The menace of remix music has developed roots like Kaantas all over the country and has the fraternity of popular music divided like never before. Matters came to a head a few days back when a delegation of musicians led by the veteran music composer Naushad Ali approached Indian Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and pleaded with him to "do something" about it.
Remix is a new genre of music, which originated in the UK and appeared in India in the mid-eighties. Gulshan Kumar of the T-Series fame pioneered this trend by getting popular songs re-performed by relatively unknown artists. The albums announced that these songs were accompanied 'With Jhankar Beats' meaning that the original song was spruced up with faster rhythms.
These numbers are known as 'version recording' and these types of recordings later morphed in to remix, which involved repositioning an old hit song to suit the present-day musical tastes. Instead of the old traditional musical instruments like the tanpura and the tabla, the instruments used in a remix are digital drums and synthesisers, and even the voice of the singer can be and is electronically manipulated.
The purist may be horrified but remix has caught the fancy of the younger generation. Today, if you hook on to any music channel, you will find about seven out of 10 numbers that are displayed are remixes. Recently a video item, Kaanta Laga, a remix of a popular song from the 1972 Hindi film Samadhi, became a chart-buster hit. The live performances of this show drew crowds of nearly 50,000 in small towns like Bhubhaneshwar and Bulandshaher.
What's wrong with it, ask the younger generation of singers, composers and fans. They feel that that they are doing these items a favour by giving them a new lease of life. There are many classical hits of the fifties and sixties which have been forgotten and consigned to the archives and but for the remixes would have remained there.
Nothing's wrong with it, provided you go about it in a proper manner, say the veterans of the music industry whose songs are being remixed.
The Indian Music Industry (IMI), an association comprising players in the recording and music industry, has also strong views against remixes. Says IMI president V J Lazarus: "The music industry has lost about Rs 1,800 crore in the last three years due to illegitimate music. That comes to about Rs 600 crore a year of which Rs 450 crore is due to piracy and Rs 150 crore due to remixes."
IMI has, now, asked the Indian government to delete Section 52(1)(j) of the Indian Copyright Act to curb the remix menace. According to that section, certain acts are not considered to be infringement of copyright. The section states that the making of sound recordings in respect of any literary, dramatic or musical work are not infringement of copyright if: sound recordings of that work have been previously made by, or with the licence or consent of, the owner of the copyright in that work.
The person making the sound recordings has given a notice of his intention to make the sound recordings, has provided copies of all covers or labels with which the sound recordings are to be sold and has paid in the prescribed manner to the owner of the rights in the work royalties in respect of all such recordings to be made by him, at the rate fixed by the Copyright Board.
The section further goes on to add that the alterations to be made, if any, should be reasonably necessary for the adaptation of the work, it should not be misleading to the public and the owner of the rights will have the right to inspect all records and books of accounting relating to such sound recordings.
Are the above provisions being followed in letter as well as spirit in the case of remixes? Your guess is as good as mine.
In the western countries, remix is a perfectly legitimate form of work. The maker of the remix does it only with the legal permission of the owner and cannot make any alterations or adaptation without permission. Also, the royalty amount is negotiated between the two parties and is usually 30 per cent. In India the royalty amount is a measly 2 to 5 per cent.
Scrapping that section of the Copyright Act may be too drastic a step. After all, remix has evolved as a genre of music and is here to stay and if the youngsters want their music that way let them have it.
In a recent TV interview, Naushad Ali, speaking on the subject, said royalty is not his concern; it is the mutilation of music that that makes him see red. "I wouldn't mind if any of my numbers is remade again by another singer provided the tune is not changed. And I would certainly mind if electronic musical instruments are used instead of the traditional ones."
The new generation of music-makers may not listen to Naushad's music but at least let them listen to his words. And meanwhile, will Mr L K Advani please "do something" about it.