Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


OF late, one has been witnessing the release of many Hindi films with multiple music directors. And we’re not talking of movies with two or three composers but even, hold your breath, six or eight. In many cases, the musicians are unknown.

Check out some such examples.

‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’ has Madboy/ Mink, Sneha Khanwalkar, Blek, Peter Cat Recording Co, Joint Family, IJA and Mode AKA.

‘Khamoshiyan’ has Jeet Ganguli, Ankit Tiwari, Naved Jafar and Bobby-Imran.

‘Ek Paheli Leela’ has Dr Zeus, Amaal Malik, Tony Kakkar and Meet Bros Anjjan.

‘Dharam Sankat Mein’ has Meet Bros Anjjan, Shamir Tandon, Sachin Gupta and Jatinder Shah.

‘Hawaizaada’ has Mangesh Dhakde, Rochak Kohli, Ayushman Khuranna and Vishal Bharadwaj.

‘Roy’ has Ankit Tiwari, Amaal Malik and Meet Bros Anjaan.

To top it all, ‘Dilliwalli Zaalim Girlfriend’ has eight composers for eight songs – Yo Yo Honey Singh, Dr Zeus, Tiger Style, Indeep Bakshi, Jatinder Shah, Meet Bros Anjjan, Milind Gaba and Jassi Katyal.

Noticed something? Barring Vishal Bharadwaj, these films do not boast of any really established names. The list either contains those who have tasted success in the past couple of years only, or those who have been around for a while without making much inroads, or completely unknown names. And from the look of it, one may think Meet Bros Anjjan are the busiest musicians in the world today.

The question, of course, is whether one needs so many music directors for a single movie. One can understand cases where, in the past, films had two or three music directors (‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, ‘Chalte Chalte, ‘Fiza’ and ‘Aashiqui 2’), but is there any point having more? The only reason one would think of having eight men for eight songs may have nothing to do with the quality of the music, but probably be related to having an eye on the record book.

The trend has its pluses and minuses. One thing in its favour is that by having multiple composers, one can always give a chance to promote newer talent, instead of relying on the same few names. The other advantage is that having multiple music directors would lead to more variety.

Here, one can have people who specialise in diverse forms like heavy metal, techno, ambient, Sufiana and Indian folk, to name a few genres. Besides having their own style of composing, each composer will have his own set of favourite singers and musicians, as a result of which the overall soundtrack will have many contrasting sets of sounds.
From the business point of view, producers may opt for this fad because instead of paying a heft amount to one established name, they can negotiate with lesser known composers. In every film, they can get a couple of songs for a pittance, as the music director may be too new to demand a large sum.

The more traditional mind will, of course, prefer the older style of having a single composer, who fulfils the need of catering to various styles. Though the great composers of the past had their favourite styles or specific inclinations, they created music of different hues, based on the situations in the film.

Even today, audiences usually look for the work of single music directors in a film. People like AR Rahman, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam and Vishal Bhardwaj, to name a few, come with their own set of expectations from the listening public. Whenever they work on a film, they maintain a certain coherence in the sound, and yet produce songs in different genres. Their names add value and weight to a film.

Yes, there have been exceptions like ‘Aashiqui 2’, where three music directors managed to have a consistent sound. But by and large, multiple music directors tend to go off on different tangents. In many instances, the result is a tasteless bhel puri.

If one looks at what’s really happening, the fact is that most such films haven’t produced any extraordinary music. There have been a couple of decent songs here and there, but what’s missing is consistency. The music directors work in completely different patterns, and at best, create songs that go with a particular situation, without having an impact outside the cinema hall.

Add to that the presence of plenty of wannabes, and the net result is nothing but large-scale mediocrity. Unless the music directors rise above the ordinary and create music that stands out, this fad may last only a few days before slowly fizzling out.


Clapton

WHEN I first heard Eric Clapton, he was 35 years old, exactly half his current age. The year was 1980, and my first exposure came through the songs ‘Lay down Sally’, ‘Layla’, ‘I shot the sheriff’ and ‘Wonderful tonight’ over the radio. The following year, ‘Cocaine’ was played at every college festival in Delhi. Soon, I was hooked to the live album ‘Just One Night’, tripping on newer favourites like ‘After midnight’, ‘Tulsa time’, ‘Setting me up’ and ‘Blues power’ once my ear slowly got trained into appreciating those gorgeous guitar parts.

