Narendra Kusnur's music musings …



LIKE many people from my generation, I first got attracted to jazz bass guitar through the magical fingers of Jaco Pastorius of the band Weather Report. Very soon, I started appreciating Stanley Clarke of Return to Forever, and most of my early listening focused around the electric bass.

As I got deeper into jazz and began attending concerts regularly, I started getting exposed to some really talented musicians who played the upright bass or double bass. The whole image of them standing with an instrument larger than them and yet playing with such control was fascinating.

Charlie Haden, who passed away last week, was one of the double bassists who had a major impact on my jazz listening. It began with his works with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, especially on the landmark 1959 album ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’. Then, I heard his collaborations with pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist Pat Metheny – with the latter, ‘Beyond the Missouri Sky’ remains a classic. Another favourite was Haden’s ‘Nocturne’, which won the 2002 Grammy for best Latin jazz album.

Haden’s death marks a huge loss to the world of bass-playing. Clearly, he was one of the most prolific and versatile practitioners of the instrument, literally making it sing.

Over the years, the world has heard numerous bass greats. It was because of these masters that bass playing earned a respect of its own, especially in a world where audiences are largely more attracted to the saxophone, trumpet, piano or guitar. While it would be difficult to draw a list of greatest bassists, I am listing 20 whom I have personally admired. While the first eight were masters of the double bass, the other 12 have specialised in the electric bass. Either way, they have been true champions.

1. Ray Brown – Known for his extensive work with pianist Oscar Peterson and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, Brown was a huge name from the late 1940s to the 1960s. He also played the cello

2. Charles Mingus – A highly influential composer, bandleader and double bassist, Mingus had a style that blended jazz with gospel and classical music. His album ‘The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady’ remains a jazz classic

3. Charlie Haden – Besides his collaborations with Coleman, Jarrett and Metheny, mentioned above, Haden was known for his work with the Liberation Music Orchestra, a group he co-led with pianist Carla Bley

4. Scott LaFaro – Best known for his seminal work with pianist Bill Evans and his trio, LaFaro died tragically in a road accident at the age of 25. His professional career lasted only six years, but he redefined jazz bass-playing

5. Paul Chambers – Another genius who died young, of tuberculosis at 33, Chambers played with many greats including trumpeters Miles Davis and Donald Byrd, saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, guitarist Wes Montgomery and pianist Wynton Kelly

6. Ron Carter - One of the most recorded bassists ever, Carter has appeared in 2,500 albums. His work with Miles Davis, pianists Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard have been hugely admired. He is an acclaimed cellist too

7. Dave Holland – A Britisher, Holland first earned a name playing at the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, before he moved to the US. Besides many albums with Miles Davis, he has recorded with keyboardist Chick Corea and saxophonist Joe Henderson, among others

8. Christian McBride – One of those musicians who’s adept at both upright bass and electric bass, McBride has played with many artistes including guitarist John McLaughlin, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, pianist McCoy Tyner and singer Diana Krall

9. Marcus Miller – One of the foremost electric bass players, Miller has accompanied Miles Davis, Hancock, singer Luther Vandross, saxophonist David Sanborn and others. He also plays clarinet, keyboards, saxophone and guitar

10. Jaco Pastorius – The king of the electric bass, Pastorius was best known for his work with Weather Report, besides numerous solo projects. He died at the age of 35 after slipping into a coma following an altercation with a club bouncer

11. Stanley Clarke – Though adept at upright bass too, Clarke made his mark on the electric bass as part of the group Return to Forever with Chick Corea. A highlight of his career was the album ‘The Rite of Strings’, where he plays acoustic bass, with Al DiMeola on acoustic guitar and Jean Luc Ponty on acoustic violin

12. John Patitucci – Another musician who’s proficient at both double and electric bass. His best known stint was with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band and Akoustic Band, and he’s also played with blues legend BB King, rock group Bon Jovi and popular artiste Sting

13. Victor Wooten – A hugely talented bassist, Wooten has played extensively with banjo maestro Bela Fleck and his group the Flecktones. He was also part of a bass supergroup with Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller

14. Jonas Hellborg – The Swedish bassist was part of the reunited Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1980s. He has collaborated with Indian musicians like sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, tabla player Fazal Qureshi and kanjira exponent V Selvaganesh

15. Steve Swallow – One of the first double bassists to shift entirely to the electric bass, Swallow has had some outstanding recordings with saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, vibraphonist Gary Burton, pianist Carla Bley and guitarist John Scofield

