Indian rock

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A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735.jpg
A Lady Playing the Tanpura, c. 1735 (Rajasthan)


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Indian rock is a music genre in India that incorporates elements of Indian music with rock music, and is often topically India-centric. While India is more often known for its (northern and southern) classical music, filmi, Bollywood music, Indi-pop, and Bhangra, the Indian rock scene has also produced numerous bands and artists.

Early history

India, in the 1950s and 1960s, had a record industry in the Gramophone Company of India (an RCA/HMV/EMI subsidiary), and LPs, EPs, and 45rpm records were freely available, including those of rock and roll acts from the US and Britain, but also of contemporary pioneering Indian rock bands. The president of the firm, Bhaskar Menon (who later became the President of Capitol Records in the United States) was the leading promoter of Western pop music in India. Later in 1970, Polydor, the German Label, began an India label distributing rock music.

Of these mid-1960s to early 70s beat groups, as they was then termed, one of the most notable were the Mystiks from Bombay, the Beat-X from Madras, and the Flintstone from Calcutta, who composed and played both early British Invasion influenced songs, and post-Sgt. Pepper hard rock. During this period from Delhi there were The Thunderbirds (featuring singer Ashwani Bali), and WAFWOT (also with Ashwani on vocals, with organist Mark Spevak, from the U.S.) These bands played regularly on the Indian university and college music circuits, and some had successful EP and LP releases. Also notable from this period (1964–1970) was the female R&B singer, Usha Iyer, now Usha Uthup, who had successful covers of "Jambalaya" and The Kingston Trio song, "Greenback Dollar". A notable compilation LP titled "Simla Beat '70" was released during this period, from a contest of the same name. The winning bands recorded their versions of Western hard rock of the time. This tradition of covering Western rock would continue until the 1980s when it was more common to compose original songs.

The rock n' roll scene was also closely followed by Junior Statesman (or JS), a magazine started in 1965 contemporaneously with Rolling Stone magazine in the US and NME in the UK.

Like Western rock musicians at the time, Indian musicians also began fusing rock with traditional Indian music from the mid-1960s onwards. Many of these songs were often filmi songs produced for popular Bollywood films, which often overshadowed the country's independent rock scene. Some of the more well known early rock songs (including styles such as funk rock, pop rock, psychedelic rock, raga rock, and soft rock) from Bollywood films include Mohammed Rafi's "Jaan Pehechan Ho" in Gumnaam (1965), Kishore Kumar's "O Saathi Re" in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), and Asha Bhosle songs such as "Dum Maro Dum" in Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), "Ae Naujawan Hai Sab" in Apradh (1972), and "Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Diwana" in Don (1978).

Indian influence on Western music

In the 1960s, renowned Western acts such as The Yardbirds, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Byrds were notably influenced by Indian classical music as a way of reinforcing the psychedelia in their music. While jazz musicians, notably John Coltrane, had ventured into Indian music and spiritualism (see Indo jazz, Sitar in jazz, and Jazz in India), the influence of Indian classical music on 1960s rock began in earnest with George Harrison's Ravi Shankar inspired raga rock song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" in 1965 and The Beatles' very public sojourn with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh in 1968, following the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Raga rock led to the development of psychedelic rock, which in turn laid the foundations for heavy metal music.

The Indian rock scene would later give rise to one of the world's most famous rock stars, Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara. One of his formative musical influences was the Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar.[1] He began his music career as a teenager in Bombay with the rock band, The Hectics, which was founded in 1958 and often performed cover versions of Western rock and roll artists such as Little Richard and Cliff Richard.[2] After leaving the band in 1962, he moved to England, where he later led the rock band Queen (formed in 1971), which went on to become one of the world's most famous rock bands.

The Indian rock scene also gave rise to one of the pioneers of disco music, Biddu,[3][4] who originally began his career in an Indian rock band called The Trojans. It was India's first English-speaking band,[5] and found success producing cover versions of The Beatles,[6] The Rolling Stones,[7] Trini Lopez, and other Western hits of the day, in the clubs of Bangalore, Calcutta, and Bombay. After the band broke up, he moved in 1967 to England, where he later found breakthrough success after producing "Kung Fu Fighting" for Carl Douglas.

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