of DV Paluskar, the Gwalior group claims its share-of-mind entirely on the strength of highly original, individualistic, or reformist musicians – starting from Ramakrishna Vaze and ending with Yashwant Buwa Joshi. In sharp contrast, the Jaipur-Atrauli group consists entirely of orthodox vocalists, trained by the founding family.

This confirms Prof. Bonnie Wade’s view (Khayala: Creativity within India’s Classical Music Traditions, Cambridge University Press, 1984) that in the second quarter of the 20th century, the Gwalior gharana suffered a loss of identity, and was obliged to reinvent itself. This crisis resulted in several Gwalior trained vocalists drifting towards the dominant style such as Agra (e.g. Yashwant Buwa Joshi),  the ascendant style such as Jaipur-Atrauli (Mallikarjun Mansoor), or to emerge as highly individualistic originals (e.g. Omkarnath Thakur, Kumar Gandharva).

This contrasts apparently with Jaipur-Atrauli, which holds its share-of-mind alongside Gwalior so far on the strength of its orthodox musicianship. It is not, however, insignificant, that the Gharana group rating is being held up substantially by Mallikarjun Mansur, who performed orthodox Jaipur-Atrauli music, but was in fact a mature migrant from Gwalior. It is also debatable whether Mansur's music ever lost traces of Gwalior vocalism. Also, what is not reflected in this study is the immense influence of Kishori Amonkar of the same lineage, starting from the mid-1970s, which has left the orthodox stream of Jaipur-Atrauli gasping for breath.

Therefore, in the Gwalior group, as well as the Jaipur-Atrauli group, we are looking at a reformist phase struggling against the forces of aesthetic obsolescence.

The Agra group (45), headed by Fayyaz Khan (110) is pulled down to the fifth position by his successors.

Individual highlights

In the Kirana group, Roshanara Begum (104) is a surprise with a viewership rating on par with Kesarbai Kerkar (99) and Fayyaz Khan (110).  This is all the more interesting since she migrated to Pakistan at the time of independence, and visited India only rarely thereafter. She is not known to have performed in India after 1947. Her recordings have been her sole contact with Indian audiences. Merely by belonging to the next generation, and by virtue of her musicianship, she stands today on par with titans of just a generation before her.

The Gwalior group (156) is held up in the third position by DV Paluskar (243) who died in 1955 at the age of 34. His present-day rating is almost twice that of Omkarnath Thakur (127) who acquired immense stature and popularity a generation before him. In addition to the perennial youthfulness of his musical legacy, Paluskar enjoyed the advantages of a buoyant recording industry and media environment just a quarter of a century after Omkarnath Thakur.

The Jaipur-Atrauli group (125) is currently placed in the fourth position by Mallikarjun Mansur (208) much more than by Kesarbai Kerkar (99), the empress of the concert platform a generation before him. In this, we once again observe the effect of a generational shift in musical values, supported by the dynamism of the electronic media.


Despite the limitations of the data source, this study supports the notion of aesthetic obsolescence as a reality in Hindustani music. This constitutes valuable confirmation of reports to the same effect received from significant players in the commercial recording industry as well as the barter market for archival recordings.

This study does not provide clear support to the supposition of a paradigm shift in musical values which, I have observed, is currently taking place. However, considering that the study shows wave patterns resembling three short components of the Kondratiev wave of 50 years, the possibility of an imminent paradigm shift cannot be ruled out either. The argument in favour of such a possibility is that if musical values are changing constantly, the change cannot remain imperceptible indefinitely. At some stage, the accumulation of imperceptible changes will become perceptible in the form of a paradigm shift. Whether such a watershed can be expected every 50-60 years, or at shorter or longer intervals-- or even at irregular intervals -- in the context of Hindustani music is, as yet, inestimable. 

At this point, one may devote a thought to how the accumulation of imperceptible changes over a period becomes perceptible as a watershed or a paradigm shift. When a musical, considered fundamental to the acceptability of sound music, is abandoned by a majority of performing musicians -- without necessarily identifying an emergent alternative -- a paradigm shift can be said to have taken place. If such a shift is impending at this juncture, I expect much will be written on this subject in the next few years by astute observers of the Hindustani music culture. 

