It’s been a question that has troubled me for quite some time – where are the all-female bands and where are the female guitarists in India? There are women who are part of bands such as Monica Dogra of Shaa’ir + Func, Aditi Singh Sharma of Groove Adda, Shibani Kashyap of Sojourne and Kavita Seth of Karwaan. And, Anushka Manchanda, Jayashree Singh, Shilpa Rao and Sona Mohapatra also lead bands. But these are not all-women bands.
“There have been a few all-girl bands like Viva”, said Vijay Iyer of KM Musiq. “The advent of MTV and Channel V back in those days greatly helped popularize them and in turn create more awareness and an inspiration for others to follow suit. Today, even those channels largely play Hindi film music and reality shows so you see more girls in MTV roadies than with a guitar”.
“There is not been another all-girl band till now with a band called DMajor, lead by Anusha Dhandeker and her two sisters have recently surfaced to enthrall the crowds”, added KJ Singh, music producer/engineer for Rabbi Shergill and Indian Ocean. “Still these bands are not the instrument-playing bands that we know of. Rather they are singers who play to a minus one track”.
OK, so much for all-girl bands. Well, it doesn’t get much better when trying to find female guitarists in India, either. There are a few female guitarists, such as Shibani Kashyap and Anushka Manchanda. Plus, Nikhila Krishnamurthy of Venator is one of the few female bassists in India.
“There are some awesome women guitar players such as Tripti [Kharbangar] from Soulmate, Alisha Baath, and Noosh Like Sploosh”, said singer, songwriter and frontman of Ankur & The Ghalat Family, Ankur Tewari. “I feel a few women have broken the image of the Indian woman stereotype, dared to follow their passion and led bands from the front. Many more are waiting in the wings to break free, inshallah”.
Sandeep Garg of GuitarGyan added, “Even though there are very few female guitar players in India, and even fewer all-female bands, if there still are any left, the good news is that the ones around are pretty darn good. Two names that come to mind are Tipriti Kharbangar of blues duo Soulmate, and Nandini Srikar, who is a multi-talented vocalist, composer and guitar player”.
Regardless, the bottom line is that you can probably barely count the number of all-female bands and female guitarists in a nation of over one billion people on both your hands.
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Bollywood music is what primarily dominates India, and the rock music scene and scene for bands in general hasn’t been that promising in India. Nations like the United States, the U.K. and even Korea have had far more all-female bands and vocal groups, such as Shonen Knife, Indigo Girls, The Ronettes, The Spice Girls, Wonder Girls, The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Brown Eyed Girls, All Saints, Serebro, Vixen… the list just goes on and on. There are even far more female guitarists outside of India such as Orianthi, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Nancy Wilson, Anabelle Chvostek, Mia Coldheart, Anna Calvi, Malina Moye, Melissa McClelland and Jennifer Batten.
So, what is it that is keeping Indian women from picking up the guitar or joining forces to form all-female bands?
“I don’t know any female guitarists personally, but I guess there are some, in India”, said vocalist Sowmya Raoh. “The reason for it, I can’t say for sure. It could be because somehow, conventionally in India, women tend to take to singing automatically, rather than playing an instrument. I can’t think of a reason for the trend, quite honestly. And then there are women who play the guitar and sing, but I doubt if they will be content just playing the guitar, and not singing. Though when it comes to Indian classical music, be it Hindustani or Carnatic, we do get to see a lot of women playing instruments like sitar, veena, and violin”.
“In India it is not easy to find good income from guitar unless you are in the mainstream – however, I do not think the reason for lack of female guitarists is their fear of lack of income”, said bassist Jayen Varma. Varma shed light on many other possible reasons for the lack of female guitarists in India. “I have heard many girls saying that they would not be able to perform like men, so some girls think that playing guitar professionally is meant only for men.
“For most of the Indian girls, touring may also be hard because majority of parents or husbands do not allow them to tour alone or with other men. Majority of girls or their parents or husbands do not want them to perform in places where liquor is served. But, when you play the guitar professionally you cannot avoid places like clubs. So this could also be another reason. Furthermore, the support from family may be less when it comes to guitar than Indian classical instruments. However, nowadays, many girls are playing guitar like men even though they do not want it professionally”.
KJ Singh speculates it might have to do with the north-south divide in India. “In northern India, girls are not given the freedom to express themselves nor supported by family to pursue professions like music, especially playing a western instrument”, he said. “Hindustani music may have a few female vocalists, at best. Most are relegated to playing the tanpuras, behind the singer. On the other hand, southern India supports a healthy talent of women vocalists and instrumentalists, though again in the Carnatic classical genre”.
Singh also hinted at several other possible theories behind the discrepancy between male versus female guitarists and bands. “My other theory is that having a girl in a band is a sure recipe for disaster as the sexual tensions in a band can lead to its early and bitter demise. There are not enough girl-centric bands with just one male musician to prove my point otherwise. Also most people are judgmental when it comes to girl musicians. Can she actually play that thing? Is she really playing that thing? Does she have the energy to play that long? This can be very disheartening and discouraging for any newcomer”.
But Sandeep Garg had a more optimistic perspective. “One can speculate on the reasons for the scarcity of female guitarists/bands, but there is a positive trend emerging as more young ladies pick up the guitar as their primary instrument and step into the spotlight to front a band”, he said.
Nonetheless, the situation sure looks dim, and lots of changes need to take place before India will see more female guitarists and bands.
“We need to develop a platform and encourage those, especially girls, wanting to try out something new like playing a guitar or singing opera”, said Vijay Iyer. “Unfortunately everyone is just caught up in the race to fame and the expectation is to have instant results and success”.
“There is a lot that can be done to encourage this trend: the venues need to be better and safer, audiences need to be open to different forms of music, and, most importantly, gender stereotypes must be dismantled”, concluded Garg.
“Attitudes have to change before we see more woman on stage, especially musicians”, said KJ Singh. “Hence women are rare in this field. And, instrument players come under endangered species. I don’t think they are any less talented. I just hope we see more of them in the coming future. Musicians like Jayshree of Skinny Alley and Yasmin of this world shall hopefully spawn a whole new generation of women musicians in India”.
Singh added, on a lighter note, “It’s actually a bit surprising that there are no all-girl bands to speak of, in India, when having a girl in a band or in an orchestra party can get you the gigs and the audience. So imagine having two or three or even four girls in a band! I am sure some event manager reading this shall action this soon”.