Monday, October 19, 2020

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: VIII


Contemporary Musicians and the Ragascape


In this third part of the Ragascape study, we examine the repertoire strength of different Raga-s, as evident from the concert repertoire of contemporary musicians. This direction of enquiry is suggested by the findings of the first study on Audience Engagement Indicator of widely performed Raga-s. (See Parts 1 through 6)  In the earlier study, the recordings of contemporary musicians reported a much higher Audience Engagement Indicator than the recordings of earlier generations of musicians. This justifies a generation-specific enquiry related to the repertoire-strength of Raga-s.


The relationship between the Ragascape as a cultural umbrella of melodic ideas and the repertoire of contemporary musicians will tend to be reflected in two ways. (1) It will be reflected in the totality of Raga-s performed by prominent contemporary musicians and (2) It will be reflected in the frequency with which each of the Raga-s is performed. It is impossible to access information on the frequency with which each Raga has been performed in public by prominent contemporary musicians. However, it is possible to get some indication of the totality of the Raga-repertoire being performed by contemporary musicians. I choose to draw, once again, on the YouTube archive to paint an indicative picture of this phenomenon.


Defining the Contemporary Musician


For the purposes of this study, I define the contemporary musician as a vocalist or instrumentalist who is born between 1950 and 1980, and is still active as a professional musician. The logic for this definition is three-fold. (1) The birth in/after 1950 defines the first generation of post-independence musicians. (2) Social scientists accept a period of 30 years as appropriately defining a cultural generation. (3) At the time of doing this study, a musician born before 1980 is at least 40 years old which is considered the maturation threshold of musicians in the Hindustani tradition.


Based on this criterion, I drew up a list of 20 prominent vocalists and 20 prominent instrumentalists. Every single Raga performed by them anywhere, on any occasion, and uploaded on YouTube was logged. Only solo performances were considered, because the choice of repertoire in duets or ensembles need not reflect the musician’s own preferences. All major genres of Hindustani music were covered by the survey – Khayal, Thumree, Dhrupad.


The output table answered the question: How many musicians have performed a particular Raga even once, irrespective of context and location? As mentioned earlier, no estimate is possible of how frequently each musician has performed a particular Raga, and therefore this factor remains unquantified. The list of contemporary musicians covered is given in Table 1, along with their years of birth, and instruments (where relevant).

  Analysis of results


An interesting figure emerging from this study is the difference between the number of Raga-s performed by vocalists and instrumentalists. Vocalists appear to present an average repertoire of 44 Raga-s, while, instrumentalists appear to perform an average of only 35 Raga-s. No significance can be attached to this difference, because it may well be an infirmity of the data-source without having any basis in the reality. In any event, the “finding” is irrelevant to the objectives of this study.


Tracking the YouTube upload repertoire of the selected 40 musicians gave us a total of 244 Raga-s. Of these, 110 have shown up as having been performed by both vocalists and instrumentalists, 43 performed only by instrumentalists, and 91 performed only by vocalists. Because the total Repertoire-strength of different Raga-s is our focus, I choose to analyze only those 110 Raga-s which have been performed by both, vocalists and instrumentalists.



The frequency distribution of Raga-s against the number of musicians, and the limitations of the data-source, will not permit sophisticated statistical inference. However, since we are interested in the dominance of Raga-s performed by the largest number of musicians, we may focus our attention at the upper end --  Raga-s enjoying a larger presence on account of the number of musicians performing them.


An analysis of 110 Raga-s performed by instrumentalists as well as vocalists reveals an average of 12.4 musicians (out of 40) having performed any Raga, with a Standard Deviation of 7.9. This simple measure permits us to focus our attention primarily on those Raga-s which have been performed by more than 12 (30%) musicians.


This group of Raga-s enjoying an “above average” preference amongst musicians can be further divided into two groups. Group 1 is of those Raga-s which are performed by more than 20 out of 40 musicians (above mean+ standard deviation), and Group 2 performed by 12 to 19 (Mean to Mean + Standard deviation) musicians.


Group 1 consists 0f 20 Raga-s, and Group 2 consists of 33 Raga-s. The Repertoire-strength of these 53 Raga-s is given in Table 2 at the end of this paper. These Raga-s may be said to constitute the Ragascape focus, by virtue of being performed by the largest number of prominent contemporary musicians. A contextual/ thematic classification of the two groups is as follows.

The two groups are to be seen as a continuous ranking of Raga-s on the basis of the number of musicians performing them. They do not represent either qualitatively different groups, nor do they represent different sets of musicians. They simply represent "Very high popularity" and "Moderately high popularity" ranges. 


A comparison between the high-rank Group 1, and the intermediate rank Group 2 is interesting. Group 1 has a proportionately larger presence of late evening Raga-s than Group 2.Carnatic Raga-s fall entirely in the intermediate popularity region.  Late-evening Raga-s falling more predominantly in the high-popularity region is easy to explain. Many more public events are held in the late evening than any other time of the day.  Carnatic raga-s  fall in the intermediate popularity region perhaps because fewer musicians have studied them well enough to perform. 


Having ranked Raga-s on the basis of their presence in the repertoire of contemporary musicians, it is useful to examine the correspondence between this ranking and the Audience Engagement Indicators derived from YouTube viewership in the first part of this three-part study.


Contemporary Repertoire and Audience Engagement Indicators


This present study has identified 110 Raga-s for focused consideration, and ranked them on the basis of the number of contemporary musicians performing them. The earlier study started from the other end – considered 97 commonly performed Raga-s, and ranked them on the basis of an Audience Engagement Indicator.  A matching of the two lists shows 89 Raga-s appearing in both the lists. A statistical correlation was run on the 89 common Raga-s to examine the correspondence between the two rankings. The  procedure yielded a Correlation Coefficient of 0.65, and the X-Y scatter plot is presented below:



The plot exhibits a substantial correspondence between the dominant repertoire of contemporary musicians, and Audience Engagement Indicators. However, it also suggests that the collective repertoire of prominent musicians is not entirely guided by Raga-s generally believed to be popular. To this extent, it may be said that contemporary musicians are manifesting the Ragascape of the present, while also shaping the Ragascape of the future by exposing contemporary audiences to Raga-s that may not belong to the known category of popular/ populist Raga-s. 

This observation is, of course, defensible only as an assessment of the collective tendencies of contemporary musicians. Within this collective phenomenon, there are musicians who perform only the popular/ populist ragas, those who also perform Raga-s of intermediate popularity, and those who perform Raga-s they want/like to perform irrespective of their popularity.


Concluding observations


In these three studies, examining the concept of a Ragascape from different angles, we have established that there does exist a set of Raga-s that can be considered the core of the present-day musical culture, and that its existence is manifested in several aspects of musical activity. Admittedly, the data-source utilized by us to arrive at these inferences does not satisfy the demands of scientific rigor. However, the ecosystem we seek to study is, by its very nature, inhospitable to conclusive research. This series of studies has attempted to use YouTube, the only candidate data-source,   as prudently as possible to evolve a plausible snapshot of the cultural phenomenon sought to be profiled.


These three studies provide us with the insights that, if merged, may lead to a Raga-repertoire profile of Hindustani music that may answer to the definition of a Ragascape. The results may, or may not, approximate Bhatkhande’s definition of “Prasiddha” Raga-s, as conceived by him over a century ago. It could, however, answer a similar query, with a more transparent support of evidence than was possible in his time.

(c) Deepak S. Raja. October 2020