16. Kai Eckhardt – The German-born bassist is best known for his work with McLaughlin and drummer Billy Cobham. His style blends jazz, funk and world music, and he’s been hugely influenced by Marcus Miller

17. Dominique di Piazza – A master of the electric bass, this French-born musician was part of the John McLaughlin Trio, which also featured percussionist Trilok Gurtu in the early 1990s. He’s a huge influence on many younger players

18. Nathan East – A very versatile bass player, who has played jazz, rhythm n’ blues, and even rock. He was part of the smooth jazz quartet Fourplay, and has accompanied renowned musicians like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins and Joe Satriani

19. Etienne M’bappe – From Cameroon, M’bappe is one of the most popular bassists on the scene today, with a style that blends jazz, classical and world music. He has played with the Joe Zawinul Syndicate and Carlos Santana, and is currently part of McLaughlin’s band The 4th Dimension

20. Richard Bona – Also from Cameroon, Bona stayed in Germany and France before settling in the US. He has played with keyboardist Joe Zawinul, guitarists Larry Coryell, Mike Stern and George Benson, and saxophonist Branford Marsalis

Others: Besides these 20, the other names that immediately come to mind are Gary Peacock, Eddie Gomez, Phil Upchurch, Oscar Pettiford, Wilbur Ware, Victor Bailey of Weather Report, Rick Laird and Ralphe Armstrong of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Reuben Rogers. One must also mention Bootsy Collins, who revolutionised bass-playing in the funk field as part of singer James Brown’s band and later the group Parliament-Funkadelic.

There are many others who’ve contributed to the glorious world of bass-playing. Like the drums, the bass strengthens the rhythm section and acts as a backbone to most songs. Without a good bass line, a song is often empty.


Jayateerth Mevundi (left) and Anand Bhate

BEFORE this week, my exposure to the Marathi devotional music form of ‘abhang’ was limited to some immortal songs by three of India’s most legendary singers. My favourites were Pt Bhimsen Joshi’s rendition of ‘Teerth Vitthal’, ‘Maajhe maaher Pandhari’ and ‘Arambhi vandeen Ayodhyecha raja’, Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Pail to ge kau koktahe’ and Kishori Amonkar’s ‘Bolava Vitthal’ and ‘Avagha rang ek zhala’.

Then, on Wednesday evening, I was tempted to attend the concert ‘Bolava Vitthal’ at the Shanmukhanda Hall for two reasons. One, I had heard of the immense popularity of this event organised by Pancham-Nishad every year to celebrate Aashadhi Ekadashi. Second, it was to feature Jayateerth Mevundi, whose singing I have admired for well over a decade.

Clearly, the concert was an ear-opener of sorts. There are occasions in one’s life when one suddenly feels like exploring a new form of music more deeply, and for me, this was one of them. From around 6.15 pm to 10.30 pm, save a 15-minute break, I was mesmerised by the power of the songs which took me to another world.

I would like to clarify here that my knowledge of Marathi is very basic — passable in the market or while giving directions to rickshaw-wallahs. Hence, I did not get into the depths of the song meanings, though this is something I would love to do so in future. At the concert, I tried to sense which songs were popular by looking around for the reactions of those sitting around me. And though I took rough notes on my phone, I had to check the internet and YouTube for the exact titles.

The evening had four acts – Rahul Deshpande, Mevundi, Ranjani-Gayatri and Anand Bhate, in that order. It began with a bhajan featuring all of them. Then, each singer was to do four abhangs each.

Rahul Deshpande, grandson of the great vocalist Pt Vasantrao Deshpande, excelled on ‘Jatha Vaishnavacha’ and ‘Kaanada Raja Pandharicha’. I later discovered that the latter was known for its duet version by Sudhir Phadke and Vasantrao, and that song has been playing on a loop for the past two days.

With his extremely mellifluous voice, Mevundi rendered the popular ‘Visava Vitthal’, ‘Akaar ukaar makaar’ and ‘Rajas Sukumar’ rather well, but the highlight of his presentation was the Kannada bhajan ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi baarama’, whose Bhimsen-ji version I have grown up on. Before the break, Deshpande and Mevundi did a jugalbandi of ‘Taal bole chipalila’, coming up with an ethereal ‘Pandurang Pandurang’ climax.

Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri, sisters who have also made a mark in the world of abhangs, impressed on ‘Je kan ranjale gaanjale’ and ‘Bolava Vitthal’. Finally, Anand Bhate, a disciple of Bhimsen-ji, enthralled the audience with ‘Maajhe maaher Pandhari’, ‘Johar mai baap johar’ and the Bal Gandharva-popularised Bhairavi bhajan ‘Aga Vaikunthicha raaya’. His rendition of intricate taans and ability to move from one octave to another were delightful.

The regret, if any, was that nobody performed ‘Teerth Vitthal’, and one has heard both Mevundi and Bhate do it so well in the past. Though some people might have felt that this would be a very predictable choice, one can never tire of that song. Yet, despite that, this was one of those lengthy evenings that one wished had lasted even longer.

So far, I had normally heard abhangs at the end of a khayal-dominated classical concert, sometimes on popular demand. This was the first time I had attended a full-fledged abhang concert, and I hope more are organised in Mumbai at regular intervals.

Besides Pancham-Nishad, the organisation Saptasur organises an annual festival called ‘Teerth Vitthal’. In fact, it is taking place at Thane’s Kashinath Ghanekar Natyagraha this Saturday (July 12) and will feature Bhate, Rahul Deshpande, Manjusha Patil and Sayalee Talwalkar. Yet, most of these concerts are held towards Aashadhi Ekadashi in June-July, and hence one wishes there are some shows at other times of the year.

From my first experience of attending an abhang concert, I have a few other observations. Let’s take them one by one:

1) The obvious one is that this music is not only spiritually uplifting, but sublime and ethereal enough to mesmerise you mentally. The songs often begin in a medium tempo, but
the climax in most cases is so energetic, one is left asking for more.

2) Singers of this style not only require a supreme command over the classical nuances, but also great power and range. To excel at this form, one must have that X-factor, that ability to transcend beyond limits. For that, plenty of ‘taiyyari’ is required.

3) This music is very strong on rhythm, and that makes it vibrant. While the harmonium provided the melodic accompaniment, the tabla, pakhawaj and manjira pepped up the rhythm section, adding to the energy of the singing. Songs with a more vibrant climax concluded with the blowing of the ‘shankh’, or conch shell, giving a temple-like effect.

4) The huge Shanmukhananda Hall was nearly packed, and one didn’t get tickets for the ground floor. This just shows that there is a large audience for this form, a sizeable chunk belonging to the Maharashtrian community. Since these shows are held in other parts of India too, one should make extra effort to spread awareness about abhangs to non-Maharashtrian audiences too.

5) This was missing at Wednesday’s show, but it’s extremely important to recognise the poets. Most of these gems have been written in praise of the god Vitthala by such great personalities as Sant Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath and Namdeo. Though the poets normally take their names within the song, the lay listener may tend to skip them. As such, it would be ideal if the singers mention the poets and say a few words about the composition before reciting it.

Though the show was hugely successful and the quality of music was extraordinary, the singers sang with an approach that they felt the audience may have been 100 per cent knowledgeable. Yes, a majority of those attending would have been diehard abhang fans, but I am sure there were quite a few lay listeners who wanted to know more about the form.

A few words to address their needs would have been helpful. I am sure there would have been many other first-timers like me.


Andholan/ Mekaal Hasan Band

Genre: Fusion-rock

Rating: ****

IN its first two albums ‘Sampooran’ and ‘Saptak’, the Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) wonderfully mixed classical bandishes and traditional Sufi compositions with western elements like rock and jazz. The Lahore-based group uses the same mix on its latest album ‘Andholan’, but there is one major difference.

With popular vocalist Javed Bashir leaving the band, MHB has now gone in for a female vocalist in Indian singer Sharmistha Chatterjee. Considering that fans were bound to compare any male replacement with the incomparable Javed, that’s an intelligent move. For her part, Sharmistha has a strong Hindustani classical base, a good command over the ragas, and blends well with the energetic rock and jazz backdrop that embellishes most tunes. She also sings harkats and murkis freely, though there are occasions when one wishes the compositions had used less of them.

Besides her, the album features the supremely talented Mekaal on guitars, the brilliant Mohammed Ahsan Papu on flute, Amir Azhar on bass and Louis Pinto ‘Gumby’ on drums. In their forthcoming live projects, the rhythm section will comprise Mumbai-based drummer Gino Banks and bassist Sheldon D’Silva.

The album contains eight tracks, and the highlights are the innovative song structures, and the masterly coordination between guitars and flute. Interestingly, the band had a song called ‘Andholan’ on its album ‘Saptak’, but that’s not featured here.

