So I’ve just returned from the startling, stunning and scintillating country of India with much food for thought – and no new music. When I left, I had visions of catching some cool Indian indies in some cavernous club that smelled vaguely of opium, cinnamon and bergamot. But it didn’t work out that way. In fact, with the exception of an improvisational Indian classical trio playing in the corner of an upscale restaurant and some protesters banging drums on the street, I heard no live music at all.
Now, you might think this is unsurprising, filled as your head is with visions of Indian villages with intermittent electricity and no indoor plumbing. But this particular trip was an almost entirely urban adventure. I was in Bangalore (which has been trying to change its name to Bengaluru for more than two years now) and Mumbai (which a lot of people still call Bombay), and still there was no live music. I was left feeling very, very grateful for what we have here in our dear, sweet, countrypolitan city.
Man, are we lucky.
Consider this: depending on which source you use, India is very likely the second most populous country in the world, with over a billion people, all crammed into a space that is about one third the area of the US. I spent most of my time in Bengaluru, a city with approximately eight million people. Compare this to Denver’s population of roughly half a million. This makes Bengaluru sixteen times bigger than Denver. What’s more, Bengaluru’s density is unbelievable, with about 10,000 people per square kilometer (Denver has about 1500).
This kind of density makes it feel like there’s something important going on everywhere you go. There is almost nowhere that doesn’t feel crowded. And yet, I was unable to discover a single live music venue. Much of this is due to local legislation. Much like Salt Lake City or that town from Footloose, Bengaluru doesn’t allow dancing in any establishment that also has drinking -- we all know where THAT leads, after all. On top of that, the city has instituted a strictly enforced 11:30 curfew. Considering the headlining act in Denver is still drinking in the green room at that time, you can imagine the barriers that puts up to a thriving live music scene.
And then there’s Mumbai, a city of approximately 20 million people, with nearly 30,000 of them per square kilometer. That hard to conceive of, isn’t it, especially given our national aversion to the metric system? Imagine 30,000 people standing in an area slightly larger than Wash Park and you’ll start to get the idea.
While I was in Mumbai, I met with an old friend from undergrad. She works for a combination record label/recording studio/nightclub in the city and informed me that it is one of the only club venues for live music in the whole city. Can you imagine? Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen small places to catch a show in the Denver city limits, and a dozen more in the greater metro area.
“Of course,” she explained, “only about five percent of the population can even afford this.”
That figure might not have been arrived at scientifically, but the point still stands. In a city where nearly half the population literally lives in slums, live music is probably going to fall slightly below food and clothing in the spending priorities. The twenty bucks you spent last night on beers and a great local show is more money than some folks there make in a month.
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Man, are we lucky.
-- Eryc Eyl