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Monthly Archives: March 2017

History and Timeline of Opera

When and where did opera begin? Dafne, created by Jacopo Peri, an Italian composer and singer, is regarded as the earliest opera composition. It was largely inspired by an elite circle of Florentine humanists. The orchestration of Dafne consisted of a harpsichord, a lute, a viol, a triple flute, and an archlute. Sadly, no one has been able to trace it till date. Euridice, a work of the same composer has survived and is one of the ancient operas surviving today. Euridice was composed for the marriage of Henry IV and Marie de Medici.

By 1637, the opera had not remained confined to the court. Public performances of operas had begun. They soon acquired a style of their own and began gaining appreciation from society. However, opera had to face criticism from some sections of society, which believed that it had lost its dramatic purity. There was a fear among certain people that opera might lose its original form. Bel canto, literally meaning ‘beautiful singing’, is an Italian opera that requires agility and pitch control for performance. It received greater impetus in the nineteenth century, wiping out criticism and fear in the minds of the masses.

Nabucco that is based on the biblical story and play, by Ancient-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, succeeded Bel Canto. It was devised by Giuseppe Verdi, a romantic composer of Italy. Grand opera, Don Carlos, as also Otello and Falstaff inspired from Shakespearean literature, were some of his notable works. Following Nabucco, Pietro Mascagni, an Italian composer came up with a sentimental and realistic style of composition. The Italian opera crossed national boundaries and began spreading to different parts of the world.

Jean-Baptiste Lully, a French composer born in Italy, as a revolt against the spread of Italian opera in France, established a separate tradition of opera. He also founded an Academy of Music dedicated to the French opera. Besides Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, one of the most prominent composers and music theorists in France and Jacques Offenbach, known for the operetta form were some of the other famed names in the sphere of opera music.

In the 1730s, opera came to Russia. Foreign composers like Domenico Cimarosa, Baldassare Galuppi and others got an opportunity to come to Russia to compose new operas. Tsefal i Pokris, an opera seria in three acts was the first Russian opera. It was written by the Italian composer, Francesco Araja. Mikhail Glinka, a Russian composer is credited with the creation of the first real Russian opera.

Thomas Arne, an English composer hugely contributed to the increase in the popularity of English-language opera. His first experiment with comic opera turned out to be a huge success. His opera Artaxerxes of 1762 gained immense popularity. George Frideric Handel, a Baroque composer born in Germany was another major contributor to the rise in popularity of English opera. However, works of Beethoven and Mozart remained popular for long. American composers like Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, and Douglas Moore were some of the relatively later contributors to English opera.

The Italian opera was highly influential over the German society. However, some German composers came up with certain native styles of music, which were nonetheless popular. One of the most prominent figures in the field of opera music was Richard Wagner. He was a German composer, conductor, and theater director who had to fight controversies before he emerged as a successful opera composer. He is known to have revolutionized opera music by bringing about major changes in the rendition, thus giving it a new dimension.

Today, opera is one of the most popular forms of western music. It has reached far and wide and shall continue to be popular among music lovers.

History of Ska Music

Ska Music History
Jamaicans began to have increased access to radios post World War II and thus, were introduced to Caribbean calypso, steelpan and soca music from Trinidad and Tobago, and more American styles of music such as R&B and jazz. Popular American music was broadcasted further by prominent Jamaican radio stations such as Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion (RJR) and the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) during the late 1950s. The New Orleans and Miami radio stations made it possible for Jamaicans to listen to legendary musicians such as Champion Jack Dupree, Fats Domino, Amos Milburn, Jelly Roll Morton, Rosco Gordon, Professor Longhair, and Louis Jordan. In fact, ska innovator Prince Buster claims that the 1951 song ‘Later for the Gator’ (by American jazz saxophonist Willis Jackson) was the one that created ska.

