Heavy Metal in Academia
The news that has taken the music enthusiasts by storm is the recent announcement of the academic undergraduate degree in Heavy Metal, by New College Nottingham (NCN), UK via BBC on 12 May, 2013. Certainly, it is the first program of its kind.
Liam Maloy, lecturer in music at NCN said to BBC, “It's a degree, so it will be academically rigorous.” “We will teach them the business side of the music industry too, which is imperative,” says Maloy. On the contrary, conservative academic Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education shunned the idea by calling it, “a waste of time!”
Bangladesh – hosting more than 200 Heavy Metal bands consisting mostly of students has its own opinion(s).
Given such a context, Shakib Chowdhury - lead singer, bassist and lyricist of one of the pioneering Heavy Metal bands of Bangladesh – ‘Cryptic Fate’ shared his insights in an articulate interview with the writer.
Do you think people can be "taught" Heavy Metal as offered by NCN?
Shakib Chowdhury (SC): The emotional response is that, I don't believe in institutional learning of rock music or metal music. It is a sub-genre of music and rock/metal is about passion and not finesse. The finesse comes with practice and experience. I feel you have to experience metal, learn through playing, learn through picking up songs, playing gigs, sucking at it etc. And to me, metal is always about raw emotions and connections that are very personal. I don't think you should make metal keeping in mind the audience or the market. It is a very different mind-set from pop music. Pop music is made for the people. Metal - you make it for yourself.
The rational response is that not everyone who is passionate about music wants to be a musician. Just as being an English Literature graduate doesn't make you a writer, a Heavy Metal graduate won't make you a metal musician. And maybe the person taking the course doesn't want to or need to be a musician. The student may just want the degree because he/she is passionate about metal. And if this person then goes out into the workforce, the metal community has one of its own people in the general work community. For instance, if the person heading a major Telco marketing department is a Heavy Metal graduate, then all the more chances of that Telco brand being involved with metal projects. So that's a clear positive.
Another thing is that a lot of people give up metal because they can't find the right partners for their band. So by having a heavy metal course, you are congregating metal enthusiasts and so you have more chances of talented people who otherwise would not have been able to form a band and make new music.
Cryptic Fate went through much deliberation and struggle while releasing their first Bengali album - "Sreshtho". Do you think, a degree that will also teach the “business” of music has a shot in Bangladesh in light of the release of "Sreshtho"?
SC: “Sreshtho” was a very frustrating experience. We recorded the album in 1997 but then we had to wait till 2002 for it to be released. Even that happened only because we had built some credibility with the song "Cholo Bangladesh" which was released in "Chharpotro" (thanks to Isha Khan Durey) and more importantly Bassbaba Sumon (of Aurthohin) was heavily involved with G-series at that time. Between 1997 and 2001 we went to all the major labels but no one was convinced that it was a marketable product. Learning the "business side of things" would definitely have helped out then. I am assuming a major consideration for this university is contacts in the music industry. Just as universities in Bangladesh help out with placing CVs, this university should have contacts in the industry and bands will get a lot of help starting their careers. It certainly would have helped us out if we had those contacts in 1997.
Also the business side of things has changed drastically. Now a musician has more freedom in releasing his/her song through the digital space. But the monetisation (I think I just invented that word) of that process is still not clear. So the university can greatly help with these things.
The Heavy Metal degree is drawing a lot of flak internationally, whereas we are okay with universities like Harvard, Oxford and University of Dhaka offering degrees in "Music". Why not Heavy Metal?
SC: Heavy Metal is a sub-genre of music, and maybe studying a sub-genre can be limiting to your talents. Studying Heavy Metal is not the same as studying physics, which is a sub-genre of science. Maybe it's like studying just romantic comedy films rather than film-making in general. You can see why that would be limiting. Maybe that's why the criticisms are coming.