Alpana Parida: Whiskey, Tea & Classical Music

07 Dec,2016

By Alpana Parida


Last night I attended a concert by Anoushka Shankar.  It was fitting that the daughter of the “gentleman who played through the rain…and just kept playing” at Woodstock should be reinventing the Sitar in a contemporary context. Rather like Shakti before it – this was an ensemble of artistes  – a bassist from London, an Austrian percussionist playing on what looked  suspiciously like a set of post modern ‘ghatams’and a Delhi-based Shehnai player accompanying Anoushka.; much like the band Shakti.


The lights and audience response made the experience more like a rock concert, and I noticed that the regulars of Shanmukhananda Hall – the grey-haired stalwarts and purists of classical music were crowded out by a younger, hipper audience. She had reinvented the classical sitar and made it more relevant today.


Certain categories are older and facing extinction. Whiskey, an older person’s drink, has semiotic markers that signify royalty. From the blue label, to the age, to the idea of having it neat (there are no Whiskey cocktails) or the Single Malt – the unsullied, pristine, clear genealogy of the category is pegged on the blue blooded value and celebrated by the category – pardon me for the pun – royally. Royalty, however, is an irrelevant value/ aspiration today. The richest people in the world are frequently mongrels, coming from the wrong side of the tracks, having made money in this generation or the previous. Vodka, on the other hand, can be had neat – as shots, or disguised in a cocktail of any colour or flavor, has no rule of the glass or any rituals of drinking and reflects the values of today and the aspirations of the emerging rich. That anything is possible and there are no rules.


For whiskey to be relevant again, it needs to be pegged on a newer belief that,while still evoking the singularity of whiskey, pegs it on a relevant value for the youth today. For example, whiskey could now stand for values such as the single-mindedness of Steve Jobs. If the category celebrated this tunnel vision and the focus to convert any dream into reality – it would be much more true and relevant to the category.


Similarly tea, sarees and classical music are some other examples of categories that have lost their relevance and are perceived as old. Classical Music is not explained (my generation saw LecDems that demystified classical music in our colleges), is only rewarding in the long format and is visually boring. This is the generation that grew up on MTV and Channel V.


You no longer only hear music – you see it too. Classical music needs to become accessible, through apps, ringtones and more – but also by identifying the relevance in today’s life. Earlier, leisure was about winding down. Music was relaxing. Today, youth is interested in winding up. Red Bull gives you more hyper alert time. The YOLO generation seeks experiences and is looking to squeeze more out of every moment of life. The drinking rituals are no longer the civilized 1-3 drinks drawn out over an evening. They are binge drinking activities that cram 4-7 drinks over 2 hours or less. No one is willing to wait. So Classical Music needs to reexamine the underlying structure of performances and create greater interactivity.


Tea is the boring drink at home. It is the ‘dal chawal’ of hot beverages. It is not as exciting as coffee over which anything can happen. It does not have the overt and aggressive presence felt through an assertive aroma nor does it have the international provenance that accompanies exotic coffee. Tea is homegrown, local and ubiquitous. How does the category reinvent?


Unless repositioned, tea runs the danger of becoming irrelevant in today’s lives and at best become a habit. Habit has no reason for being. Habits change – rapidly in today’s environment where everyone is seeking the NEW. New products, new experiences, new brands. Newer habits will eventually emerge, but for now; this is the age of experimentation. Tea needs new reasons, new rituals and new experiences. And a ‘cold tea latte’ is not it. This has been a spectacular failure wherever it has launched as it is neither relevant nor credible.


Older categories and brands must rejuvenate by becoming relevant. Else they will atrophy and die. Amitabh Bacchchan has rejuvenated time and again – as Sexy Sam or the KBC host, as a khadus old man – seen through the lens of younger eyes or as the continual blogger putting forth his point of view directly to his fans.


While purists fume, Kanjeevarams in pastel shades studded with Swarowski crystals reinvent tradition. Rejuvenation is not just a new face. It is a credible and relevant new face. It is about pegging the brand on a new belief or value of the times.


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