♫ First Wave – Ska (1960s)
By 1956, Jamaicans had come up with an interesting concoction which they called ska because of the ‘Slak’ sound that the guitar strums made on being scratched. In 1960, the first ever ska song Oh Carolina was recorded by the Jamaican group Folkes Brothers and produced by Prince Buster. This song was recorded in WIRL Records in Kingston, which was soon to become the hub of ska music. The sound of ska was said to be more upbeat and faster than its predecessors because the sentiments of independence and rebellion were more pronounced. This is because by 1960, Jamaica was gradually asserting its freedom from the UK and succeeded in doing so two years later. Jamaican independence day was celebrated with ska songs such as Forward March sung by Derrick Morgan and the very popular song Freedom Sound by the soon-to-be world-famous band The Skatalites.
One of the things that furthered the spread of ska music in a big way was how The Skatalites managed to convert almost every popular song into ska by recording plain instrumental versions of songs by The Beatles and soul and movie theme songs. Their own original compositions such as Guns of Navarone made them hugely popular in their home country as well as abroad. Other prominent bands were doing ska covers and making their own songs during this period as well. For instance, Bob Marley and the Wailers, or simply known as The Wailer’s rendition of the song And I Love Her by The Beatles and Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan went onto become world hits that are still replayed in large numbers. These covers and the inspiring voice of Bob Marley ensured that Jamaica found a respectable place in the world music map.

Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Toots and the Maytals, Higgs & Wilson, The Melodians, The Clarendonians, The Blues Busters, Clue J & His Blues Blasters, The Paragons, The Silvertones, and Symarip were some of the other successful Jamaican ska bands that were actively performing during the first wave of ska in the 1960s.

The various cover versions of these songs and several other ska songs ensure that the genre spread across the world like wildfire.

♫ Second Wave – 2 Tone (1970s)
The second wave of ska took place in England during the late 1970s. Known as 2 (Two) Tone, this ska genre included musical influences from other musical genres such as rocksteady, reggae, punk rock, and new wave. This new variant of ska was created in Coventry, England, where the influence of Jamaican music and anti-racism sentiments were high. This was also the time when ‘Rock Against Racism’, a popular music movement, began in 1976 in the United Kingdom. This movement was founded by the notable British photographers Red Saunders and Roger Huddle in response to the racist remarks being made by famous British rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and David Bowie.

The band ‘Madness’ (1976) was perhaps the first 2-Tone ska revival band to have gained public recognition for its music and seven member lineup. It went on to become one of the most successful ska bands in Britain with 15 UK top ten singles and famous songs such as The Prince and One Step Beyond (1979), House of Fun (1982), and Wings of a Dove (1983).

Another 2-Tone ska revival band that gained immense success was ‘The Specials’, which formed in 1977. Their lyrics stood out from the rest because they were more political and anti-racist in nature; all the while being upbeat and danceable. They became iconic for their 1960s’ rude boy fashion, stage presence, and lyrics about unemployment and unhappiness with the system. Some examples of ska music that rose ‘The Specials’ to fame include Gangsters (1979), A Message To You, Rudy cover of the song by Dandy Livingstone (1979), Too Much Too Young and Rat Race (1980), and Ghost Town (1981).

Some other 2-Tone bands that came during the same time were The Beat (1978), UB40 (1978), The Selecter (1979), and The Body snatchers (1979). Stiff Records, 2 Tone Records, and Go Feet Records were the top three English record labels that signed 2-Tone and ska revivals bands.

♫ Third Wave – Ska-punk (1980s – Present)

✦ Europe
The late 1980s once again witnessed the emergence of ska bands such as The Burial, The Hotknives, and Potato 5 whose music had distinct ska, 2-Tone, rocksteady, and punk rock musical influences. This period also saw the resurgence of trads/trojan/traditional skinheads who associated with the British skinhead working class subculture of the 1960s. British youth in the late 1980s were once again seen with close-cropped and shaved heads, and were influenced by the rude boys of Jamaica and British mods (modernists). These skinheads would listen to music composed and performed by black people and wished to be associated as non-political and non-racists.

Ska experienced a major surge in popularity in Europe where countries like Germany had the most number of notable ska-punk bands such as Skaos (1982), Blechreiz (1983) and The Busters (1987), all of which are actively present and continue to perform throughout the world. Mr. Review (a.k.a. Rude & Visser) is a revered ska revival band from Amsterdam that has been active since 1983. Mark Foggo’s Skasters (1987) also contributed in the development of ska and upcoming band in Europe such as the French band, Skarface.

