Fabled collectors of vintage records discuss road ahead

Fabled collectors of vintage records discuss road ahead

Old songs vs new among their talking points

Fabled collectors of vintage records discuss road ahead
Legendary collectors from across India came together in Bengaluru over the weekend to talk about the future of their vinyl collections.

They were part of a panel discussion at a meeting of RMIM, a worldwide group of vintage music lovers celebrating their silver jubilee. The online group has earlier met offline in cities across the US, as also in Chennai and Bengaluru in India.

V A K Rangarao, whose bungalow in Chennai is a treasure house of about 52,000 vinyl records, said he had been approached by various organisations seeking to archive select portions of his collection. One wanted just his classical music records, and another his theatre records, but for him, the thread that binds the many languages and genres of Indian music would be lost if the collection were divided.

“I am not interested in that,” said the 78-year-old collector of records in 42 languages. “And only an institution can take up the responsibility of keeping the work going, and not any individual.”

Chiranjeev Singh, multilingual scholar, connoisseur, and personal friend of many celebrated musicians, argued for academic support for vintage Indian music produced between 1935 and 1955, describing it as rich and worthy of study. “If Rabindra Sangeet with 300 songs is respected as an independent genre, why not vintage film music?” he said.

Discernment was a talking point, with Singh underlining its subjective nature, and at the same time recognising the importance of shared ideas of good taste. To illustrate his point, he described to all-round agreement how RMIM was broadly averse to Laxmikanth-Pyarelal and R D Burman: the group considers them less sophisticated than, say, Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan or C Ramachandra. In fact, the group has comprises many A R Rahman sceptics.

Singh’s observations sparked impassioned arguments about old songs versus new, and many said contemporary numbers had no aesthetic or recall value. Suresh Chandvankar, the illustrious collector from Mumbai, was a dissenting voice. He said, “I don’t agree. It is just that we have grown old.”

During the tea break, Dinesh Shah, whom ghazal singer Ram Nagaraj described as a ‘living encyclopaedia of old Hindi music,’ dismissed the apologists for new music. In his view, Jai ho, the song featured in a film that won Rahman an Oscar, shows how low composing standards have sunk.

Music collector A Parthasarathy from Mysuru played 16 tracks composed by C Ramachandra, with Kalyan Kolachala adding to the presentation with fascinating details about their context.

Chandvankar has been digitising his records, with a chunk of the songs making it to the British Library’s open online archive. (Google ‘Young India records’ to know more.) He spoke about the Australian collector Michael Kinnear, who produced a beautiful, meticulously researched book called The 78 rpm Record Labels of India, and was heartbroken that few people took note of it.

A collector’s journey can get lonely, as some stories at the meet indicated. Chandvankar, who also serves as secretary of the Society of Indian Record Collectors, said he would be happy if his collection could be made available to the younger generation in a convenient format.

Other collectors at the meet were Girdharlal Vishwakarma, who has archived extremely rare Marwadi songs and generously shares his collection, and Rakesh Kumar Singh, an engineer who has built his house in Jaipur like a movie hall.   

Silver jubilee meet
The two-day RMIM meet, at the KAS Officers' Association on Infantry Road, concluded on Sunday. RMIM stands for (recorded.music.Indian.misc), and is an online group that predates the World Wide Web.