The opener ‘Ghunghat’ is a version of poet Baba Bulleh Shah’s well-known Sufi kaafi ‘Ghunghat ohley na luk sajna, mein mushtaq deedaar de haan’. With its crisp guitars, flute and drumming, it sets the pace. Next, the band presents ‘Champakali’, based on the raga of that name. Papu’s flute is mesmerising, and a wailing guitar stretch glitters at the end.

‘Bheem’ is an adaptation of the traditional raga Bhimpalasi bandish ‘Ja ja re apni mandirwa, sun paave morey saas nanadiya’. The composition has earlier been rendered by classical vocalists Pandit Jasraj and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, and by Delhi fusion band Advaita, but MHB lends its own touch.

‘Sayon’, also based on Bulleh Shah’s poetry, is one of the strong points of the album. Slower than the other tunes, it has a soothing flute portion, with Sharmistha showing her vocal prowess on the lines ‘Aao sayon ral deyon ni vadhai, main var paaya raanjha maahi’.

‘Malkauns’, based on raga Malkauns, uses the composition ‘Aaj more ghar aayela balma’, once sung by the great Ustad Amir Khan. Mekaal is in great guitar form on ‘Sindhi’, producing a couple of crackling solos. ‘Megh’ starts with a folksy flavour, and picks up tempo. The final piece ‘Kinarey’ cuts down the pace, and is a simple, sing-along charmer.

All in all, this is another feather in MHB’s cap. The band has a distinct sound, and the tunes are strong enough to merit repeated hearing.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


Lazaretto/ Jack White

Genre: Rock/ alternative

Labels: Third Man/ XL Recordings/ Columbia

Rating: *****

AS A part of the groups White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather, and through his debut solo album ‘Blunderbuss’, American singer, guitarist and songwriter Jack White has been recognised as one of the most versatile and accomplished musicians of the 21st century. Interestingly, he is often categorised as a modern blues musician, when in reality his music encompasses many more styles.

Check out the first three songs of White’s second solo album ‘Lazaretto’, to begin with. The opening track ‘Three Women’ is in the blues space, no doubt. An uptempo reworking of Blind Willie McTell’s classic folk-blues beauty ‘Three Women Blues’, it sets the pace for the album as he talks of having three women – “red, blonde and brunette”, in comparison to the original’s “yellow, brown and black”. But his fascination for the blues ends just there.

The second number, which is the title track, blends a hip-hop vocal line with garage rock guitars and folk/ classical violins, with an incredible distortion-filled, Led Zeppelinesque guitar solo in between. Then, on the next song ‘Temporary Ground’, he explores country ‘n’ western territory, getting in violinist and singer Lillie Mae Rische to do parts that are so reminiscent of Emmylou Harris. Add to that some crisp pedal steel guitar and lines like “Moving without motion, screaming without sound, across an open ocean, flying there on temporary ground” and you have an absolute winner.

Get the drift? Across 11 songs, White never ceases to surprise. Throughout, he moves from one genre to another, making it difficult to pinpoint where exactly his sound belongs. Even more impressive is the quality of lyric-writing on some numbers, as White talks of everything from loneliness to rejection to irony with articulate ease.

The opening of ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’ sounds like the theme music for an action movie, but slowly, he gets into a late 70s feel, with soaring back-up vocals and a driving rhythm. ‘High Ball Stepper’, the only instrumental track, is filled with trademark distortion and fuzz guitars that move between psychedelic and grunge zones.

On the Stones-like ‘Just One Drink’, White talks about a woman who’s been nasty to him, with the lines “I love you, but honey why don’t you love me?” The next track ‘Alone In My Home’ is held together by an ultimately melodic piano line, and then talks of loneliness on the lines “I’m alone in my home, alone in my home, nobody can touch me.”

For a delightful change in tempo, ‘Entitlement’ gets into folk-rock rebel mode. Against a charming piano line, White sings with the kind of raspy twang that’s so reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, and truly impresses with the lyrics “Stop what you’re doing and get back in line; I hear this from people all the time; If we can’t be happy then you can’t be too; I’m tired of being told what to do, Yeah, I’m sick of being told what to do”.

The next number ‘That Black Bat Licorice’ is a complete contrast in sound. Starting with madcap laughter and pounding garage rock riffs, it moves on to hip-hop vocals, and synthesisers, violins and guitars that sound inspired by Asian and Middle Eastern music. On the country-pop tune ‘I Think I Found The Culprit’, White smartly blends acoustic guitars with pedal steels, keyboards, violins and haunting back-up chants. The repeated line “Birds of a feather may lay together but the uglier one is always under the gun” lend a sing-along feel.