There is, of course, no reason why the change and periodicity patterns evident in Hindustani music should fit neatly into anthropological or econometric models developed in the developed world. We need, therefore, to be cautious in drawing upon such theoretical constructs for interpreting the Indian reality, with all its probable uniqueness.

However, with sufficient indications favoring the essence of our argument, there could be justification in pursuing an examination of social and economic forces that might help refine our understanding of the musical culture.

© Deepak S. Raja, May 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Aesthetic obsolescence and paradigm shifts in Hindustani music I

At a recent event (December 2014) to release the CDs of two young Hindustani musicians, I had observed as follows:

A period of 30 years appears appropriate as defining a generation with respect to our musical culture. The first post-independence generation of Hindustani musicians, which appeared on the stage in the mid 1970s was performing music largely under the shadow of the pre-independence generation. This could explain why Hindustani music experienced shrinkage of audiences during the last quarter of the 20th century. The second post-independence generation emerging on the concert platform now (2010-2015), is exhibiting a perceptible freedom from the shadow of the pre-independence generation. They appear to be addressing their own generation of listeners more effectively, and drawing young audiences back into the concert halls.

Please see: The Emerging Generation of Khayal Vocalists

After I finished my speech, several young musicians approached me to say that they did not fully understand my argument. I promised to explain myself in greater detail at a later stage. This essay is intended to fulfill the promise made to my young friends that evening. But, it is also an opportunity for me to submit my public statements to rigorous scrutiny.

I wish to relate this issue to the observations I have made on an allied subject in my first book – Hindustani music: A tradition in transition (DK Printworld, New Delhi 2005). I summarize them here:

ONE: The Hindustani music tradition is so designed that, knowingly or unknowingly, every musician is a product of his generation, speaks on behalf of his generation, and addresses primarily his own generation of listeners. Implicitly, therefore, every musician’s music “shuts out” audiences belonging to a generation behind him, and a generation ahead of him.

TWO: Despite the fundamental stability of the “Operating System” governing Hindustani music, there is no such thing as “timeless music”. On the contrary, there is evidence to establish aesthetic obsolescence as a phenomenon which pushes the music of a certain past generation out of circulation, and allows more recent music to reach music lovers. The departed generation eased out of the market, however, retains a marginal presence in the market as academic reference material – perhaps a virtual “Guru”.

THREE:  Running counter to aesthetic obsolescence, there exists a phenomenon of “aesthetic sclerosis” among Hindustani music audiences, which makes listeners above a certain age (I suggested 50/55) unable to accept the musical values of the emerging generation of musicians (+/- 30).  I have also observed that elderly audiences retain lifelong loyalty to the musical values to which they were exposed between the ages of 20 and 50. And, as Indians are increasingly living longer, it is this phenomenon that sustains the market for recordings of vintage/ archival music.

I attempt a scrutiny of these observations by drawing upon profound anthropological and historical thought, and also on relevant macro-economic research.

The Method of Generations in History

Jose Ortega Y Gasset is regarded as one of the most influential European philosophers of the 20th century. I draw upon his landmark work “Man and Crisis” (George, Allen & Unwin, London, 1959) for his perspective on history as a product of inter-generational interactions.

Extracts from “Man and Crisis”

 “Community of date and space are the primary attributes of a generation. Together, they signify the sharing of an essential destiny. The keyboard of environment on which coevals play the Sonata Apassionata of their lives is in its fundamental structure one and the same. This identity of destiny produces in coevals certain secondary coincidences which are summed up in the unity of their style. A generation is an integrated manner of existence or, if you prefer, a fashion of living, which fixes itself indelibly on the individual…

“In the “today”, in every “today”, various generations co-exist and the relations which are established between them according to the different conditions of their ages, represent the dynamic system of attractions and repulsions, of agreement and controversy, which at any given moment makes up the reality of historic life. The concept of generations, converted into a method of historic investigation consists in nothing more than projecting the structure upon the past.

“A generation is the aggregate of men who are the same age. …. The concept of age is not (however) the stuff of mathematics, but of life. Age, then, is not a date but a zone of dates.”

