Despite the general optimism about the growing live music scene in India, for jazz singer-songwriter Gary Lawyer the scope for independent musicians here is still very limited. Lawyer, also known as “The Man with the Golden Voice”, has serious concerns about the lack of infrastructure, media coverage and support for musicians who perform live in the country.
He told Guardian 20, “There are clubs all over in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. But these are really small night clubs where musicians can play to about 100-200 people at most. We don’t have the infrastructure at all and we don’t have any media coverage either. If you’re doing an event then you may get asked for interviews, but otherwise, there’s no active support, not even from the corporate segment, which is a shame because we as Indians are talented and we have a huge Western music audience which just needs to be tapped. But we just don’t give it importance.”
Lawyer is one of the best jazz talents the country has produced. He has also been performing for decades in India and in America. And it is through his experience of performing concerts internationally that Lawyer has realised that “there aren’t many places to play” live music in Indian cities.
He said, “Even if there are, these are very small little places. We don’t have outdoor concert venues, as it were. I think we have a lot of impediments in terms of taxes, and the infrastructure is just not there. There’s absolutely no encouragement in terms of state television support or print media. So until this whole scenario changes, one can’t say that India has improved as far as the live music scenario is concerned.”
But what about the many international artistes that have played in the country? Have they not added to the growth of our music industry and the live scene?
“There aren’t many,” Lawyer replied. “In fact, there are very few international artistes who come to India to perform. When was the last time that you heard a big name coming to perform here? Maybe Chris Martin of Coldplay. Not that we have a barrage of bands coming in to play here. It is a pity because we have to be exposed to excellence in Western music too. So, we don’t have too many international bands coming. That’s a misconception.”
But prospects are not that bleak for the music industry. The independent music genre has become more feasible and viable. He said, “The independent music genre on the internet has helped a lot of people, but it has also created confusion. Everybody can put out what they think is the thing to put out, which is great in a sense. Everyone can be heard; but in the confusion, I think nobody gets heard. Gone are the days of superstars. I don’t think you’ll have another Beatles or an Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. So, that way independent music is a blessing, and in a way, not a blessing.”
A graduate in economics and political science, Lawyer took a “huge risk” when he decided to leave a conventional career to pursue music professionally.
“When I started out, it was a huge risk. And nobody was really supportive of music. I am a Parsi and coming from my background, in a Parsi household, they encourage music as a hobby and never as a profession. But I challenged that whole system. It’s not that I decided to be a musician. It just happened and I knew that it was right for me because it was an instinct and I knew that eventually, I would be a musician. When I was in college, I attended singing classes for five years. I am a trained classical singer. During the day I would go to college and in the evening I would go for my music class,” he recalled.
In the 1980s, Lawyer went to New York and began singing at a night club there. “I was always dedicated to music and I always knew I’d be a musician. And destiny took its own course. When I got into music, I began singing in New York City and all the circumstances brought me back. When I returned to India, I met a friend who was singing at a concert. He asked me to come up on stage and sing, and so I did that. That night everything turned for me. I had headlines in newspapers where I was referred to as ‘the guy in the red shirt’. They didn’t even know my name. Next, I was asked to sing jingles and someone approached me to do a show. It all happened overnight so it was obviously in my destiny.”
Lawyer has lent his voice to innumerable commercials, for both radio and TV. About the kind of music that influenced him, Lawyer said, “As a child, I’d go crazy when I used to listen to the beautiful voices of great singers, including Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Reggae. All of them have been my gods of music. I heard them when I was a baby and I’ve literally grown up listening to their voices and that’s why when I’m doing a concert like ‘Sinatra and Swing’ [the concert he is all set to perform at Siri Fort Auditorium, Delhi on 20 May] it’s a special thrill for me, because it’s not just doing their music but paying homage to my gods.”
What is the future of jazz music in India?
“There will always be areas where jazz and rock is heard in India,” Lawyer answered. “We are after all an English-speaking nation in a sense. We are an international country. A lot of Indians are very well-schooled and educated. We have grown up with a lot of English influence. By English I don’t just mean the language but I mean in terms of Western music etc. That’s the reason if there is a major rock band coming from abroad, you will have 40-50,000 people at that show. We have a huge Western music audience but it’s all untapped and neglected,” he added.
About his upcoming projects, he told us, “Right now my preoccupation is obviously with this show that I’m doing, the show I’ve always wanted to do, in Delhi. It’s called ‘Sinatra and Swing’. It’s a tribute to Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Reggae, Dean Martin. These are all my gurus. It’s finally on the road. I have a great organiser in Show house. They are putting the event together. I hope we have a nice full audience and that everything works out according to plan.”