Urban balladeer Rabbi Shergill and Euphoria lead singer Palash Sen unwound over snacks and mocktails at QBA in Delhi’s Connaught Place, discussing how their brand of music has to struggle to survive, overshadowed as it is by the gigantic film music industry. Though the two learned they had a lot in common, Rabbi was more intense (angry young man!) while Palash was more laidback and easy going. Read on to see how the tete a tete went...
Palash: Rabbi, you and I had a hit start. I am 10 years and five albums old and you have nearly four years and an album like Bulla behind you. But why is it so difficult to find our place under the sun?
Rabbi:I agree it is a rather sad situation. The music world has got divided between film and non-film music. And films have just got bigger.
Palash: The change really came around 2004 when record companies suddenly realised that film music could bring in great profits. Songs could be a great promotion for the movies, and filmmakers were ready to put in plenty of money to promote their films. Unfortunately we guys, who make music for ourselves and for the public, never have the money to sell ourselves.
Rabbi: I think they don’t want different music either. (Folds his legs on the sofa.) Our choice is go Bollywood or go bust. There is this complete standardisation of music where everything sounds the same and we all are mutually replaceable. It’s a state of complete zombie-isation.
Palash: Baap! Tu kya fantastic words use karta hai! But they fit so perfectly.
Rabbi: (smiles) But don’t you think so? We artists can perform only when we are given creative freedom and allowed to sense the happenings around us. But that is not important. All we are required and expected to do now is to market ourselves at a mall.
Palash: I totally agree. It’s all about who can spend more moolah. If a filmmaker buys a chunk of air time, why would record labels waste their time and money on people like us?
Rabbi: Right! And then they say that this music is in demand. My point is that if the record companies do not promote any other kind of music, and people are forced to hear the same thing again and again, and we are forced to make the same kind of music, then our existence and music will become monochromatic. I really don’t understand – why do we need to have an image to sell our music? It’s no longer just how good a singer you are. It’s all about how good your music video is or how good you look.
Palash: Absolutely. You know, we grew up on different sounds. Unfortunately, the next generation will have nothing to look back at. The music that is being promoted today has very little shelf life.
Brunch: Could this be a problem of talent?
Palash:I don’t think so. There is enough and more talent in this country. We just don’t nurture it anymore.
Rabbi: I may agree with you Palash, but I also feel that we have started defining talent in very narrow terms. It has to be Bollywood.
Palash: (Takes a sip from his mocktail) Reality shows are doing a good job of finding talent.
Rabbi: But Palash, where do the winners of these shows figure? After the show, they disappear.
Palash: But that’s the problem. In spite of their talent, there is no one to promote them. The record companies don’t do it. In fact, every company has started this weird thing of a contract where the singer gets 30 or 40 per cent of the profit and the company takes the rest. Can you believe it, even a singer like Aatif Aslam is under such a contract? Even a band like Strings is forced to have John Abraham in their music video to sell their music. Companies dictate how long the song should be, how the video should look. It’s getting more and more insane.
Rabbi: When all that music channels want to do is sell obnoxious programmes like Roadies, Splitsvilla etc, where is the space for music?
Palash: Oh my God! Don’t even start me on that. I am appalled at the programmes. I don’t understand what’s with kids nowadays. Do they have no sense at all? Where are we going wrong? The way they swear, cheat and are ready to kill, I am stunned.
Rabbi: The worst kind of sadism, masochism is being used to make money.
Brunch: What about plagiarism?
Rabbi: It’s a very thin line. And it’s very difficult to decide where it’s inspiration and where it’s plagiarism. I think it’s better to give credit to your source.
Palash: I couldn’t agree more. We all have our inspirations. When we listen to different pieces of music, we are bound to pick up one note or another, consciously or unconsciously. As long as it’s just a note, it’s fine. But if you pick up a complete tune, then it’s only right to give due credit.
Rabbi: See, we are sitting here and I am constantly hearing Buena Vista Social Club which is playing in the background (pointing to QBA’s music system). Maybe subconsciously, I end up picking a stray note. So it just happens.
Palash: I think more than the issue being of right and wrong, it’s about how much. Let’s take the example of Pritam. He’s always in the centre of a raging controversy about plagiarism. Tell me, how can a man who does 10-12 films and 60-70 songs a year keep making something out of this world all the time? I don’t justify it. But it’s human. But yes, if he gives credit, maybe he wouldn’t be questioned at all.
Brunch: Bollywood seems to be the only option. Is that why both of you have tried your hand at it?
Rabbi: I just tried it. But I didn’t like it. Call me a Hindi film pseud if you want. But Bollywood films don’t talk to me. I don’t understand them or their music.
Palash:I don’t agree with you. I am not against Bollywood. I think it’s just another form of creativity. I feel music is for entertainment and so are films. We need to enjoy it.
Rabbi: I feel people go into films only for two reasons, creativity or money. I didn’t get either. I feel the difference between non film and film music is like French and Hollywood cinema. The former is better but the latter is more popular. So maybe this is how it will be till we figure out another way of selling ourselves.
Palash: This man is governed by his heart (smiles indulgently at Rabbi). He is angry with the system.
Rabbi: But the system is faulty.
Palash: We’ll change it for the better!