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FRUKT Global Scenes #4 - India's new generation and booming music industry

In the fourth of FRUKT's reports in music scenes exploding around the world, we look at India's new generation of artists connecting with a global audience as the country's music industry booms and new fans around the world lean in

Now it might be that some music fans outside India would struggle to name many artists from the country, with few breaking through to mainstream global charts or playing large-scale music festivals outside their homeland over the years, despite it being the most populous nation in the world. But Indian music has quietly had a major impact on the West, from Indian artists in the 60s such as Ravi Shankar on jazz artists like John Coltrane and rock acts like The Beatles, to Britney Spears sampling S. P. Balasubrahmanyam’s ‘Tere Mere Beech Mein’ on her global hit 'Toxic'. Even dance music has been shaped, with arguably the first acid house record emerging from India via Charanjit Singh using a Roland 303 on ‘Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat’ five years before Phuture created ‘Acid Trax’. And now audience listening habits in India are evolving at lightning speed, with a young tech-savvy community sharing their music to the world and a booming music industry, meaning that notable export success feels ever more-inevitable.

A recent Luminate music report (covered by Music Business Worldwide) regarding the share of the 10,000 most popular global songs over the last 10 years, showed the Hindi-language share jumped from 3.8% in 2021 to 7.8% in 2023. This has been driven by a huge rise in legal music streaming in the country, the increase being so large it’s predicted the country will overtake the USA to become the dominant music streaming nation by 2025. So after Latin pop acts like Bad Bunny, K-Pop bands like Blackpink, and Afrobeats stars like Burna Boy, will Indian artists be next to break into the pop mainstream around the world?

Well, while the streaming numbers are soaring, many of the largest local acts’ audiences still remain limited to their homeland (and neighbouring countries) although the sizeable Indian diaspora means that many of these acts can also play to packed crowds around the world. As an example, one of the most popular genres remains ‘playback songs’ - pop stars who record songs for the ever-buoyant Bollywood film scene, with the songs lip-synced on-screen by the actors. The most popular YouTube music video in the world this week is a film soundtrack, with Anirudh Ravichander & Vishal Mishra’s ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’ collecting 20m plays on its first day alone, although 95% of Ravichander’s audience comes from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. India’s most popular current artist Arijit Singh also comes from the playback scene, and on streams alone is one of the biggest 100 acts in the world - even playing London's 20,000 capacity O2 in August. However, his audience is similar - 84% based in his homeland, with a further 10% coming from Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

But of course we live in an era of thrilling borderless online creativity fuelled by TikTok, Youtube, and file-sharing apps, where young audiences and creators discover new sounds and weave in their own influences, and there’s a new wave of Indian artists ready to break through to mixed audiences around the globe.

Last year, Diljit Dosanjh (main picture) became the first Indian artist to play the famous Coachella festival, and since then he’s collaborated with Sia on ‘Hass Hass’, closing in on 70m Spotify streams. He's just been announced to headline JOYTOWN, a massive two-day festival in Mumbai on 12-13 April, and while his audience is largely based in India it’s growing fast in the US and UK particularly, with over 50m Instagram and TikTok followers globally. This year’s Coachella continues the trend with three younger Indian artists playing, showing a growing crossover appeal. AP Dhillon’s smooth sound is influenced as much by global pop as Indian genres - he spent some of his formative years in Canada - and nearly 50% of his fanbase is based outside India. He’ll be joined at the festival by Sid Siriam (who's similarly lived a dual-nationality life between India and the US) and Nav, a Canada-based rapper who’s worked with Metro Booming, Lil Uzi Vert and Travis Scott.

“AP Dhillon’s smooth sound is influenced by global pop - and nearly 50% of his global fanbase is based outside India”

Away from the mainstream, there’s also a new generation of leftfield Indian artists creating inspiring music that’s finding an audience overseas. DJ and curator Aneesha Kotwani has just unleashed an Icons mix on Mary Anne Hobbs' BBC 6Music show, while Arushi Jain, who weaves classical Indian textures into modular electronic soundscapes, has also been broadcast on BBC 6Music and NTS, as well as playing festivals such as Green Man, and Format in the US. When Chai Met Toast have toured Australia and the US, with their indie-pop picking up plenty of fans. And ADGRMS is a rising star of the EDM dance music world having already played Tomorrowland and Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), blending samples from Indian music into heavyweight dance anthems.

The recent growth in non-English language songs hitting the charts around the world (many Latin pop acts like Bad Bunny, Karol G, and Peso Pluma have had Spanish-language hits in recent years for example) shows once again that audiences increasingly have less of a genre/language-focus, so watch for new Indian artists breaking into the global mainstream in the coming years. The country’s music industry is growing fast too, and while it currently remains outside the Top 10 largest music economies in the world according to analysts IFPI, it seems inevitable (much like China leapfrogging into the top 10 this year) this will change very soon.