For understanding the historical process as an interaction between various co-existing generations, he proposes the following analysis of generations:

ONE: Lives can be divided into five phases of approximately fifteen years each. (1) Childhood: 0-15, (2) Youth: 15-30, (3) Initiation: 30-45, (4) Dominance: 45-60, (5) Old age: 60+. In some ways, Ortega suggests, the face of the world changes every 15 years. However, he classifies the third and fourth stages, representing the 30-year period from age 30 to 60 as the historically significant phases of an individual’s/ generation’s life.

TWO: In his 30’s man acquaints himself with the world into which he has fallen, and in which he must live. Between 30 and 45, he begins to react on his own account against the world that he has encountered, starts to reshape his world, and learns to defend it against the generations that rule it. Between 45 and 60, he devotes himself fully to the development of the inspirations he has received between 30 and 45. The period of 30-45 is his period of gestation, creation and conflict, while the period between 45 and 60 is his stage for achieving dominance and command over his world.

The Ortega perspective implies that, after accounting for imperceptible changes that are taking place constantly because of the interaction between various co-existing generations, a perceptible change, a paradigm shift, can be expected to surface every 60 years. This is because all the forces acting upon the values of the earlier generations have, by now, either faded away or become impotent.

This implication would support my observation that the second post-independence generation of Hindustani musicians (emerging 60+ years after independence) is charting a new path, which may create some dissonance among their senior generations of listeners.

Ortega describes the 30-45 stage as representing strategy development and the 45-60 phase as that for strategy implementation. This description matches the widely held belief about the evolution of Hindustani musicianship. It is well articulated by the contemporary maestro, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, in the Foreword to my book – “Khayal Vocalism – Continuity within Change” (DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2009), and also his interview carried in the book.

“Today, a vocalist – if he is good – is exposed to public scrutiny right in the middle of the most vulnerable stage of his evolution – the stage when he is struggling to break out of the shell of his training, and to make his own original statement. … Even with the best of training, the process of self-discovery in a vocalist matures only around the age of 40”.

Briefly, then, we are looking at three periodicities implicit in Ortega’s argument as being relevant for plotting the generational dimension of change in Hindustani music:

ONE:  Human life is most meaningfully divided into five stages of 15 years each. As a reflection of this, the face of the world changes in some way every 15 years.
TWO: Historic changes can be expected to become evident every 60 years.
THREE: The 30-year period between the ages of 30 and 60 is the historically most significant period in the life of each generation.

By Ortega’s own argument, the clue to these periodicities of perceptible or perceptible change lies in the “keyboard of environment on which coevals play the Sonata Apassionata of their lives [which] is in its fundamental structure one and the same”.

The keyboard of the environment

It appears fair to argue that culture is substantially a reflection of the economic environment in which each generation seeks to express its unique destiny. In the light of this hypothesis, it seems appropriate to examine empirical evidence and theoretical constructs related to the patterns of economic activity. Specifically, we should be looking for evidence of periodicities of 15, 30, and 60 years postulated by Ortega in patterns of economic change. The various theories of business cycles are relevant from this perspective.

Business cycle or economic cycles are waves formed by the expansion and contraction of economic activity. Our argument can be that the cultural manifestations of buoyant economic activity would be substantially different of depressed economic activity. As an extension of this argument, we may also argue that each phase of expansion and contraction will leave behind some cultural residues, which carry forward into the next upswing/ downswing. But when a society has seen the complete long wave of contraction and expansion, it will emerge from the experience with a changed perception of itself, and its arts will exhibit signs of a paradigm shift.

Theory and evidence of economic cycles

ONE: In the 19th century, Clement Juglar first identified a cycle of 7-11 years signified by accelerated or retarded societal investments in fixed assets. Juglar did not, however, claim any regularity for these waves.

TWO: In the 20th century, Simon Kuznets identified a cycle of 15-25 years, signified by the expansion and contraction of societal investments in infrastructure (also called the
“building cycle”).

THREE:  In 1947, Edward Dewey and Edwin Dakin identified a 54-year cycle, based on a statistical analysis of wholesale prices in the US.

