Why can’t music be about music??Why is the Indian industry so hostile to women? We find out
Faustina E Johnson
Angry droplets of sweat drip down her face onto the vibrating snare. She barely notices as her hands move in accelerated rhythm across the Pearl kit. Her face lifts in concentration, the audience is in uproar. This is Adina Kumar, drummer, at her musical best. She is part of a ridiculously small group of professional female musicians in India.
Where is our Joan Jett, our Madonna, our Patti Smith? Let’s do a headcount. Shruti Haasan, Aditi Singh Sharma of Groove Adda, Shibani Kashyap of Sojourne and Kavita Seth of Karwaan. And, Anushka Manchanda, Jayashree Singh, Shilpa Rao and Sona Mohapatra. And then there was the short lived Viva, an all girls band, Dmajor, and…Wait. That’s the lot. Just a handful of successful female musicians in India.
Why is the industry so hostile to women? (unless you’re a veena-wielding classical Donna, of course) Why is this typical to our country?Any declaration of intent to join a band would only waste hours arguing with the folks. “What would the neighbours say?”. “You’ll ward off the suitors,”are general concerns. What concerns me is the general attitude Indians display towards a girl in a band. The outfit is somehow construed as suggestive, the behaviour vulgar, the performance mediocre. The only kind of encouragement they are likely to receive would be from sex-starved admirers (translate to stalkers), devoted family and bedazzled friends.
Moreover, a woman who stays out late without a male escort is inevitably seen as promiscuous. The husbands have numerous issues about their wives traipsing off to tour with men, the fathers are ready to overlook their daughters’ talent if display would mean late nights at “bars”. Why can’t music be about the music?This attitude seems to come largely from stereotypical ideas about the music in the West that have been chiselled into the Indian psyche by a dramatic media.
Flora Sigsimondi’s The Runaways, while attempting realism, only stuck in our minds for the wrong reasons — a garter clad Dakota Fanning, the hazy kiss between Dakota and Kristen which had us straining to catch the action. Parents are terrified of sending their girl on a one way ticket into the sinful land of sex and drugs. The only ‘safe’ genre today is Gospel.The male-dominated industry does not allow female performers to be taken seriously.
The pressure can be psychologically crippling. “Since I am the sole female member of the band, I am often forced to play only what the rest ask me to,” Adina says. “Initially, I faced negativity from a lot of male musicians, who kept reminding me how difficult it would be for me to get in, being a woman,” Rachel Ankita, lead singer of Stratus, tells us. “Now that I’m here, I hear a lot of ‘she only got this far because she’s a girl’ around me.” Isn’t that comically ironic?
“The number of men and women buying guitars and drums is almost equal,” says Venkatesh T, shop assistant at Khords. Clearly, there is no dearth of interest.The gap only exists when it comes to execution. Every human fears rejection. The number of successful women in the industry would make budding female musicians rethink their options. “I had to show my parents that I could support myself doing what I love best, before they accepted me as a musician,” Rachel recalls.
There is also the question of skill. How good are they really? Hyderabad is saturated with cover bands cashing in on the artists’ popularity. Another girl who sings Rihanna would hardly be a worthwhile addition.
Despite all this, there seems to be hope. The population is warming up to the idea of women playing Western genres. “My music is a cry to the women of the country,” says Adina. “I want it to inspire action.” Change is on the horizon, what will the new dawn bring us?