The album concludes with the wonderfully-written ‘Want And Able’, which talks of the difference between having a desire for something and actually achieving it. The words “Now, Want and Able are two different things;
One is desire, and the other is the means; Like I wanna hold you, and see you, and feel you in my dreams; But that’s not possible, something simply will not let me” talk of the irony of life.

What you have, in effect, is an album that is strong on its distinctness, its arrangements and its songwriting. Clearly, this is one of the best selections of songs released in the past year or so, proving that White is simply moving from strength to strength.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


YESTERDAY, on June 25, it was five years since Michael Jackson left us. While fans worldwide would have remembered his hit songs and dance steps, many in Mumbai might have flashed back to the night of November 1, 1996, when the King of Pop gave his maiden concert in India. Clearly, it was one of the best shows India has ever witnessed, and it was discussed by those who attended it for weeks to come.

As the music journalist of Mid Day, Mumbai, I was assigned not only to cover the show at Andheri Sports Complex, but also the preparations and the aftermath. In other words, I was on the ‘Michael Jackson beat’. Here, I shall jot down a few memories of that experience.

The build-up

A FORTNIGHT before the King of Pop had arrived in Mumbai, at a time when hundreds of fans were eagerly looking forward to his visit, I was already getting tired of the words ‘Michael’ and ‘Jackson’. It had been a few weeks since I had been put on the MJ beat, with a clear brief that I had to file some exclusive story every day. My boss insisted that we just could not lag behind the competition, which comprised Bombay Times and Indian Express.

I liked Michael Jackson, but I wasn’t a diehard fan. There was a time, yes, in 1983 and 1984, when I would regularly listen to ‘Thriller’, but with my tastes inclining towards rock music, I began to hear less of his music. In 1995, I reviewed his two-part ‘HIStory’ album, where the first album contained his older hits and the second was filled with newer material. I had quite liked it, specially the songs ‘They don’t care about us’, ‘Scream’ and ‘You are not alone’. Thus, there was a brief MJ phase.

Yet, the thought of doing a daily story on him certainly didn’t seem thrilling. The Internet wave was yet to begin, and there was very limited reading material on the man. I naturally began by doing a few write-ups on his music, his hits songs, his dancing, his controversies and how his earlier tour had been cancelled. I tried a few trivia pieces too, but I couldn’t stretch the write-ups beyond a week. Moreover, the articles were general in nature, and lacked any local element.

Slowly, I had to build some ‘sources’ who would regularly feed me with info. I had my contacts at Wizcraft, which was organising the tour, and Clea PR, which was handling the publicity. Most of the time, I either got no information or irrelevant information, and I’m sure they were as sick of hearing my voice as I was of calling them.

The original plan was that MJ was to do two shows in India – one in Mumbai, and the other in either Delhi or Bangalore. It would be part of the HIStory World tour and India was sandwiched between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok in his schedule, with an entire week’s time.
One afternoon, Sabbas Joseph of Wizcraft called me to give me the exclusive news that MJ would be doing only one show, and that too in Mumbai. We carried it under the headline ‘Just One Big Blast’, leaving a lot of readers confused about the word ‘blast’. Anyway, the competition didn’t have the story, and my job was safe.

By this time, Raj Thackeray and his Shiv Udyog Sena had become increasingly involved in the show. As the political reporters had better access to him, and could also speak Marathi fluently, they began chipping in with some stories, much to my relief. But closer to the event, the onus came back to me.

How many musicians would accompany MJ? How many bodyguards? Which room of the Oberoi would he stay in and what arrangements were being made? What kind of plane would he arrive in? Who all would be present at the airport? What kind of equipment was being flown in? What kind of food was being prepared? Were any parties being hosted for him? The works!

No wonder I kept waiting for the D-Day to come fast. Mercifully, it came.

The countdown

ON October 30, 1996, I reached the Sahar International Airport around noon. Though MJ’s private jet was expected only around 2 pm, one couldn’t take a risk, just in case he landed earlier. For a long time, one could barely see anyone, barring a few people who liked like they were from the Shiv Udyog Sena.

The moment word got around that MJ’s flight had landed, people came out of nowhere. Apparently, they were waiting in buses parked a little away from the airport, and they came with banners saying ‘Welcome Michael Jackson’ and ‘Mumbai Loves You Michael Jackson’. They definitely didn’t look like MJ fans.

