Music giving India's young a new voice

Young people in India are using music as a way to express self-confidence, as the BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan reports from Mumbai

India's new generation are choosing to do things differently to their parents - and one way is through a new brand of music.

Skinny jeans, long hair and bags of self confidence.

Like most front men, Arijit Datta knows how to work the crowd and charm them with his sweeping vocals.

Generation Asia graphic

He sings about relationships, life and love, and is part of a new wave of alternative musicians in India's growing "indie" scene.

A decade ago, bands playing Pink Floyd and Beatles covers were the staple of Western rock in India but today's musicians are shunning that, says Mr Datta.

"Today, there is immense pride in doing your own thing. The youth is more about having our own say than to adopt something Western."

"Ten or 15 years back, bands in India were pretty ashamed of doing original stuff. People used to get booed off stage and were very apologetic."

Mr Datta's band, Airport, are aged between 23 and 33, and sing their compositions in the Indian languages of Hindi and Bengali.

"I'm in love with my language and I love expressing myself in Hindi. Before, that wasn't a wise thing to do," says Mr Datta.

Music has often been a way for young people to make themselves heard at a time of change, be it rock and roll, punk or Brit pop.

Band Airport Arijit Data and four others make up the band Airport

Mr Datta says the drive for original music in India stems from a desire for young people to articulate their own distinct identity in a changing India.

"Today we have started believing in ourselves and our abilities and capabilities, that is not only in music but all over," he says. "The youth of today is really going for it in India."

The sheer force of India's young becomes apparent when you consider that more than two-thirds of the country is under the age of 35, and that nearly one in 10 of the world's population is an Indian under the age of 25.

The sense of resulting confidence is something which is felt across a wide spectrum of India's young, from the super rich to the slum dweller.

'Work to succeed'

Jishan Shah lives in Mumbai's Dharavi slum with his family. He is proud of his roots, but believes he can pursue a different career path to that of his parents, who make a modest living working in Dharavi.

Every week he gets together with a group of his friends to perform songs, through workshops organised by a local music venue and an NGO.

Start Quote

It is tough to be successful, but if you work hard there is more chance of making it today”

End Quote Jishan Shah Aspiring musician

The lyrics of one of their compositions talk of having "one dream, to sing and to dance".

Plastic rods with tape wound around the end serve as makeshift drumsticks, while the drums themselves are old plastic chairs, paint cans and containers.

Their dream might seem lofty as the group beats out a rhythm amongst knee high piles of rubbish on a bridge overlooking the slum, but Mr Shah absolutely believes he can do something different.

"It is tough to be successful, but if you work hard there is more chance of making it today," he says.

While his parents do not approve of his "alternative" career aspirations he is undeterred.

"There is a lot of development here in India and that's bringing us more opportunities," Mr Shah says.

Jishan Shah Residents of Dharavi make music on whatever they can find

There is a greater sense of identity in India's young which comes from belonging to a country that is on the rise, says Uday Benegal, the lead singer of Indian rock band Indus Creed.

With three ear piercings, and a career history as a musician, Mr Benegal might not represent the traditional forty-something Indian, but his band are well placed to comment on the change, having played to India's young for more than three decades.

The availability of good musical instruments in the country is just one example, he says, of how the opening up of the economy in 1991 has contributed to the change in the music scene.

"Something as basic as getting a good guitar made it hard to get a good sound. It was also difficult to find decent venues to play in and getting to play our own music was hard."

Mr Benegal fought against the odds to become a professional musician, and when he started out in the 1980s was one of just a few Indian rockers.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago the Indian audiences were enamoured with the West. It didn't matter if you were a good band or not, the audience would rather see a white singer on stage."

"That's changed now, today they want to listen to good music, wherever it is from. They don't consider themselves members of a third world country anymore. They see themselves as part of a greater global scene."

India has one of the world's largest populations of young people.

Just how its young grow up will set the tone for how India is viewed on the world stage.

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