✦ Australia
The Australians developed their own ska scene during the mid-1980s, with the band ‘The Jumpers’ starting this music movement in 1979. Other notable bands to introduce ska to Australia were the bands The Letters (1979), The Allniters (1980), Strange Tenants (1981), No Nonsense (1984) and The Porkers (1987), Area 7 (1994), Sounds Like Chicken (1999), and Loin Groin, The Resignators, and The Mouldy Lovers (2010).

✦ United States
Ska bands had come up all over the United States in the 1980s and spread to South America by mid-1980s. One of the first American ska bands that gained repute during the late 1970s were Fishbone (1979), The Uptones (1981)―who set the ska scene in California, and The Toasters (1981) who established themselves in New York City. The Toasters celebrated their 30th Anniversary with a world tour in 2011 and are the longest-running ska band in the U.S. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles ska band The Untouchables was formed, whose lead vocalist Kevin Long described the band’s music as “mods who played ska music.” The Bosstones (1983) and Operation Ivy (1987) brought forth more radical fusion of ska and punk rock, which led to the establishment of the subgenre of ska-punk. New-age ska-punk bands such as Let’s Go Bowling (1986), No Doubt (1986), Sublime (1986 ), Skankin’ Pickle (1989), Dance Hall Crashers (1989), Hepcat (1989), and Reel Big Fish (1991) gained notoriety for their unique musicality both at home and internationally. During this period, the record label Moon Ska Records (1983) founded by Robert “Bucket” Hingley from the band ‘The Toasters’ went on to become one of the largest labels dedicated to ska in the U.S. However, the record label became defunct in 2000 and was replaced with Megalith Records by the same owner.

The movement moved to Canada during the late 1980s and early 1990s as well, which resulted in ska bands such as King Apparatus (1987), The Planet Smashers (1991), and The Kingpins (1994). In South America, the ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (1983) blended ska music with traditional music to form one of the most internationally recognized bands from Argentina. They also went on to win a Grammy in 1994 for Best Latin Rock/Alternative album.

✦ Japan – J-ska
Japanese or J-ska is a concoction of J-pop, punk, and ska-pop, which began as an offshoot of the third wave of ska during the 1980s. It also derives much of its inspiration from the Jamaican ska and reggae scene of the 1960s, which the musicians emulate in their native language. J-ska is very noticeable for its fervid vocals, peppy guitar rhythms, and the use of instruments such as the trombone, trumpet, saxophone, and drum and bass. Among the several ska bands that continue to perform and form every year, some notable ones include Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (TSPO) (1985), The Boom (1986), Elizabeth Sakura Narita (1997), Mongol800 (1998), Dallax (1998), MidnightPumpkin (2002), and OreSkaBand (2003), etc., to name a few.

✦ Christian Ska
While ska became a global phenomenon, it continued to make an appearance in gospel and Christian music, much like how it began in Kingston, Jamaica. Christian ska bands began to emerge in a big way during the early 2000s and include Buck Enterprises (1994), The O. C. Supertones (1995), The Insyderz (1996), and Five Iron Frenzy (1995), The O.C. Supertones (1995), The Dingees (1996), and Squad Five-O (1997).
Perhaps, there shall be a fourth wave of ska where we may hear a combination of EDM, dubstep, and ska, which may sound interesting enough to sustain for a few more decades to come. Until then, all you ska fans can listen and replay the tracks of legends such as Derrick Morgan, Ernest Ranglin, Prince Buster, and the new-age musicians and bands that have sustained the unique and rich history and sound of ska.

The Importance of Music in Movies

It is hard to imagine people sitting through a silent film without any live music to accompany the scenes. From the very inception of motion pictures, the relevance of music has been clearly established. Music has always been recognized for its ability to invoke emotions among the audience and set the mood for specific scenes in movies.

Silent movies always featured live music, and it was first employed by the Lumière Brothers for backing their first projected motion picture, Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory) on December 28, 1895. By 1910, theaters had begun permanently employing complete musical ensembles which, in turn, was replaced by the theatre organ. The period between 1910 – 1930 also relied heavily on photoplay music, which was written music meant specifically for silent films. This Buzzle article discusses the importance of music in movies in further detail.

