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Conned Jazz Artistes

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Media has played its role of the unofficial ombudsman now and then. Many times in the hoary past media has perhaps gone for its forty blinks, when some terrible robbing of credit or cash took place
I love enduring all kinds of new experiences, the more intriguing and exasperatingly complex, the better. Recently a close friend, a leading astrophysicist Dr. D.J. Saikia invited me to spend a day with him at the GMRT [giant metre wave radio telescope] which nestles amidst a green bowl-like formation of low hills standing like a troop of gigantic frozen sentries.

He had spent a couple of nights peering into the deep sky, guiding some budding scientists hell-bent on unraveling the mysterious far beyond the reach of the most powerful optical telescopes. Saw with the chosen few I was given the rarer than xenon or krypton opportunity to see what no humans have never seen before. Gigantic unknown galaxies in a cluster, moving into each other in something they glibly call NGC 2146. It was awesome, the simulated picture on a powerful computer, showing us after 12 huge antennae with 150 feet diameter nodding their heads in a synchronized symphony like painstakingly trained whales, had gathered. The radiation [not light] gathered had taken 25 million years to reach us... it was a humbling moment indeed. The universe is simply awesome. It was a delicious peep into the darkest corner of the very womb of this universe.

Well the sensitive soul gets the same effect when the underbelly of our everyday dealings is unceremoniously exposed. Conning of talented jazz musicians is nothing new, as I would like to assure my good friend and the object of my unwavering adoration – the one and only Ms. Asha Puthli. The only jazz singer India has ever produced, and one doubts if a hundred generations would flit by before another one of the same calibre pops up. She is a living legend in the sense she has lent her husky but velvety voice to some really intriguing and mind-peeling numbers with the topmost in free jazz and other heavier genres like the avant-garde. Her work on the seminal album Science Fiction by Ornette Coleman has gone down in musical history as something nearly magical.

Hence it can surprise some quiet jazz fan who has assiduously kept his or her distance from the limelight and the hustle and bustle of show-biz. But those who have been reading jazz stuff very well know that double dealing, conning, gypping and ripping have been as much a part of the jazz culture [or other genres] as the saxophone or piano or improvisation. Those who have been close to the performing artistes know even better, the entire abominable sequence of conning and gypping in its myriad forms. Lyrics have been plagiarized, tunes quietly lifted, credits misappropriated, fees embezzled, royalties manipulated and comfortably truncated, and conspiracies hatched and executed against a lone artiste with devilish thoroughness.

Media has played its role of the unofficial ombudsman now and then. Many times in the hoary past media has perhaps gone for its forty blinks, when some terrible robbing of credit or cash took place –perchance there were more pressing matters to attend to, some new nova had burst on the scene or some spent supernova had exploded into controversy: excuses can be legion. It therefore smothers the very soul when one listens to such a legendary artiste complain about the heartlessness of the real world, the inexplicable ganging-up and bullying by record companies and their henchmen, the rather ungentlemanly attitude and arrogant behavior of the thief himself or herself, and the totally unforgivable silence on part of the media. One cannot expect magnanimity nor a gallantly generous attitude of the corporate world, who have invested billions of dollars in the music business, for their ethics and unwritten protocols lie beyond the pale of ordinary mortals. They work by a logic palpably underground, conceived in the cracks of space-time and hatched in darker chambers of the human mind. May be the Mafiosi only can get a Doctorate in such Machiavellian conspiracy conception and its meticulous execution without any fanfare...

Asha tells me that her songs have not only been gypped or lyrics ripped without even a cursory nod in her direction, an entire style of singing has been slyly misappropriated and thus she has been robbed of her rightful dues. Historical wrongs can be monumental in size: once the reading or listening public moves away in the relentless march of time, no one pays a second look to the poor suffering soul. That’s life, people will shrug their shoulders and be on their way for more fun.

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