15 April | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Our music needs fusions between classical eastern, popular western

As compared to classical music, tutorials in western music theory and instruments are easily accessible through YouTube, blogs and books

By Maria Riaz

It seems some of cultural colors are gradually disappearing, as sitaar, tabla and harmonium which once adorned every song have started to be replaced by piano, drums and keyboard. We can see that composers have started relying on western instruments for their work, whether it may be the song for a wedding or a movie. I believe that this trend sends a message of discouragement to classical musicians. One effort to sustain interest in classical music has been the production of fusion songs by giants such as Coke Studio and Kashmir Beats. Yet, these fusions rely heavily on western rhythm and beat.

The cultural element is condensed in language by incorporating Urdu lyrics into what would otherwise be a predominantly western song. This is particularly evident in songs such as “Go”. To this end, fusion music should try not to eliminate our classical melodies, raag and thaat, from the music, rather focus on enhancing them through the western style. Fusions must be balanced between the two, classical eastern and popular western. For younger audiences, the efforts in fusion music sustain their interest. By exploiting their preexisting familiarity with western styles, they can be swiftly introduced to classical music elements and appreciate them.

Rock music is experiencing a revival, but if that is case, can our own music not be revived too?

Songs such as ‘Kana Yaari’ and ‘Pasoori’ are remarkable examples. By appealing to the fusion audience, they have gained widespread popularity and hence shown millions of viewers what a Kathak dance or a Balochi lyric can do. One of the reasons for fewer classical musicians is because of how much harder the knowledge has been to acquire, resulting in an esoteric niche. The skills of classical music have almost entirely been passed down orally from teacher to student with limited record or instruction in writing. It makes this knowledge inaccessible, whereas tutorials in western music theory and instruments are easily accessible through YouTube, blogs and books.

It is one of the reasons why aspiring musicians would gravitate towards western music over their own. To this end, instruction programs in music should be made freely available by the government or government-backed institutions. We can ensure our precious art progresses only with tangible investment into training programs for classical music. The passage of time is often wrongly accused of triggering this decline. After all, music and art in general will inevitably evolve with changing socio-political norms. And yet, a startling reality unveils that this is not our case. In interactions with present day school children, the popularity of western bands from the 60s such as Beetles or the Rolling Stones is evident.

So then why do kids label local music from the same era as songs of old times. Perhaps rock music is experiencing a revival, but if that is the case, can our own music not be revived too? The irony is shattering. The partition of Indian subcontinent in 1947 may be the ‘real culprit’ here. With a strong need to differentiate ourselves from India and Indian ways, we have dissociated ourselves from our cultural music which is inherently rooted in a culture that is our own. Even so, this undermines the role of arts in transcending political and economic boundaries and connecting humans.

However, the need to craft a distinct Pakistani identity still continues. The first step towards the true independence of a state is independence in thought, ideas and belief. Whilst our political pundits may cite economic policies and GDP as the primary culprits of our country’s abysmal state. It is our negligence to preserve our culture and our identity that makes us weak. The strength of a population is not merely measured in numbers but is also reflected in how strongly they are willing to adhere to their sense of self in a realm of ever-growing globalization.

Maria Riaz, a freelance writer, is a student at Lahore Grammar School in Lahore