Historic Film Score Examples
Max Steiner’s film score for the 1933 monster movie, ‘King Kong’ is ranked as the thirteenth greatest film score in the history of American cinema by the American Film Institute. From the spine-chilling quality of the drums that is played while a native girl is about to be given as ritualistic sacrifice to King Kong to the heavy orchestral music that follows while King Kong breaks free and wreaks havoc on the streets of Manhattan, the music in the movie had deeply impacted the way the audience reacted to every scene, the actors, and the movie in itself. Without the background music, King Kong would not have turned out to be the epic it is today.

The film score for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 psychoanalytical thriller, ‘Psycho’ was composed by Bernard Herrmann. This film score scared the jeepers creepers out of the audience and was unlike anything heard before! The music that accompanied the famous shower curtain scene, when Marion Crane is taking a shower and is stabbed to death by Norman Bates, is perhaps one of the scariest film scores ever written!

The film score by John Williams for the 1977 movie ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ is still sung by his fans and that, in itself, is a major feat for any musician! The blood-curdling music for the 1975 shark movie ‘Jaws’ by John Williams won him an Academy Award and was ranked as the sixth greatest film score of all time by the American Film Institute.

Music Conveys Emotions
Apart from conveying the feelings through actions, dialogs, and facial expressions, the emotions of a character are also conveyed through musical cues. The music playing in the background can express feelings of anger, fear, joy, and sorrow, depending on the scene being presented and the emotions being enacted by the actors. Such cues help the audience connect with the actors and empathize with their emotions. For example, the music played at the end of ‘The Godfather Part III’ expresses deep feelings of regret, sorrow, and lost love as Michael Corleone thinks about his deceased daughter (Mary) and wives (Apollonia and Kay). For instance, a scene in which the bride-to-be is walking up the aisle to be finally wed to the love of her life, would usually be accompanied by Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus”, also known as “Here Comes the Bride”, which would give the audience a clue that the female protagonist of the movie is about to get married to the man of her dreams!

Establishes the Theme and Mood
The genre and tempo of the music being played as background music can tell a lot about the theme of the movie. The music produced for the fantasy film ‘Lord of the Rings’ by Howard Shore, uses many types of woodwinds, brass, fiddle instruments, and Celtic music and is, by far, one of the most legendary movie scores ever to have been written. Similarly, the sound of heavy drums and horns in a film score can easily let the audience know that the theme of the scene is based on war. Something peppy and light would lead the audience to expect something funny and youthful. The sound of critters and hollow bass would prepare the audience for something more sinister. The sound of the Chinese mandolin (Liuqin) or Buddhist chants along with music would make the audience to believe that the theme of the movie is somehow connected with the Asian culture.

Evoke Era or Time Period
The type of musical instruments used and the genre chosen by the music composer can help recreate the sound of an ancient era or time period. For instance, in the 1963 ‘Cleopatra’ movie, the music score by Alex North comprised many Egyptian tunes, which immediately transcends the audience into an ancient and mystical land of mummies, Pharaohs, and pyramids. Merely listening to the music in movies, creates a visual picture and feel of such an era in the mind of the viewer. Another wonderful example of music that was successful in transporting viewers to its intended era was the 1997 film ‘Titanic’.

Supports Association with Leitmotif
A certain tune that is connected to a specific incidence or character in the movie, may be repeated as often as necessary in the movie so that the audience may be able to correlate and connect with the leitmotif and its intention. For example, the theme song “Gonna Fly Now” is featured in the 1977 movie ‘Rocky’ and is played in the background, as Rocky Balboa increases his stamina and manages to climb the steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a.k.a. ‘Rocky Steps’. This theme song continues to inspire people to this day!

Provides Backing to Musical Films
Music is an integral part of musical films and acts as a medium that not only adds emotions to the film, but also maintains the pace and rhythm of the movie. The best-known musicals in the world, such as ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and ‘Grease’ would not be as famous if it wasn’t for the excellent background music accompanying the scenes and songs.

