If there is one thing India is known for, it is her rich culture and traditions. Colourful fashion, dance, food, and captivating entertainment industry. A case in point is Bollywood, which has risen to become a global phenomenon. In fact, Bollywood has, over the years, overshadowed other aspects of India’s film and music scenes which are as dynamic as the people. Beside Bollywood is cricket; another huge part of the Indian culture.
However, with regional and global influences, Indian society is opening up to new methods and genres. One of these is independent Indie music. In the last two decades, this exciting genre with traces of pop and the contemporary flavour is fast making inroads into the music scene and creating a niche and identity for itself. For many, this is more of a comeback. Before the big Bollywood hijack of the 1990s, there was a flourishing Indie music industry. Names like Apache Indians, Lucky Ali and Alisha Chinnoy all come to mind.
Of late one of the Indie artists, perhaps topping the list, is Prateek Kuhad. Prateek started from a YouTube video to playing at Sofar Sounds NYC to now touring the globe. He recently performed for Audiotree, one of the most popular Indie music labels in the United States. With the rising popularity of OTT platforms such as Netflix India, Amazon Prime, ZEE5 and more, the independent movie industry has received the much-needed boost. Spotify too promotes Indie musicians: Chai Met Toast, Ritviz, Parekh and Singh, Raghav Meattle, Peter Cat Recording Co., and Spud In The Box, to name a few.
The current resurgence may not be the bang we all desire, but it presents a flicker of hope. Independent music is emerging once more, pushing the limits and finding a voice. More encouraging is the rise of female independent artistes who are also finding their voice.
One artist that has won my heart in recent time is Tanmaya Bhatnagar. At 27, her songs take you back to the good days, so much so that legendary musician A.R Rahman is paying attention too.
Tanmaya is known for many things. Many people call her the lady with many caps. She is a singer-songwriter, composer, and graphics designer. She also plays several musical instruments like the guitar and the ukulele. And just when you think she’s the Jane of many trades, we can go on to talk about her other jobs as a communications designer and a model. All of these give a reflection of someone who is truly hardworking, focused and disciplined. Indeed, Tanmaya is all of these and more.
Growing up around a musical mother played a huge part in her love for music. Her mother would sing, play the guitar and write poetry. This inspired the young Tanmaya in no small measure. Whenever her mother sang, nothing else mattered in the world. As she grew older, music became not just an escape and a passion, but a powerful means of expression for her. As we have heard her say several times, music gives her the platform to say what she needs to say without the fear of being vulnerable, strong or lonely.
Tanmaya’s songs are usually a product of powerful emotions wrapped in inspiring words and melody. Even for her, music helps process feelings, take off the weight of everyday life and give a voice. The first time I heard her debut song, ‘Kya Tum Naraaz Ho’, I could literally feel the pain and burden she bore. But beyond her, the ‘folk’ song speaks to millions of other people suffering the same fate. As a reserved person, that song was the only channel to tell her story while she was in an abusive relationship.
This is what music means to her. Every song is a story; one that reverberates not just the memory she keeps, but the very fabric of society, the everyday experiences and the different emotions that make us human. ‘I Can’t Go Back To Sleep’ is another song that comes from a place of deep emotions. She chuckled when asked about it, saying “I dreamt of this melody one night and wrote descriptively about the dream which came in form of a song. But the song speaks for itself.”
One important attribute of Tanmaya that strikes is the fact that she can’t be boxed. She manages to maintain her melancholic style even when she shows up the song ‘Kya Yeh Tumhe Pata Hai’ in the Bollywood flick ‘Comedy Couple’ in a different light. How easily she eases into that emotion is a delight to marvel at.
For independent artists like Tanmaya, it can be really tough in our country. You’ll often feel like a small fish in the Indian Ocean, swimming for survival among voracious sharks. But she has a secret. “To get your voice heard, it gets tough sometimes… but you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re in it purely for the music. It is not about popularity or anything superficial”. But things are better than they were a decade ago. The independent music scene is gradually getting the respect and recognition it deserves.
There’s a long way to go still. When Tanmaya shared her views on the subject, she said, “I feel like we’re still in muddy waters, and people, organisations and brands could treat artistes better with respect by paying them for their time and work. Collaborations are another way most artistes are being exploited, and it is very unfair to call that support.”
While the journey has been a mixture of emotions, there’s a whole lot she has planned out for the future, including an EP she’s working on. She continues to draw inspiration from legends and singers alike. Some of them include Elliot Smith, Lucy Rose, Justin Vernon, Billie Marten, Jackson Frank, and more recently Mac Miller.
The #ihearyou Project founded by Tanmaya is one that is reaching out to people with schizophrenia. Her mission with the project is to create a support system for families and friends who have loved ones affected by this condition. Her website (tanmayabhatnagar.com) is filled with information about this journey and how her father has been a strong pillar in the family.
As we continue to revel in the beauty of her songs, I hope we make room for the surprises she has ahead for us, including an EP with about five songs in both English and Hindi. For many other independent artistes like Tanmaya, the goal is to keep pushing until the industry fully matures and they begin to reap the fruits of their labour.