Rudradeep Bhattacharjee’s recent article in Scroll.in on the Western Outdoor Studio, one of Mumbai’s best-known recording studios in the last part of the twentieth century, brought back memories of the Hindustani music recordings that were made there during this period. Recording engineers Daman Sood and Avinash Oak lent their expertise to these recordings, making them a prized inclusion of music collections assembled by Hindustani aficionados belonging to this period. Digitised versions of these recordings are now available on sale on various websites and some are even freely accessible on Youtube.
These recordings were made in the 1990s when corporate houses with business interests far removed from the music world started record labels to take advantage of the purchasing power of the new middle class that had emerged in the liberalised economic environment. Hindustani music was not as popular and commercially fruitful as film music, but a few of these new labels decided to invest in catalogues dedicated to this category, perhaps due to its assured long shelf life.
The competitiveness between new record labels was reflected in the race for novelty and branding of musical products, and this impacted the manner in which the music was recorded and marketed during this period. Notable among the labels established during this period was Music Today, a label established by the India Today group. Much of the music released by this label was recorded at the Western Outdoor Studio under the supervision of consultant Asha Rani Mathur.
The label published its raag series which contained collections of raags prescribed for each part of the 24-hour diurnal-nocturnal cycle. The thematic collections were titled Morning Ragas, Afternoon Ragas, Evening Ragas and Night Ragas.
Here is a link to Kukubh Bilawal, a raag prescribed for the morning, recorded by Jaipur-Atrauli gharana maestro Mallikarjun Mansur.
Music Today also released the Maestro’s Choice series. Kirana gharana exponent Bhimsen Joshi recorded the raag Shuddha Kalyan for this series.
Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan also recorded for the Maestro’s Choice series.
Separate series focusing on various musical genres from the Hindustani system were recorded by the same label at the Western Outdoor Studio. Popular vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe recorded compositions in several raags for a series focusing on the tarana.
Similarly, well-known vocalists recorded for two series entitled Shringar and Songs of Seasons. Here is a link to thumri exponent Girija Devi’s thumri recordings under the Shringar series.
Well-known performer of thumri-dadra and allied forms, Shobha Gurtu’s renditions of seasonal song-forms are available here.
Music Today recorded a two-volume set live at Khajuraho for the Khajuraho Millenium under the supervision of consultant Shubha Mudgal. The recording engineer for the project was Avinash Oak from the Western Outdoor Studio. Here is a link to bansuri stalwart Hariprasad Chaurasia’s recital for this project.