From ragas to riches
It is not just recently that Indian music has grown in popularity in the western world. The British not only brought back the tradition of tea drinking from India but also an appreciation of the arts. More recently, in the last century, the Beatles, especially George Harrison who changed his faith to Hinduism, went through an Indian chapter, inspired by Ravi Shankar in their pop career where they experimented with fusing Indian music with their own inimitable style.
Bollywood films too have gained popularity in Britain and within the last couple of decades spanking new cinemas dedicated just to showing Indian films have popped up all over the place. Although most Indian films shown are in Hindi and attended largely by the British Asians, the new wave of Indo-British films set off by "Bhaji on the Beach" , "My Beautiful Launderette" and "East is East" and more recently "Monsoon Wedding" and "Bend it like Beckham" have caught the imagination of the general public and have proven to be immensely popular.
As far as music is concerned, whilst it has been a slow progression, Indian music has reached high popularity status in the last couple of decades with bands like Asian Dub Foundation to Bhangra beats in the clubs and musicians like Nitin Sawhney and their albums are bought as widely by British Asians as any other group.
The reason I wanted to say a word on the subject of the upsurge of Indian culture in Britain is because I sincerely hope that Indian Classical music, one of the most ancient, intricate and pleasurable of all, yet the least heard and mysterious of all, grabs the British ear. Indian classical music is infrequently heard in Britain and only a handful of people go to live performances put up at the South Bank and a small number of other venues. This is the reason I was excited to see the arrival of Antara, a multimedia interactive guide to Indian Classical music, the launch of which will be celebrated at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair, London on Thursday 18th September 2003.
CD ROMs have recently stormed the market offering the listener a feast of sensory fulfilment. Antara in Hindi literally means "part of a song/music in which the refrain is not included". This will of course become apparent once you move through the CD ROM. Antara is a CD, a video, a game consul and a book, all organized into a well thought out disc which we insert into the CD ROM drive of our computers. And hey presto, hours of fun and enlightenment! Antara is simple to use and guides the user through its multifaceted layout with ease. There are many keys and icons on the aesthetically pleasing interface, which are imbedded in original miniature paintings of India. Though relatively simple to find, it is easy to miss some of the icons so be sure to move your mouse around the whole of the screen so as not to overlook any!
When first inserted, the CD ROM will load and gives the user a choice between listening to the music or exploring the video, games and commentary section of the CD ROM. Excited, I wanted to explore the CD ROM first and it is surprisingly simple to navigate around and contains much useful information for a novice. Antara is designed for listeners who have none to very little knowledge of Indian classical music however in my opinion would also be useful for seasoned listeners who want to learn the background and history of the evolution of Indian classical music and its main exponents from centuries ago until modern times.
The artistes engaged in this guide, the likes of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Shruti Sadolikar - masters in their own art, patently make the CD ROM worth buying. In the music section one can hear both vocal and instrumental music as well as morning and afternoon to evening and night ragas, each one is clearly labelled and is effortlessly chosen by clicking on the selection. My slight and only real criticism would be that the two aspects i.e. the music and the interactive section do not necessarily complement each other. By that I mean the interactive section, informative as it is, does not talk about or correlate with the music section.
As there are three hours worth of video and same again for music and no definite sequence to either, it is left to the user to glide at their own pace. There are simple keys to rewind, forward or pause or skip a session. The commentary is alternated by a man and a woman's voice, both clear speakers. The video, the stills and the sketches complement the commentary and give a visual contribution. Many simple sketches are used to depict ancient rituals and traditions which can be vague but nevertheless functional.
If you don't know your raga from your tabla from your pakhawaj and your bansuri from your shehnai, this guide is definitely for you. It brings together the evolution of classical Indian music, sets the background to the history and presents a module for novices to practiced listeners. Besides the interactive guide, it is also a great collection of some first-rate music. In compiling and bringing together this guide Girish Muzumdar, the executive producer of Antara has done a great service to Indian classical music.
For a taste of Antara click on www.e-antara.com where you can also order a copy of the CD ROM for 20 Euros (the company is based in France and the CD ROM is also available in French) or around £15 with an additional shipping charge of 5 Euros or around £3.50.