Essay by Experimenter Leah:
Nestled in the winding side streets of Harajuku in the humid summer haze of early July of 2016, I had an epiphany that has haunted me ever since. I attempted to make small talk with local high school students over okonomiyaki and was failing miserably, until another American student cut in to break the silence. “So, what kind of music do you listen to?” The following reply led to an unsettling revelation. She opened her mouth to speak, but remained mute and paused for a moment before speaking. “I don’t think you would know any of the singers, they’re Japanese”, she regretfully stated, awkwardly chuckling before adding that she listens to Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber from time to time. I smiled and changed the the subject for the duration of the meal. Later, I went on a walk throughout the neighborhood with a few of my peers. I began to joke about our previous conversation and complained about the subpar music tastes of the Japanese students we spoke to. Another student recognized the ignorance of my comment and suggested an entirely logical idea my mind never thought to entertain; what if each of these girls had their own unique and equally diverse taste in music that could not be expressed to a couple of Americans who have no exposure to foreign artists? What if an unsettling eurocentric agenda accounted for the disproportionate popularity of eastern music? From that moment on, I have been looking for a clear answer, to no avail. A year later, I began to investigate the question once more in a contrasting country, where Bollywood plays a crucial role in an incomparable culture; one of contradictions, juxtaposition, inequality, spirituality and an indescribable beauty that unremittingly draws me in time and time again.
In the initial portion of my research, I swiftly grew frustrated, as I was not receiving the answers I was set out to attain through brief interviews with local pedestrians. I came to the conclusion that to obtain the most concise data possible, it was necessary to modify the question. I recommenced the research, inquiring my interviewees instead about their favorite American, Indian or Tibetan artists. The demographics of my investigation were ethnically diverse, but the average age range remained within the 18-30 year old margin. A few patterns became apparent early throughout the questionnaire, the first of which was a unanimous inability for westerners to identify a single Indian musician. Additionally, not one Tibetan or Indian possessed a deficit in naming a multitude of western artists. From this data, it is blatant that there is a unidentifiable force resulting in the aforementioned disparity of Indian music in the West, but the argument is incomplete. I still couldn’t explain the cause of this phenomenon, and out of the dozens of individuals I queried, only one had their own theory. The owner of a nearby secondhand shop, a 23 year old from Seoul, strongly believed that it is simply resulting from the language barrier. While I agreed, I couldn’t stop searching here. This is a complex question, and therefore requires a multi dimensional answer beyond his suggestion. I then turned to the internet and my own musical knowledge to form a justifiable conclusion.
All in all, I was able to successfully justify the notion that American musicians have and still disproportionately influence Indian culture. Still, I felt as if my argument was fragmentary and insufficient. I was missing the answer to the overarching question: why? After performing an in depth research of the origins of this occurrence, I have a general understanding of the causes, which I then divided into three key features. The initial factor is westernization, which refers to the widespread popularity of western beats, melodies, and singing styles. Very few Indian songs today stay un-westernized, which impacts the industry as a whole. Secondly is the lack of diversity regarding the subject matter and style of mainstream Indian music. This is due to the fact that the vast majority comes from Bollywood films, and are often involved with love and fantasy scenes that are unappealing to a wider global audience. Finally, the microtonal musical style found in India and the Middle East, don’t spread to many countries that don’t have a microtonal tradition. As beautiful as Indian songs are, they simply do not fit the mold of traditional pop songs. They lack the catchy beats of Western pop, so even without the language barriers it would be targeting a specific audience. Ultimately, however you stand on the issue, it is indisputably apparent that modern society, has played a silent role in western impact in Asia, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it in our daily lives.