Recently, there was a discussion at the Chennai International Centre on “inclusive music,” the panel consisting of Gopalkrishna Gandhi and T.M. Krishna. The discussion was quite topical because it was for his efforts at making Carnatic music ‘more inclusive’ that Krishna is supposed to have received the Magsaysay Award.
Any talk about inclusiveness implies the presence of certain exclusiveness. If so, what does Carnatic music exclude at present? Does exclusiveness refer to the content of the music (musicological and lyrical), its genre, or the structure and policies of the music organisation?
If exclusiveness is unjustly discriminatory, it, of course, needs to be straight way condemned and, if possible, eliminated.
Classicality implies adhering to certain rules and this automatically involves a certain exclusivity. If exclusiveness is based on essential quality criteria substantive to the character of the activity in question, then it is something not to be diluted if quality and the essential nature of the activity are to be preserved.
Exclusiveness essentially means restricting access. So where it is unjustified, the need is to improve the access to the activity without diluting quality-based exclusiveness. Again, access to whom or what?
In music, it could be access to certain sections of society, certain genres of music or certain languages or dialects. Let us take them one by one and discuss in the context of Carnatic music.
Whom does Carnatic music exclude at present? It is a matter of reality that the Carnatic music scene today is dominated by a certain community. The exclusion of other communities is not total but significant.
Whether this is due to socio-cultural factors or a conscious, conspiratorial exclusion of certain sections by the dominant community is difficult to prove one way or the other. If the quality of music is the only criterion being observed fairly and impartially and this results in one community dominating, then the phenomenon is due to socio-cultural factors and not any mala fide on the part of the dominant community.
One way to set this right is to try and attract children of other communities to Carnatic music by creating easy and widespread access to it and hoping that in due course a sufficient number of them would come to the top.
The other way is to follow the reservation model as in government – a certain number of musicians from other communities are deliberately pushed up into the organising and performing slots along with musicians from the dominant community without being too squeamish about quality. Most will agree that this remedy is worse than the disease.
Are languages other than Telugu and Sanskrit , and other dialects in vogue being largely excluded in Carnatic music? Historically, a lyrical foundation of such high musical quality has been laid by the Trinity in Telugu and Sanskrit that its place would remain unshakeable and irreplaceable whatever other languages are now brought in .
Quite a few beautiful Tamil and secular compositions do exist and are in vogue even now but they can only supplement and not supplant those of the Trinity.
What about dialects being used to compose Carnatic music? While they can, in theory, be included to compose, most will agree that it is unlikely to enhance the beauty of the compositions.
Even in communities where folk songs are being sung in local dialects, they are enjoyed more because of the meaning of the song than because of the beauty of the lyric.
Is inclusiveness as, or more, important than the quality and character of music? Carnatic music, as a genre, has certain traditional, well-established distinguishing qualities. Should these be changed just to appear to be more inclusive?
Should we introduce some elements of folk songs just to make Carnatic music appear more inclusive? Should every genre include some elements of other genres just to make it appear inclusive? Should not the uniqueness of any genre be preserved, or should every genre be a conglomeration of many genres?
Other genres and dialects can surely be encouraged independently without using Carnatic music as a peg or a platform. It is only when exclusion is unjust and not merit-based that we should talk of inclusiveness.
Krishna mentioned an incident in which a rasika in the audience who was smoking a beedi asked him to sing Khambodi and said that this made his audience more inclusive.
I do not know whether, if another rasika, sipping whiskey, had asked Krishna to sing Kalyani, Krishna would have considered the audience even more inclusive!