FOUR: In 1925, Nikolai Kondratieff estimated a long business cycle of 50-60 years, based on a study of trends in commodity prices, interest rates, wages, production, coal consumption, private savings, gold production, as well as political trends from 1790 to 1920. Kondratieff’s work also established that each expansion of economic activity is associated with the emergence of productivity enhancing technological innovations. Because of the comprehensiveness of the phenomena considered, Kondratieff’s work is also the most significant cyclical formulation from the cultural perspective.

The Kondratieff model has been confirmed by rigorous statistical testing, using spectral analysis. These procedures also suggest that each Kondratieff wave subsumes three sub-cycles of 17 years each, partially supporting the Kuznets suggestion of shorter cycles of 15-25 years.

The implications of this refresher course in macro-economics for our subject of enquiries are as follows:

ONE: Ortega’s suggestion of 60 years as the fulfillment of a generation’s historic mission would result in the appearance of a paradigm shift every 60 years. This finds support in the 50-60 year cycle of economic activity observed by Kondratieff, Dewey and Dakin.

TWO: The shorter 17-year sub-cycles within the Kondratieff long wave support Ortega’s observation that our world is changing in some ways every 15 years because the stages of human life are most meaningfully seen as periods of 15 years each.

THREE: The Kondratieff long cycle is 50-60 years will tend to represent 25-30 years of contraction and 25-30 years of expansion in economic activity. This would support Ortega’s view of the 30-year period (age 30-60) as being the historically most significant period in the life of each generation.

While viewing these indications of periodicity, it is important to recall Ortega’s own observation that “The concept of age is not (however) the stuff of mathematics, but of life. Age, then, is not a date but a zone of dates.” 

Corroborating this perspective, economists studying economic cycles have not been able to assess the occurrence of peaks and troughs with astronomical precision. Keeping this in mind, an attempt may be made to represent this concept graphically.

A conceptual-graphic model of generational shifts

The model is not intended to either prove or establish any theory pertaining to the periodicity of perceptible changes in musical values. It attempts merely to demonstrate the interactions between the various significant participants, creating an interplay of continuity and change.

Five historically significant roles are considered in this model. (1) The performer generation (2) The Guru generation to the performer which is 30 years senior to him (3) The traditional Benchmark of musicianship which may be the Guru's Guru or other influential musicians -- 60 years senior to the performer (4) Rival to the Performing generation which is partly his own generation and partly his senior generation, and (5) the audience of the Performing musician which we assume to be the same as the performing generation. 

Following a combination of Ortega and Kondratieff arguments, the model divides the time-scale into distinct 15-year periods, with two of these consecutive periods constituting a significant 30-year generation with respect to all participants in the musical culture. The point to remember here is we are not talking of a generation as a birth-to-death duration, but a 30-year time span which is historically the most significant for the performance of each generation. Each generation has been given a number for ease of comprehension.

The emerging pattern

G-1, the performing generation of 1925-1955, begins to perform the Guru role for G-2, and continues to do so for G-3 and G-4, and thereafter becomes the Benchmark generation, with decreasing influence till G-5.  By G-6, it has fallen totally off the radar of the musical culture.

The Guru generation of G-1 (1895-1925) retains part of its influence as a Guru for G-2, and then drifts into the Benchmark area through G2- and G-3, drifting into insignificance thereafter.

The Benchmark generation of G-1 (1880-1895) remains partly relevant as a Benchmark for G-2 and fades into history thereafter.

The Rival generation of G-1 (1910-1940) becomes a part of the Guru generation in G-2 and thereafter remains relevant, with diminishing influence, till G-4 as a Benchmark generation.

The Audience generation of G-1 (1925-1955) remains an influential force for G-2, and thereafter gives way to younger audiences.

By the time we come to the Performing generation G-6 (2015-2030), none of the generations of participants of G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, and G-5 have any historically significant influence. The world has changed far too much between 1955 and 2015 for the musical values of G-1 to either to exist, or to deserve an audience. A paradigm shift is to be expected.

The structuring of this conceptual-graphic model merely happens to deliver a paradigm shift expectation in approximately 60 years. It could have been 50, 70 or even 80 years. The exact periodicity is not as important as is demonstration of aesthetic obsolescence and periodic paradigm shifts.

© Deepak S. Raja 2015