Among the many wonders of the internet are the seemingly infinite stores of music on the similarly infinite digital avenues. While Youtube and iTunes may be your go-to URLs, there are certain websites that deserve a visit because of the incredibly unique nature of their content. These online music archives catalogue and chronicle music along the lines of a certain theme, era or other relevant category. Some of these archives are not open-access due to a plethora of copyright issues, and permission has to be obtained from the pertinent authority to listen to a certain recording. Nonetheless, the effort is no large price to pay compared to the value (both artistic and historical) of the music so protected. These archives feature sounds that are not merely examples of creative skill, but pieces of history themselves. If you are looking to sample music unlike what you can find anywhere else, simply browse the following :
Ajab Shahar – Kabir Project: Constructed by the Kabir Project, Bangalore, this is an online space comprising songs and conversations concerning ideas espoused by the vernacular saint-poet Kabir. This includes oral traditions of Bauls, Sufi and Bhakti poets collected over 12 years. While they are majorly sourced from various parts of India, there are also artists from parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh featuring maddeningly beautiful vocals and profoundly touching lyrics (with subtitles).
The Travelling Archive: Initiated in 2003 by Kolkata-based singer and writer Mousumi Bhowmik and sound designer Sukanta Majumdar, this website offers extensive information about folk musicians from West Bengal and Bangladesh. Field recordings, essays, albums and other information regarding the richly diverse tradition of music from the roots of Bengal makes this archive a godsend for serious researchers, curious amateurs and aficionados of good sound.
People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI): Established and operated by celebrated journalist P. Sainath, PARI is an online register of experiences marking lives of people from the most underprivileged parts of India. Notable among them are the recordings of the PARI Grindmill Songs Project which consist of songs sung by hardworking people often living a deprived life. Case in point: a song by Renuka Umbre of Rajmachi village whose family cultivates red millet on the land of other people that goes
The thin bangles cost twelve annas a dozen
Sister, your son Sajana, gives them to me
The woman went to Mumbai, she became a Mumbaiwali
She has forgotten the language of our countryside.
Archive of Indian Music (AIM): Possibly one of the most fascinating soundcloud accounts you will come across, AIM is a gathering of gramophone recordings reflecting the heritage of classical music that inhabits the annals of Indian culture. Writer and music lover Vikram Sampath did the world a huge favour when he painstakingly collected and digitized over a thousand of such precious rarities as the piece sung by Angur Bala to felicitate the Nizam on silver jubilee of his coronation, or the melodic banter featured between protagonists in the plays of Alfred Natak Mandali. The archive is delightfully manifold, hosting the likes of Bhojpuri folk and film soundtracks along with more predictably elite pieces of classical renditions. I highly recommend Raga Dhrupad by the Dagar Brothers.
All India Radio (AIR) Archives: The AIR archives are easily the most extensive on this list because of the significant financial resources All India Radio has always been able to muster. AIR’s archives are not entirely open access, and processes to gain permission to listen to various recordings are outlined on their website (allindiaradio.gov.in). However, the hassle is well worth the effort, as AIR holds in its custody artistic rarities such as ragas rendered divine by the voices of the Alathur Brothers and the Divyama Sankirtanas of Tyagaraja as directed by the musical genius of Dr. M Balamuralikrishna (who has accompanied Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, and performed at jugalbandi concerts with Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Kishori Amonkar).