A lot has been written about the airport reception, right from Raj Thackeray’s welcome and actress Sonali Bendre’s nine-yard saree and ‘nathni’ (nose ornament). There was also a lot of coverage of his visit to the residence of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, where another colleague Clara Sequeira had been stationed.

I left the airport with photographer Suresh KK, thinking I just had to file a short report on the airport arrival. So we took our own time, first having a bite and then going for some other assignment. When I reached office around 6 pm, it seems my boss had been frantically trying to get in touch with me. I didn’t have a mobile phone yet, and he had tried contacting my house.

We had suddenly received an invitation to attend MJ’s party at the Oberoi. The hitch was that guests were required to dress up in formals, and I was wearing blue jeans and some colourful pink and blue printed tee. Of course, my boss had sent an office boy all the way to my residence to get some of my formal clothes but when I reached office, there was no sign of him either.

So I borrowed the shirt of my colleague Anthony D’Costa aka Danto. To hide the jeans, I didn’t tuck in the shirt. And I made my way to the Oberoi, only to discover that nobody was really checking the dress code.

Mumbai’s entire hoity-toity crowd was present there, from film stars to industrialists to party regulars to models. All of them must have thought of spending a few minutes with the pop star, and getting their photos clicked. Alas, what MJ did was simple: he arrived around two hours late, surrounded by bodyguards. His manager announced that he wasn’t well, but he was really keen on meeting Mumbai’s people. So he stayed for exactly 90 seconds, said “I Love You Mumbai” twice and disappeared.

The next day’s papers were filled with stories on how people had shook hands with him or hugged him at the bash. They quoted him saying beautiful things to them, when the truth was that he hadn’t spoken to a soul. That much for the show-offs!

The concert was to take place on November 1, and we were informed that since MJ preferred to take complete rest a day before the show, nothing had been scheduled for October 31. Of course, the star did hang out in the Oberoi lobby to meet some fans, before attending a children’s event in the hotel. It would be, of course, only a few hours before Mumbai would witness the extravaganza.

The concert

THOUGH the show would start only after 6.30 pm, first with performances by Sharon Prabhakar and Bally Sagoo, people started walking in after 4 pm. It started as a trickle, but around 6 pm the crowds started swelling.

The costliest tickets, which had a seating arrangement, were for Rs 10,000, and those standing in the front had to shell out Rs 5,000. The side of the stadium and the standing portion at the back fetched lower ticket rates, with the lowest being Rs 1,500.

For Mid-Day, I was to write the main report on the concert, and Ruchi Sharma was to cover the glam element – the celebrities attending, what they said, what they wore etc. Uday Benegal, frontman of the rock band Indus Creed, was to write another piece, covering the show from a musician’s perspective.

Michael came in around 8 pm, and the image of the makeshift spaceship and his coming out of the door is etched in our memories. His show lasted two hours and 40 minutes without a break, and there were so many other memorable moments – the artificial tank, children waving flags, his famous moondance, the lead guitar on ‘Beat it’ and his act of pulling out a girl from the audience being some.

The set list consisted of all his greatest hits and newer songs. Prominent numbers were ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Beat it’, ‘Thriller’, ‘The way you make me feel’, ‘Wanna be starting something’, ‘Rock with you’, ‘Wanna be starting something’, ‘Off the wall’, ‘Dangerous’, ‘Stranger in Moscow’, ‘Scream’, ‘They don’t care about us’, ‘You are not alone’, ‘Earth song’ and ‘Black or white’.

The best things about the show were the scale and sheer entertainment value. There wasn’t a minute when one got bored, and there was a surprise every few minutes. India has witnessed a lot of great shows – Roger Waters, Rolling Stones, Yanni, Joe Zawinul and Angelique Kidjo being some of them – but this was something else.


The aftermath

WE waited for the crowd to ease before leaving the venue. By the time we reached the office it was almost 1 am. No worries. The space was reserved for the articles and we had ample time to file.

Nobody knew when Michael was leaving, but early next morning, we suddenly received the news that he had already left, leaving behind at the hotel a signed pillow on which he had written a message to India. Thankfully, I was asleep at that time.

The show was over. But it wasn’t the end of my plight. I had to keep up the momentum of the coverage for a few more days, till everyone else stopped talking about it. That took a couple of weeks. Then came some stories on the financing of the show and how the proceeds were being distributed, but that was done by the political reporters.

