Music & Politics
I am sure there are plenty of politics prevailing in the business of music. Where there is a buck to be made, you can be sure there is a crooked angle at work. But I find from personal experience that by and large, musicians are a nice, wholesome people, concerned for the most part, with […]
I am sure there are plenty of politics prevailing in the business of music. Where there is a buck to be made, you can be sure there is a crooked angle at work. But I find from personal experience that by and large, musicians are a nice, wholesome people, concerned for the most part, with creating wonderful music. Musicians seem to be a good community of people. While one hears of several people from the movies becoming politicians ”“ American President Ronald Reagan and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – there is hardly ever a musician who opts to enter the tricky world of politics. One notable exception is my colleague at Rolling Stone, Milind Deora. He is a fine blues guitarist and undoubtedly a concerned, conscientious MP. May we have more leaders like him! I believe that musicians will make fine political leaders, sensitive to the needs of their constituents just as they are of their audiences. They are a real cool bunch.
Of late, politics and music have been in the news in Mumbai for reasons which are most unfortunate. The state government has decided to levy an inordinately heavy tax on hotels and restaurants hosting live music and where alcohol is served. The innocent bystander here, the musician, is the victim of this diabolical new levy. Restaurants and hotels can’t afford the new tax and the musician loses his job. It seems more of a punishment for being a live music performer, than a fair method of beefing up the exchequer. The net result is that plenty of honest, dedicated musicians find themselves out of work. It is particularly unfortunate that this is happening in a country where there exists a strong tradition of live musical performance, in villages, in city streets, at weddings and at religious festivals. The consequences of this heavy tax may be far reaching in time to come. There is a strong reason for this apprehension.
In the Fifties and Sixties, New York city had framed a law requiring musicians performing in nightclubs where alcohol was served, to have a “cabaret card.” The card was in fact a police identification card with a photo and certified that one was a “trustworthy and upright” citizen. In essence, the police had wide, arbitrary powers to veto the performance of anybody they chose to debar. This resulted in a large number of jazz musicians immigrating to Europe to pursue their careers. Thus, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Kenny Clarke and several other great jazz musicians in their prime, were lost to American audiences. Others like the great singer Billie Holiday, Johnny Griffin never played in New York. The “official” attitude was so nasty that Miles Davis, who was performing at the legendary jazz club Birdland, was once beaten up (and had a broken nose) by a rookie cop, outside the club. Miles was having a smoke during intermission outside the main club door, when the policeman asked him to “move on.” Miles was arrested for loitering! It was Frank Sinatra who was responsible in getting the law repealed; he refused to apply for a cabaret card ”“ and still performed ”“ in NYC. The loss to New York, the Mecca of jazz has been incalculable. Wonder what will happen in Mumbai and Pune.
When over zealous laws interfere with the natural and normal flow of culture in a healthy society, an unnatural state of affairs prevails. It is said that in a democracy the people always get the politicians they deserve. I sincerely hope we deserve fair governance ”“ and get a few musicians in our government.