History of the Melodious Indian Music

It dates back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, during the Indus valley civilizations. Archaeological studies have validated the presence of several musical instruments like harps and drums during this era. The Samaveda which is one of the four Vedas (scriptures) that include hymns and descriptions of Indian music. The Samaveda states that music originated as a tool for meditation and spiritual awakening. The era starting from 1500 BC to 500 BC witnessed the Vedic music. Vedic music was supposed to be closely intertwined with the Vedic religion, since music was an imperative element of the religious Vedic rituals.

Vedic music was mainly played for two reasons – please the Gods and as an accompaniment to the sacrificial offerings in the Vedic rituals. The prominent instruments of the Vedic era include veena, tunav, dundubhi, bhoomi-dundubhi, and talav. The Rigveda contains the richa which are the recited Vedic hymns. Samaveda is supposed to be the origin of Indian music. The word sama is actually a compound word made up of sa that refers to the hymns and ma, which refers to the musical notes.

The Vedic period also gave rise to the Gurukul system of imparting knowledge. In this system the shishya (pupil) lived in the house of his guru (teacher) and studied the Vedas and other subjects under the guidance of the teacher for as many as 12 years. The Shiksha referred to the first branch of Vedic learning which dealt with the science of correct pronunciation of vowels, syllables and consonants.

Some of the well-known Shikshas are Paniniya, Yagnyvalkya Vashisthi, Katyayani, Manduki, and Naradiya. As regards to music the teachers had to teach the students the six basic aspects of Vedic music which included Varna, Swara, Matra, Bala, Sama, and Santana. The varna refers to the syllables, the Swara refers to the musical notes, matra refers to the duration, bala refers to the articulation,sama refers to the balance in overall utterance, whereas santana refers to the spacing of the words. The history of Indian music during 500 BC to 200 BC includes references of the Ramayana which was the first Indian epic composed sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata, composed by sage Vyasa, and also sage Bharata’s Pathya Sangeet.

The Pathya Sangeet was primarily developed to spread information and not considered as an entertainment tool. The Pathya Sangeet is based on six basic elements, which include the Saptaswara, which are the seven musical notes, the Sthanas, which are the three vital locations for tone production, Varnas, which are the four ways of tonal arrangements, kakus which are the two basic modes of intonation, Alankaras, which are the sic embellishments and lastly the Angas or the six aspects of the music. Several references in Buddhist and Jain literature also have references to music during this time period.

According to the Indian mythology, Narada was the first sage to whom the laws of music were revealed. It is also believed that Tumburu was the first singer, Saraswati was the goddess of music and learning and Bharata created the Natyashastra or the rules for theater between 200 BC and 200 AD, which also focused on music. The Natyashastra includes descriptions of various classes of instruments, Gandharva music and also provides detailed information about the Talas, which refers to the rhythmic element of Indian music.

The Gupta Period from 300 AD to 600 AD was marked by the masterpieces created by Kalidasa, who was a lyrical poet and a writer of several great epics and plays. His work includes numerous references to musical instruments of his era which included Parivadini vina, Vipanchi vina, Pushkar, Mridang, Vamshi, and Shankha. There also existed several types of songs like the Kakaligeet, Streegeet, and Apsarogeeti. In addition to this there are references of various technical terms for defining voice quality and other nuances of music, which included terms like Murchana, Swarasaptaka, and Tana.

The next landmark towards the evolution of the Indian ragas was the emergence of gandharva gaan which is recorded in the text Dattilam dated roughly 400 AD. The Dattilam discusses parent tonal frameworks or the grama, the twenty-two micro-tonal intervals srutis, sequential re-arrangement of notes or the murchana, and the permutation and combinations of note-sequences which are known as the tanas. This text also describes eighteen Jatis which are synonymous with the contemporary Indianragas.

The Period from 600 AD to 1200 AD, was marked by the emergence of the regional music, classical Hinudstani music and also the influences of Islamic music. The first major text describing ragas was written by Matanga and was known as Brihaddeshi, which literally means ‘The Great Treatise on the Regional’. Brihaddeshi also introduced the sargam which is the musical notation in Indian music. Deshi or regional music was described as that music sung by women, children and everyone else in their regions, capturing a wide range of emotions from several different regions. After this, the 9th century saw a strong influence of Sufi music. Music was an inseparable part of the Basant and Rang celebrations.