Soon, it was time for another big event – the first Channel [V] Music Awards on November 30. That’s another story.


Great combination: Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar

MANY glorious combinations of music director and singer have marked Hindi film music over the years. Some of the best examples are Naushad-Mohammed Rafi, Shankar Jaikishen-Mukesh, SD Burman-Rafi, RD Burman-Kishore and RD Burman-Asha Bhosle. As for Lata Mangeshkar, she’s done great songs with almost all composers ranging from Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishen and SD Burman to RD Burman, Salil Chowdhury and Laxmikant-Pyarelal, but some of her most memorable tunes have been for Madan Mohan.

With fans celebrating Madan Mohan’s 90th birth anniversary tomorrow, June 25, thought it would be ideal to list my favourite Lata-Madan Mohan numbers. Usually, it would be difficult to rate such a list in order of preference, as most of the tunes are classics. So very diplomatically, I am mentioning my top 20 “in no particular order”. This list only contains Lata’s solo songs, not her duets.

1. Tu jahaan jahaan chalega – From the 1966 film ‘Mera Saaya’, it was written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan.

2. Aap ki nazaron ne samjha – Who can forget this Lata Mangeshkar gem, written by Raja Mehdi Ali in the 1962 movie ‘Anpadh’?

3. Agar mujhse mohabbat hai – From the 1964 release ‘Aap ki parchaiyan’, this Lata song is hummed even today.

4. Yun hasraton ke daagh – One of Lata Mangeshkar’s most popular songs, from ‘Adalat’ in 1958. Lyrics are by Rajendra Krishan.

5. Lag ja gale – Another beauty by Raja Mehdi Ali, in the 1964 film ‘Woh Kaun Thi?’

6. Naghma-o-sher ki saugaat – Sahir Ludhianvi’s words and Madan Mohan’s music work wonders in this song from the 1964 film ‘Gazal’.

7. Zara si aahat – From the 1964 war film ‘Haqeeqat’, with lyrics by Kaifi Azmi.

8. Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim – Once again, Madan Mohan, Raja Mehdi Ali and Lata combine to create this gem in the 1964 film ‘Woh Kaun Thi?’

9. Unko yeh shikaayat hai – Lata at her melodic best, in Rajendra Krishan’s song from the 1958 film ‘Adalat’.

10. Nainon mein bhadra chaaye – Another Madan Mohan-Raja Mehdi Ali-Lata combination, this was from the 1966 film ‘Mera Saaya’.

11. Jab yaad kisiki aati hai – The title song of the 1967 film of the same name, written by Raja Mehdi Ali and picturised on Mala Sinha.

12. Baiyan na dharo – From ‘Dastak’ in 1970. The film also had Lata’s brilliant ‘Mai ri’ and ‘Hum hain mata-e-koocha-o-bazaar’, penned by Majrooh.

13. Milo na tum to – Written by Kaifi Azmi in the 1970 film ‘Heer Ranjha’.

14. Ruke ruke se kadam – From the 1975 film ‘Mausam’, this was written by Gulzar.

15. Husn haazir hai – From the 1976 film ‘Laila Majnu’. Sahir Ludhianvi’s lines ‘Koi patthar se na maare mere deewane ko’ became a rage.

16. Rasm-e-ulfat ko nibhaaye kaise – Written by Naqsh Lyallpuri for the 1973 ‘Dil Ki Rahen’, this was one of Lata’s outstanding hits of the 1970s.

17. Aaj socha toh aansoon bhar aaye – The 1973 film ‘Hanste Zakhm’ was best known for Rafi’s singing and the orchestration of ‘Tum jo mil gaye ho’, but Kaifi Azmi shines on this one too.

18. Woh bhooli dastaan – An unforgettable tune from the 1961 movie ‘Sanjog’, this is classic Lata.

19. Woh jo milte the kabhi – From the 1963 film ‘Akeli Mat Jaaiyo’, with lyrics by Majrooh.

20. Badi barbadiyan lekar – A rarer song from the 1953 film ‘Dhun’, with lyrics by Kaif Irfani.

AS of now, not many people may be aware of Arijit Dutta, music director of ‘Filmistaan’. While he has composed a few good tunes like ‘Uljhi uljhi’ and ‘Bebaak’ which go well with the movie, it is still early to talk of his future prospects. However, one was delighted to read his interview this morning, where he said he doesn’t want to be associated with the term ‘Sufi music’, because it’s just being used as a fad, and that people are actually misusing the term.

