Pt. Ravi Shankar’s success at Monterey Pop Festival announced the arrival of Indian music on the global stage.
For the longest time, the West thought of India as the land of snakes, snakecharmers and elephants. Of deep jungles and mystics - notions that were brought out in books like Jungle Book and movies like Octopussy.
Today, we are known for our contribution to Information Technology, and the vivid colours and sounds of our festivals and films. However, look past the IT boom, and you’ll find Indians making a splash in a completely different field - singing.
Pt. Ravi Shankar’s popularity in the West was boosted by his partnership with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Image source: Popmatters.com
Ever since Pundit Ravi Shankar took his sitar to the Monterey Pop Festival, the world has stood up and taken notice of Indian music. Freddie Mercury, the frontman of Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents and spent a part of his childhood in India before moving to the UK. He even counted Lata Mangeshkar as one of his early musical influences before he taught the world to rock n roll. With a vocal range that belongs to the gods, Freddie Mercury is often credited to have performed the greatest live performance in the history of rock music. He is also consistently ranked as the greatest vocalist in the history of rock music.
The first international rockstar. Image source: HDWallpaper.com
Among the more recent artists who are making a splash on the international music scene are Vidya Vox, Divine, Superwoman, Jonita Gandhi.
First noticed in a Shankar Tucker video as a duo - Vidya and Vandana - the Iyer sisters went viral in the early days of YouTube virality. Since then, Vidya Iyer adopted the name Vidya Vox and has traveled the world with her unique brand of East meets West. Her mashups on YouTube have millions of views, and she’s a regular at YouTube Fan Fests here in India. Not only does she bring in a nuanced mix of Indian classical and international pop chartbusters, Vidya Vox’s videos are also works of art.
Vidya Vox successfully fuses Indian music with electronic and hip hop. Image source: YouTube.com
In every way a truly raags to riches story, Divine (Vivian Fernandes) has been a part of Mumbai’s underground rap scene since 2011, but it was only after he switched to rhyming in Hindi that the tides turned. He raps about life in a chawl, but doesn’t make it a voyeuristic Slumdog Millionaire-ish soap opera. His language, rhymes and the indie look of his videos are unlike the usual rapper vodka and girl videos. Divine has collaborated with the best in the business, including Nucleya and Amit Trivedi, apart from being featured in BBC Asian Network. He also tours the world and has been collaborating with biggies across genres and nations.
Lily Singh aka 'Superwoman' used her Indian roots to become a YouTube celeb. Image source: rappler.com
Superwoman (Lily Singh) is not technically a singer, but any list of Indian Internet celebrities would be incomplete without the mention of this livewire. In case you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve have heard of this internet sensation with 13 million subscribers, ranked 10th in highest earning artists on YouTube, and No.1 by Forbes Top Influencers in ‘Entertainment’. Lily Singh has since featured in movies, created rap tracks, and even written an international bestselling book. Her greatest contribution though, is the inspiration she provides for millions of young women across the world who suffer from identity-crisis, mental health issues, and (most importantly) boredom!!
Jonita Singh has performed with the best in the business. Image source: YouTube.com
If you live in Delhi, chances are you’ve come across Jonita Gandhi’s mellifluous voice. Jonita was born in Delhi, but shifted to Canada with her family at the age of seven. She pursued higher studies, but music was always a leitmotif in her life. She started posting covers on YouTube with her brother Akash Gandhi, and things began to look up. Today, Jonita records tracks with the biggest names in Indian music, and you’ll find her in the biggest albums every year. She also tours with the best - from AR Rahman to Amit Trivedi to Sonu Nigam.
But the latest addition to the list of global Indian performers is a unique space – from the land of opportunity, the biggest show on earth - American Idol.
American Idol is easily the most popular TV show in the world. Telecast in over 100 countries, American Idol is the show that every other show idolizes. Before making a splash on American Idol, Indian kids were only known for acing Spelling Bee contests.
Indians are finally going beyond ‘Spelling Bee’. Image source: USAToday.com
However, in the last few years, there have been a number of Indian contestants who have won the hearts of judges and audiences worldwide.
In this year’s edition, Alyssa Raghu won over judge Katy Perry, who went on to call Alyssa her ‘hero’. Raised by her father, Alyssa’s heart-warming journey on American Idol can be seen on Zee Café, weeknights at 9. Similarly, Sonika Vaid made it to the finals in last year’s edition. Sanjaya Malakar was a finalist in the sixth season, and went on to feature in other reality shows as well. Anoop Desai finished sixth in the eighth season of the record-breaking show.
Sanjay Malakar, first Indian to make it to the American Idol final. Image source: nydailynews.com
The most heartening aspect of the contestants is that they do not harp on their Indian origins, or use them as a gimmick (as seen in Hollywood films and WWE). These are young kids who are firmly entrenched in the pop culture of the US, and who made it far in life based on their talent alone.
The dominance of Indian singers in American Idol is a reflection of the global, democratic nature of fame. These are mostly second generation Indian kids who have shaped their futures by themselves. Instead of being on the fringes like typical Diaspora, the Indian community in the US has stood up and carved a gigantic, idli-shaped niche for itself.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: Indiawest.com