The period from 1200 AD to 1700 AD was marked by several other benchmarks in Indian music including the maestro Khusro who composed verses in Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Braj Bhasha, Hindawi and Khadi Boli. Khusro was the one who is supposed to have invented qawali, qasida, qalbana, naqsh and many others forms of Indian music. Khusro is said to have created a new system of musicology, called ‘Indraprastha Mata’ or ‘Chaturdandi Sampradaya’ and also brought into circulation the two unique musical genres called ‘tarana’ and ‘kaul’.

Another important work called the Sangeet Ratnakara written by Sharangdeva provides a detailed explanation regarding the construction and the techniques of playing fourteen types of drums. The next benchmark in the history of Indian music was the Bhakti revolution in 800 BC, which spread in the north during 14th and 15th centuries. This was the emergence of music as a form of devotion, and belonged to the saint poets like Tulsidas and Kabir. Then there was the emergence of several music streams like Ashtachap and Haveli Sangeet.

Information about music during Emperor Akbar’s court comes from the text Ain e Akbari which mentions the rich music culture of Akbar’s time. The history includes information about instruments like sarmandal, bin, nay, karna, and tanpura and numerous musical maestros including the legendary Tansen. After 1700 AD, music in India went through a continuous metamorphosis process for four centuries and finally resulted into the Hindustani as we know it today.

Contemporary Scenario of Indian Music

Contemporary Indian music is a blend of classical music, pop music, and the popular Indian film music. Several genres of music exist in India. Let us have a look at some of the contemporary music genres in Indian music.


Indian Classical music is now basically dividend into two broad categories namely the Hindustani music and the Carnatic music. Both the streams of classical Indian music rest on two basic elements which are the raga which refer to the melodic formulae made up of constituent musical notations, and the tala which are the rhythmic cycles in Indian classical music. The Carnatic music has its roots in the musical traditions from the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. Carnatic music emphasizes on vocals. Most of the compositions in Carnatic music are sung. Even when played on instruments Carnatic compositions are meant to be played in a peculiar fashion called gayaki which means singing. On the other hand Hindustani music is a traditional from North India. The basics of the Hindustani classical music include melodic modes called thaats that are a part of the ragas. Hindustani music is based on the basic system called sargam which is similar to the Western solfege, thus the Indian sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni corresponds to the western do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti.


Folk music is an inseparable part of the Indian music scenario. The songs of the rural lands, emerging from various regions of India, are distinctive and are embedded with a strong element of the regional culture. Bhavageet which literally translates as ’emotional poetry’ is quite popular in many parts of India and especially in Karnataka and Maharashtra. A very popular genre in Indian folk music is the Punjabi Bhangra music which is an accompaniment to the folk dance called Bhangra done by farmers to celebrate the spring season that marks the time of harvest. There are various folk traditions including the folk music of Maharashtra called Lavani and Gaulan and the Dandiya music from Gujarat and the Baul from Bengal.


Indian pop music is a blend of almost everything starting from folk, classical, and even western music beats. Much of Indian pop music is a part of the Indian film music however there exist bands and singers that have individually ventures into pop albums and singles. Some of the notable pop singers worth mentioning include Usha Utthup, Peenaz Masani, and Sharon Prabhakar from the early nineties. The successive generation of pop singers includes Baba Sehgal, Alisha Chinai, Shaan, Sagarika, Lucky Ali, and Sonu Nigam. Indian pop bands include Colonial Cousins (Hariharan, Leslie Lewis), Euphoria, Band of Boys, Asma, and Viva to name a few. More recently the trend of remix songs has been quite popular on the Indian pop scenario. Most of the playback singers in the Indian film industry have tried their hands at this genre.


The Indian film industry is a humongous industry producing thousands of movies in various languages round the year. Indian films have always been popular for their song and dance sequences. Music has been an inseparable part of Indian movies right from the beginning. The popularity of music in Indian films is such that almost every filmmaker incorporates at least four to five songs in the movies. Indian film music is perhaps the most popular genre in the country, which is enjoyed by one and all.