He's full of wisecracks, and if you believe his sound engineer-nephew Arjun, he makes work at his office look like playtime. If you didn't know he's a top gun at Magnasound, you would think Madhav Das was a sharp and somewhat cynical journalist.
I caught Madhav (I'll use his first name, given his informality) for an interview during his recent visit to Bangalore. He had flown down for the release of two classical albums.
Madhav is hanging out at the gate of the Magnasound office off Airport Road. As soon as I appear, he waves me inside and settles us comfortably.
The flashy yellow inlay card of Gaana Boys stares at me. The Gaana
Boys are a band put together by Madhav. He has packaged this genre, born in Chennai's slums, with four young singers. He describes the music as "urban underground", and the genre has lately been written about by magazines like Outlook.
Madhav has recently got a girl band going too. Girlfriends features four girls, including Karen, who veejays on the Southern Spice channel, and Malaysia Vasudevan's daughter. He is convinced music labels can prosper only by promoting new talent.
The interview with Madhav is a delight, although his advice to journalists to write only positive reviews and help sell albums sounds like a contradiction coming from one so outspoken about his own industry. For a man at the helm of one of India's biggest music labels, Madhav can be frank about his own industry's ways.
"I'm Internet wary," says Madhav, when I ask him if he has seen The Music Magazine. As for print, he declares, "No magazine likes the way I talk about films and reviews. They generally want to be told nice lollipop things about how good films are for the general good and things like that..."
Here's some of what he said:
How do you see the role of your label and where do you see it going? Are you promoting pop and Gaana and not paying attention to classical music any more? Your label has titles by Mallikarjun Mansur and Bade Ghulam Ali ...
Gaana Boys, while not being overly subtle, are after all the voice of the urban underground. Full of rowdy thoughts sprinkled with rebel ideas. I am open to artistes walking in through my doors and telling me to listen to their stuff. I don't even put them off by saying I will listen and get back to them. I listen to them straight away. Please come to me and tell me what you can do. Show me, and we can make this work. Give people the sort of music they want.
The pathetic performances of Karnatak classical artistes, with their lack of voice culture, put people off. They are tired of listening to the same thing. It also seems no longer a matter of enjoying an intense classical music experience, but a matter of being the first guy to identify or misidentify a raga or show off your knowledge. I see this happen all the time at the sabhas in Chennai.
Everyone in the music industry says times are bad, and music does not sell?
I think the public is bored and oversaturated. They need to be entertained - live performances, gigs and shows are the way to grab and keep their attention. At the end of the show they go out and buy your tape. That is being alive to music. You need to get your audience primed and then he is convinced to buy you. Where are the performances? Why aren't there enough artistes to cater to the entertainment needs of one billion people? Gone are the days when you could be a reticent studio artiste and cut an album which spelt immediate success. With a market spewing out albums at a rate faster than the public can consume, people have no clue what is good. Is it just a matter of which album cover is more attractive or better positioned in the cassette shops.
You mean very few musicians come up with good ideas?
I think there is a lot of good music around with musicians who go all out and come up with albums, after pledging their cars, their houses, and even their underwear! They go and get big musicians for the orchestra. But they can do nothing with the album. It does not sell, the labels don't want to touch it, there is just no way of reaching people who are oversaturated with music albums which don't tell them anything about the artiste.
Isn't film music doing very well?
The film industry one-ups everyone else in music sales since it sells for totally music- divorced reasons, like "Amitabh Bachchan stars in this one", or "The heroine broke her leg while shooting for this one". This is in no way related to the music. I think films are inimical to music interests. Good music will always be sidelined for the commercial calling that makes films sell and their music sell too. But as I pointed out earlier, it is not the inherent worth of the music or even the film that finally sells. And that is really sad.
You have done a couple of albums with Shubha Mudgal. Do her pop albums help her sell her classical ones?
I don't think so. The crowd wants her only to do the pop numbers. But she was doing nothing wrong by going the popular route, which I am sure all classical musicians are trying to convince her against.
S Suchitra Lata
Posted on 13 June
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