Anyone who has been exposed to Bollywood culture could argue that contemporary mainstream Indian artists produce the same type of music with little experimentation — either catchy feel-good pop tunes or cliche love songs.
The present stature of Bollywood exists under the revolutionization of Western culture, especially pop music. For example, Bollywood music in the 1980s used traditional Indian instruments such as sitars and tabla, but songs from the past decade are based on sounds produced by banjo, guitar and other Western instruments.
Likewise, many artists stray away from mainstream Bollywood and creatively combine cultural influences from the West with Indian pop music. There is a world full of artists and passionate listeners who find solace in other genres of Indian music but do not receive enough exposure. Dive into some of the best known artists outside of Bollywood movies.
Prateek Kuhad: Singer-songwriter
Prateek Kuhad is one of the most celebrated artists in India, working primarily with a fusion of Indian pop and folk music in both English and Hindi. Famous for his feature in former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2019” list, Kuhad started the revolution of singer-songwriters in India and encouraged musicians to stray away from conventional Bollywood music. During his time at New York University, he drew inspiration from artists like Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan. His album “cold/mess” (2018) is a collection of romantic ballads accompanied by the rich composition of acoustic guitar. The album sounds like the color blue because of its themes of loss, regret and longing. The songs “cold/mess” and “with you/for you” are my personal favorites and essential listens. They provide a warm feeling of what love looks like and how people remember past relationships after they are over. Modern art rarely features the emotional abundance found in these songs. Other prominent similar-sounding Indie folk musicians include singer-songwriter Anuv Jain and indie-folk alternative band When Chai Met Toast.
Sanam: Pop rock band
One of my favorite boy bands, Sanam, makes covers of Bollywood songs from the 1960s and ’70s, including “Taarif Karoon” and “Pehla Nasha.” Indians usually refer to the ’60s and the ’70s as the golden era of music. The lyrics explore positive themes of hope, falling in love and self-discovery. A touch of jazz and pop enhanced the songs, making it difficult to resist vibing and dancing to the captivating beats. Doing justice to the original song in a remake can be tricky, but Sanam only improves the classics while flooding the listeners with a sense of nostalgia. The four members have upgraded their amateur music skills by absorbing music from Western influences such as Keith Urban and Bryan Adams. Sanam is the epitome of redefined Bollywood songs, and their experimentation with multiple genres makes their songs universally appealing.
Bloodywood: Heavy metal band
An emerging folk metal band, Bloodywood combines instruments including metal guitars, flutes, sitars and dhols in their fusion pieces. They sing uplifting songs about self-empowerment and social issues including inequality, drawing inspiration from their environment. Their music reflects influence from bands such as Linkin Park, featuring rap verses blending into symphonic vocals. Furthermore, Bloodywood utilizes electronic instruments such as synthesizers, a signature element of Linkin Park’s music. Their aggressive and headbanging riffs will inject energy into listeners’ bodies, and the catchy hooks stay in audiences’ minds. I highly recommend Bloodywood for all heavy metal fans, for their unique compositions with Indian instruments differentiate them from most artists.
DIVINE: Indian rapper
DIVINE is a rapper from India with songs consisting of classical and contemporary hip-hop, catchy bass lines and rhyming lyrics. His music is hard-hitting, reflecting the difficulty in the busy streets of Mumbai, India and the pain of the working class. Inspired by the likes of Nas and Eminem, DIVINE excels in talking about his life in the songs as a form of autobiography. His rise to success inspired the film “Gully Boy” (2019), which showcases his struggles while growing up in the slums, explores the underground hip-hop scene and contextualizes how he makes his music. The blockbuster went on to win 13 awards, the most of all time for a single film in a year, at India’s most prestigious film festival, the Filmfare Awards. One of my favorite artists, DIVINE produced a timeless soundtrack for “Gully Boy,” which is extremely popular throughout India.
Penn Masala: A cappella group
Penn Masala is a student organization at the University of Pennsylvania with an evolving membership of veterans and new admits. The world’s first South Asian a cappella group, Penn Masala produces covers of Bollywood songs as well as their own mashups. Some of them have combined international hits like Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” with Bollywood hits like Armaan Malik’s “Sau Aasmaan” and Vishal Dadlani’s “Desi Girl.” The group’s use of techniques from diverse cultures, such as the incorporation of Western harmonies into Bollywood songs, makes their music a fusion of different traditions. They have released 12 albums and have performed at big stages like the White House and Indian film festivals. Penn Masala breaks the notion of recognized music forms by creating their authentic art. Their song “Nashe si Chadh Gayi/Hymn for the Weekend” contains a heightened sense of energy and lyrics for a perfect mashup.
People worldwide engage with music daily, whether rock, folk, pop or rap. Hence, fusion music should be somewhat familiar for most people. Listening to fusion artists inculcates a sense of diversity and understanding of foreign cultures. Taking a broad look at the music industry, we see that artists are popularizing their songs beyond their home nations by bridging language barriers and implementing foreign styles. Their songs are unique, and releasing original works of art based on classic harmonies has encouraged the upcoming generation to continue making art they like. This revolution is leading us into a new era of Bollywood and highlighting deserving talent.
Yashonandan Kakrania (he/him, 26B) is from Kolkata, India. He is pursuing a dual degree in BBA and MSBA. He is a huge film enthusiast. Outside the Wheel, he is a SA in Dobbs Hall, Board member of Hindu Student Association, and a part of different business clubs.