India

India's music scene - The DJs and singers moving East

  • 3 December 2012
  • From the section India
Media captionMore people are heading to India from overseas to tap into the growing arts and culture scene

What do Metallica, Enrique Iglesias, David Guetta and Bryan Adams all have in common? They are international artists with a huge following in India. And, as the music scene grows, it is also attracting an increasing number of smaller foreign artists.

A gig in the middle of the Rajasthani desert, with sand beneath my feet, and a camel ride to get me there. It beats playing in a pub in south London for sure.

I am no stranger to microphones as a broadcaster, but a few weeks ago I sang at my first proper gig, in India, at the Ragastan music festival in Jaisalmer.

Before I moved to the country, my vocal talents extended to the hogging of a karaoke microphone, and a couple of performances at friends' weddings, but since I moved to India my musical endeavours have become a little more serious.

'Changing music scene'

I won't be giving up the day job in any hurry, but in my spare time I sing and record songs with a guitarist friend.

Image caption Talia Bentson moved to Mumbai from Los Angeles to pursue a career in singing and modelling

The reason for this is not that the Mumbai air has suddenly transformed my vocal chords but because it is just easier to get a chance in India's nascent and changing music scene.

It is a sentiment felt by others from the West who have come to India to pursue a musical career.

Take 27-year-old Talia Bentson, who moved to Mumbai from Los Angeles.

Half Scandinavian, half Indian, she grew up in California but spent many summers in Delhi.

Four years ago she packed her bags for India to pursue singing and modelling.

"The circle is much smaller so it might be easier for people to get known," she says.

"I feel through my experience that you can simply know somebody and get your 15 minutes of fame here more so than you can in the West."

'Booming market'

The pull for Ms Bentson was not just the opportunity to sing, but also to connect with the country her mother grew up in.

"I really wanted to do something I wouldn't be able to find in Los Angeles. There's so much colour here, so much character here," she says.

In the past decade, increasing Westernisation has encouraged more overseas artists to tour India, even if it is still a relatively small number who are moving here for good, says music promoter Vijay Nair.

"The amateur market outside India is way too competitive and to get noticed is hard. India is a booming market, and local talent has been pretty limited so far," he says.

Mr Nair says the Indian alternative music scene is still relatively small, which means a foreign act might be booked because they seem fresh and different.

Image caption UK born DJ Anil Chawla moved from London to India a few years back

The vast size of the country means some of these acts might end up playing to far larger audiences than they would back home, and are more likely to get press coverage, he says.

But he adds: "If I was living in the US I wouldn't move here and give it all up and assume it's any easier."

Alternative music scene

All this adds up to more visibility, but it is still a very niche market in terms of real numbers.

Image caption Lady Gaga performed in India last year

Bollywood music is still the mass market choice on Indian stereos, but the alternative scene is growing and thriving.

One real change in recent years has been the rise in the number of music festivals, and an increase in dance nights, catering to upwardly mobile young Indians.

"There's more than a billion people here and a lot more people with disposable incomes," says British-born DJ Anil Chawla, who moved from London to India a few years ago.

"When they have more incomes they're going to go out more and party and that directly influences what I do with my work and my bookings."

DJ Chawla used to play regularly in London but because of the economic downturn found his work was drying up in the UK, whereas bookings were increasing in India.

"There's more sponsorship happening for music and that's been good for me for sure," he says, adding that many more alcohol and cigarette companies are putting big money into hosting events and throwing music events and dance nights.

DJ Chawla is part of India's growing electronic dance music scene, which is thriving too.

Foreign acts like David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia are DJing to sell-out Indian crowds, with tickets costing as much as $60 (£35).

Vijay Nair says the Indian music market has exploded in recent years and this is not only attracting smaller acts like Talia Bentson or Anil Chawla, but also big names who want a piece of the Indian music pie.

Lady Gaga last year made her Indian debut and Paris Hilton (who is hardly known for her DJing prowess) is DJing at a nightclub in Goa.

"In a few years time anyone who wants a long international music career will ensure they tour in India," says Mr Nair.

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