Dutta has clearly hit the nail on the head with his observations. ‘Sufi’ is one of the two terms that musicians and music industry folk across India are using without really knowing or understanding its meaning. The other term to become trendy over the past few years is ‘indie’, and one is tired of listening to people use it without really being able to define it.

Let’s try and look at both the terms in detail, and mention what exactly our grouse is against the way they are being used:

Sufi music: In its original sense, Sufi music is a traditional and devotional form associated with the group of mystics known as Sufis. The qawwali and kaafi are the most popular forms of Sufi music, and have been associated with great poets like Baba Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Hussain, Amir Khusro, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Rumi and Hafez.

Among singers, one would associate Sufi music with Pakistani singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sabri Brothers, Pathaney Khan and Abida Parveen, and Indian groups like Wadali Brothers and Nizami Brothers. There are also certain tribal groups in Rajasthan who blend Sufi and folk music well. Through their voices and by following a certain pattern of instrumentation, all these artistes have stuck to the true meaning and purity of Sufi music.

Sufi music has always had a restricted but devoted audience in India. To make it more accessible to the masses, attempts were made to modernise it by infusing it with pop sounds. This is where the problem began.

Soon, anybody using a few technical vocal patterns was named – or began naming himself – a Sufi artiste. By adding typical words like ‘Maula’ and ‘Khuda’, songs were dubbed Sufi. Even filmmakers and music directors insisted on using one or two such songs in every film, and music companies released compilations of Sufi music containing tunes that were anything but Sufi. ‘Sufi-rock’ became a fad too, though only a few bands like Junoon, Mekaal Hasan Band and Fuzon got the mix right.

To be fair, there have been a few instances when some good music has been created with a Sufi influence, especially by A R Rahman, Kailash Kher and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. But it would have been adequate to describe these songs as ones inspired by Sufi music instead of saying they were a full-blown part of Sufi music.

It’s been over a decade since people have misused the term Sufi music. Sadly, the trend still continues. As such, it was heartening to hear Dutta’s views on the subject, especially at a time when most well-known music directors claim to be producing Sufi music.

Indie music: Our problem with the term ‘indie music’ has more to do with the fact that there is no specific way to describe what it means, and yet one sees so many people who claim to be backing this form.

Yes, the term ‘indie music’ started in the west to describe music produced by artistes who were independent or partly dependent on the mainline record labels. They would pay for, record and produce music albums or songs on their own. In most cases they would sell directly in stores, or even online. However, at times they have approached the big labels for distribution.

Depending on the kind of music they produced, ‘indie’ groups in the west were clubbed in sub-genres like indie-rock, indie-metal and indie-pop (not to be confused with Indipop, or Indian pop music).

The same rules were initially applied in India, where ‘indie music’ was used to describe musicians who released their own albums. A lot of underground talent was discovered. Music awards ceremonies began giving separate awards for indie artistes, events like Nh7 Weekender were built up around the indie scene, radio stations had separate indie shows and even a channel called MTV Indies was floated to cater to this segment.

The audience too caught the indie bug. Ask many youngsters today about what music they like, and they will tell you they are fans of ‘indie’ music. But ask them to define it, and chances are that many of them won’t even relate it to the term ‘independent’.

In the Indian context, what exactly is ‘indie music’? If one looks at artistes associated with indie music in India, they include rock bands like Thermal and a Quarter, alternative groups Spud in the Box and Sky Rabbit, jazz artistes like Adil & Vasundhara and Shefali Alvares, fusion bands Indian Ocean and Agam, electronic outfits Dualist Inquiry and Shaa’ir & Funk, hip-hop/ drum ‘n’ bass band Bombay Bassment and the reggae-influenced Skavengers. Even veteran rock bands like Indus Creed and Parikrama are being called ‘indie’.

While most of the artistes mentioned are genuinely talented, the truth is that none of them have any connection with each other in terms of sound. How can all of them be clubbed under one type of music, when they are themselves so varied?

People have started using the term ‘indie’ for any kind of music which isn’t mainstream, which doesn’t belong to Hindi or regional films, which isn’t classical, which isn’t devotional, which isn’t ghazal or which doesn’t fit in any genre that can be specifically labelled. In short, just because it’s become fashionable to promote ‘indie music’, people are going all out to support it, even if there is no actual way of defining it.

Over the years, the music industry has been using various names to describe many genres and their numerous sub-genres. But there was some method to it. Today, a term like ‘Sufi music’ is being misused, whereas ‘indie’ is being used without being understood.

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