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The Midival Punditz: ‘Music is the Least Protected Art Form in India’

The New Delhi electronic duo on the country’s flimsy copyright laws, the evolving electronic music scene and why musicians need to fight for their rights


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The Midival Punditz have watched India's electronic music scene spring up around them since they started out in 1997. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

The Midival Punditz have watched India’s electronic music scene spring up around them since they started out in 1997. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

New Delhi-based electronica outfit The Midival Punditz (comprising Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj) couldn’t be happier that the indie music scene in India is finally blooming. When the duo started out in 1997, there were only so many opportunities for an act that mixed Indian folk with electronic elements. Today, their brand of music has more or less become a template for many an aspiring producer to adhere to, to gain instant street cred. Bollywood, too, has featured more than its fair share of avant-garde folk/fusion in the past decade, making it accessible to millions of listeners that don’t necessarily tune into indie music. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was the Punditz who sparked the fire. “We started an underground movement and people realized that these two guys could do it,” says Raj. “It gives us a sense of pride that we were able to push the scene forward.”

In their two decade-long career, Midival Punditz have released four albums (MIDIval Punditz, MIDIval Times, Hello Hello and Light) and have also been the first Indian electronica act to be signed by an international label (Six Degrees Records) in 2001. Their proprietary sound is a curious marriage between traditional Indian instruments like the dhol, tabla, sarangi with the synthesizer and drum machine. Their music ambitions have also spawned a series of interesting collaborations: they have teamed up with everyone from sitar icon Anoushka Shankar (“Rebirth,” 2005) and Indian-American percussionist/producer Karsh Kale (“Goodbye My Love,” 2009)  to Hindi film music artists such as composer trio Shankar Ehsaan Loy (Karthik Calling Karthik, 2010)  and playback singer Kailash Kher (“Ali,” MIDIval Times, 2005). The duo have also lent their music to Hindi films such as the 2011 crime thriller Dum Maaro Dum and psychological drama Karthik Calling Karthik (2010).

Talking about the dynamic growth in the electronic music scene, Raina says, “There’s been a huge evolution in not just the kind of music that is being made, but also the people who are listening to it.” Perhaps that fast pace of evolution has somewhat stalled the output of creative new material in the electronica genre. The duo, who recently performed at New Delhi’s popular music venue Bandstand as part of Baleno Wicked Weekends, mentions that the electronic music scene is still going through the motions like any developing art scene, even though EDM is popular among the masses. “Only a handful of artists are doing heavy lyrical and solid songwriting. The scene has changed, and will keep changing. Hopefully for the better,” says Raina.

Although the Punditz are grateful for the flourishing independent music scene that has sprung up in the years since their inception, they cite one persisting obstacle that blocks artists’ paths: the lack of Indian laws protecting original music and the usage of that music. Though the Copyright Act of 1957 states that an artist’s work is to be protected for the duration of their lifetime, plus 60 years after, numerous copyright infringement cases in recent years call the efficacy of existing laws into question. Says Raj, “Music is the least protected among all art forms in India. Even if you’re an insanely good artist, the laws will not protect you. Artists need to be educated on their rights.”

Outside Midival Punditz, the duo also have individual projects. Raina released his debut solo album Grey To Silver under the moniker GRAIN in 2015 and is currently working on his second album while Raj also DJs as a solo artist. On what we can expect from The Midival Punditz in the coming months, Raj says, “We would like to have a ready and mastered album by the end of 2017. That’s what we are looking to do in the foreseeable future.”

Watch the video for “Baanwarey,” a single off 2015’s ‘Light’:

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