Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Asian Age: W.O.A Records - Going it alone...

Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, London
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
:: Culture Plus
Going it alone
Himanshu Bhandari

The business of music. It's a prickly subject, to say the least.
Independent label W.O.A. Records made its India foray with a six-city
tour, and is now the No.1 (Indie Label) in the country.

It threw light on The Great Indie Debate, a modern mainstay of informed
music discussion. Artistes are faced with a difficult question — retain a
sense of "authenticity" by rejecting corporate overtures, or jump on the
label bandwagon that undoubtedly guarantees a greater audience.

"When I started out my professional music career I was obviously an
independent artiste and through the years I realised that luck is a huge
factor in the industry. The support system for an independent artiste is
almost non-existent, especially in regions like India and West Asia," said
Oliver Sean, founder of WOA Records, and headline act for its first India
tour the past March. The Indian-Portugeser set up his label with a view
towards providing the very "support system" he was denied in his up-andcoming
years, and met with more than moderate success, as the India
tour proves.

Of course, abstinence from "going major" is often borne not of choice
but circumstance. Everyone starts off independent. It's a growing
resistance to sign on after establishing a reputation that's important
here, with disenchantment firmly at its core.

"A lot of good music doesn't get recognised because it's considered not
trendy enough. The majors as a whole are risk-averse — they look for
stuff they think they can sell. It's business, purely," said Jesus Aaron,
traveling folk rocker from Atalanta, USA. Speaking after the W.O.A Records
Tour gig at Mumbai's Hard Rock Café, he confessed to have enjoyed performing
across India, particularly Goa, and was quick to point out the enthusiasm
towards non-major artistes. From fans that is, not labels.

Having done just fine without a major helping hand for years however,
he's not about to change now. But specific cultural norms have made
the struggle much easier in his home country. Conduciveness to indie
music is not something a musical ethos attains overnight. And Aaron,
along with Sean and Japanese techno-rocker Sparky Quano — all agree
there's much to be done if India is to spawn an independent culture that
can support itself.

"Radio play is something that supports a lot of local, unknown artistes in
other countries. I don't think you have that sort of radio culture in India
as yet, I don't know," says Aaron. Maybe he does, for he makes a
damning observation. Airtime on our radio stations is largely preserved
for promoting established artistes. A none-too-irregular practice, but it
doesn't do anything for what could become a thriving community.

"In a way it's true that India is prohibitive in this regard. In the US and
Europe, having live concerts of independent artistes is huge and a lot of
people there have realised that the best music is heard there. There is
something really satisfying in discovering a new act and following it all
the way through. This culture hasn't really come to India," Sean says,
"No music company here has even considered supporting this."
Quano has attained a cult following in his home country, but it doesn't
deter his staunch opposition to the record companies. "The major labels,
once they see something they can sell they get after you. But it's all
money, money, money. Of course I need some to be able to eat. But all
that show business takes a lot away from my music," he says in broken,
heavily accented English.

In a sense the indie community maintains closest ties to the archetypal
ideologies of early rock 'n' roll. Rebellious, anti-establishment attitudes
may now carry a caricaturist connotation, but on a certain level, the
very notion that someone can survive armed solely with a guitar and
something to say is indeed heartwarming. If only for its unabashed

Authenticity or success? Or both, if that's possible. As a flurry of
independent labels (Blue Frog, Counterculture, Chill Om, the list goes
on) seem to have realised the possibilities at hand, it's question we'll
have to face in the near future too. And perhaps just as well.

For more info on W.O.A Records please visit

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