The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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AIR treasure to go under hammer
- Tapes of Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Bose identified for sale

New Delhi, Oct. 26: The archives of All India Radio — a repository of the country’s audio wealth and heritage — are being thrown open.

Around 1,500 hours of tape — including renditions by such maestros as Rabindranath Tagore, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and M.S. Subbulakshmi; and broadcasts by figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose — have been identified for either outright sale or for distribution on a royalty basis in a preliminary survey.

“All India Radio’s archives will be opened for commercial exploitation,” Union information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj said in an interview this week. “The rights will be sold to the highest bidder. Not only will this take to the people the AIR’s immense wealth, it will also bring in much needed revenues.”

The minister said though plans are yet to be finalised, her ministry would arrange for the rights of some of the invaluable music scores to be sold to the highest bidder. She expects music companies like Music Today, RPG Enterprises, T-series, Tips, Magnasound, and BMG Crescendo to bid for the rights to the scores once they are identified.

AIR sources said the national public broadcaster was currently transferring the audio content from magnetic tapes to compact discs to improve preservation. “As we go about this task, we are also identifying what can be opened for the market. Digitally recording the masterpieces is the first step. Their commercial exploitation will follow.”

AIR is probably the only custodian of the Hindustani classical renditions of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Among other artistes who debuted with AIR is Begum Akhtar. The recordings identified are vocal and instrumental music from the Hindustani and Carnatic classical traditions.

They include recitations and tunes by Tagore, scores, vocals and renditions by Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, Pandit Buddhaditya Mukherjee, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Bandu Khan, Kanthe Maharaj, Pandit Ravi Shankar (about two to three hours), Abdul Waheed Khan, Kumar Gandharv, D.V. Paluskar and Nikhil Banerjee. Also among the 1,500 hours are excerpts of speeches by Gandhi, Nehru and Bose.

Swaraj said the valuation and pricing of these assets would be a complicated affair. Much of it is, of course, priceless. She said while the rights for some of the recordings would be sold outright, AIR will consider giving permission for others to be used publicly only on payment of royalty.

The recordings date from the time All India Radio formally began broadcasting in 1936. Much of the credit for the “democratisation” of classical music lies with AIR. Before its advent, classical music was mostly entertainment patronised by the royalty and the landed gentry.

AIR sources said that for the moment it was most important to make digital recordings from the magnetic tapes. “Though we have taken the utmost care with our tapes, it is possible that some of it may have got spoilt.” The sources said AIR itself might consider selling cassettes and CDs. “But we do not have a marketing and distribution network and will have to consider other options.”

Next month — November 11 — will mark the centenary of recorded music in India. The first recording was done by the then Calcutta-based Gramophone and Typewriter Company, a predecessor of the Gramophone Company of India (a label bought over by RPG Enterprises). The information and broadcasting ministry plans to observe the 12 months from November 11 as “the year of recorded music”. The opening up of AIR’s archives will be one of the highlights.

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