My conversation with college or school students in Delhi always takes an interesting turn if the topic veers to Korean pop. Eyes light up and my thin knowledge of the genre gets soon exposed, but I come away richer dipping into their massive enthusiasm. One sometimes feels the Asian continent will possibly come closer emotionally on the music waves that the internet has so helpfully set up. India, particularly, has a lot to cheer in the process.
One is no expert, so what follows is a highly impressionistic account of how Asia has just begun to scratch the surface of its cultural artefacts to share with each other. Korean pop or K Pop is the grandest of the lot, but there is no doubt going to be plenty more to share, soon. In fact there are collectors of K Pop artefacts in India who assure me that the demand is shooting up every month. One thing that the pandemic did was to offer a massive space for everyone to tap into cyberspace, and the discovery was music.
Sri Lanka is in financial trouble, but who hasn’t swayed to Manike Mage Hithe, whether in India or elsewhere. The music has struck the right notes, with so many cover versions already in play. In all these genres from Korea to India’s Bhangra, the bewildering variety of music from all varieties of India’s films and Sri Lanka, the common refrain is, well, a common refrain. And mind you the language differences are just not surfacing as any irritants, at all. The mood has caught on.
This is a transformation that now seems so obvious, was waiting to happen. A true Asian Billboard 100 may still be some way off, but it has not stopped the party from getting more and more diverse.
It is not surprising. In Kabul, in early 2000s, once Taliban 1.0 disappeared beyond the Hindu Kush mountains, the first set of shops to spring up all over the city were those selling cassettes of Hindi film music. Medicine shops were next, a sign of the scale of deprivations of the local population. The entire city literally came alive to the crazy melange of music from the 70s hits of RD Burmans to the latest Shah Rukh Khan numbers. Hindi film music has been one of the most durable exports of India across West Asia to as far as Morocco in West Africa. Every key country, it seemed, had its own set of music and heart throb from India to cheer and provocations about personal favourites could easily trigger hard fights. At one stage around 2010, it did seem that Indian films would cotton on to the larger Asian narrative with films like Bombay to Bangkok, Mission Istaanbul and Chandni Chowk to China.
That it did not happen, with a long hiatus in the next decade has provided the gap where the other musical journeys like that of Korea, seem to have discovered their space. No doubt, K Pop has a massive fan following in Europe and USA, but the numbers in Asia could soon rival that.
The model is also giving ideas to musical groups and entrepreneurs in Asia. Since all these countries croon or jive to similar sets of musical patterns or at least ones that each seem to find a resonance with, it is fairly certain that the trends will catch on. India, with its vast population, and a highly diverse musical taste will possibly be one of the significant centres of experiments in this musical journey. The advantage this continent enjoys is its far younger population base than most other parts of the world. Widely different languages or culture was thought to be an insurmountable barrier, but those differences are rapidly melting.
Significantly the political leadership in many countries do not mind this heady mingling of musical patterns. Films on the other hand have not had it easy, while comedy shows with their easy irreverent styles have an obvious challenge. The musical genres have also been careful not to tip on to local sensibilities. We do not know, for instance, if these musical soirées could, for instance, permeate the bamboo curtain of Beijing.
But those are still some way off. What is not off is the possibilities that OTT platforms and every other entrepreneur are keeping a sharp look out for. The trends to make a pan Asian music market are beating a faster tempo. The music is on.