Clapton, who turns 70 today, has been regular on my playlist since the early 1980s. After the initial exposure, there was an effort to listen to his earlier stuff, beginning with his work for the groups Cream and Derek & The Dominoes, and his solo albums. His contributions to Blind Faith, Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers came later in my life, and at the same time, I tried to keep in touch with his latest releases.

While the initial admiration was more for his guitaring, I slowly began grasping the beauty of his raspy voice. Still, though he became one of my favourite musicians ever, I had two
complaints. One, many of his most popular songs were actually written by others. Even though he gave a completely different twist to his cover versions, only a handful of songs written by him were hugely successful.

Secondly, Clapton has had a fair share of erratic and average albums, specially in the 1980s and early 2000s. While his work till the mid-1970s was memorable, his later efforts were not always consistent, despite some excellent albums now and then. In the latter part of his career, the collaborations with greats like BB King and JJ Cale were brilliant, and so were some of his blues tributes. His rendition of Gary Moore’s ‘Still got the blues’, from his 2013 album ‘Old Sock’ was first-rate. But efforts to write his own stuff were namby-pamby.

These flaws notwithstanding, nothing could stop me from getting back to Clapton after regular intervals. I may have spent months away from other favourites like Pink Floyd, Doors, Jethro Tull and Santana, but Clapton, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan, always kept returning. To pep up one’s mood, nothing seemed better than a live album of Clapton – ‘Just One Night’, ‘Unplugged’, or his tie-ups with Steve Winwood and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

The admiration of the man increased after I read his autobiography, where he not only talks of his music and influences, but about his various romantic interests (including the one with George Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd), his battles with drugs and alcohol, his subsequent attempts to help addicts, and the tragic death of his son Conor, which led him to write the brilliant ‘Tears in heaven’ in ‘Unplugged’.

Clapton has been on the scene for nearly five decades, and released some incredible stuff over the years. To join in his 70th birthday celebrations, here’s my list of favourite Clapton studio albums culled from various phases of his career. Not an easy task, of course, but here goes, in chronological order of their release:

Blues Breakers – John Mayall with Eric Clapton: This 1966 recording was fronted by British blues great John Mayall, who does lead vocals and plays piano and Hammond B3 organ. Clapton joins on electric guitar, with John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac) on bass and Hughie Flint on drums. Popular songs are ‘All your love’, ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Rambling on my mind’.

Disraeli Gears – Cream: The second studio album of rock supergroup Cream, featuring Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. The 1967 record, also recognised for its psychedelic cover artwork, features classic Cream numbers like ‘Tales of brave Ulysses’, ‘Sunshine of your love’, ‘Strange brew’, ‘We’re going wrong’ and ‘SWLABR’.

Blind Faith – Blind Faith: Released in 1969 with a controversial cover, this was the only album by the legendary line-up of Clapton, keyboardist-vocalist Steve Winwood, bassist-violinist Ric Grech and drummer Ginger Baker. Classic cuts include ‘Had to cry today’, ‘Can’t find my way home’, ‘Well all right’, ‘Presence of the lord’ and ‘Sea of joy’.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & The Dominoes: One of Clapton’s best works to date, this 1970 release features the memorable ‘Layla’, which Clapton wrote for Pattie Boyd. Super-guitarist Duane Allman appears on 11 of the 14 songs, which also include ‘Bell bottom blues’, ‘Have you ever loved a woman’, ‘Nobody knows you when you’re down and out’ and a version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little wing’ Bobby Whitlock does a great job on piano and organ.

461 Ocean Boulevard – Solo: Clapton’s second solo studio album, released in 1974, was an indication of the style he was to follow for many years, using laidback pop-infused rock songs laced with blues influences. Hits here included a version of Bob Marley’s reggae hit ‘I shot the sheriff’, ‘Let it grow’ and ‘Willie and the hand jive’.

Slowhand – Solo: The title of this 1977 record was based on the nickname given to Clapton. The first three numbers became classics – namely ‘Cocaine’, ‘Wonderful tonight’ and ‘Lay down sally’. The album was to reach No 2 on the Billboard 200 charts.

From the Cradle – Solo: Released in 1994, this was Clapton’s marvelous tribute to old-school blues, as he played a selection of standards in his own style. On the list were Willie Dixon’s ‘Hoochie coochie man’, popularised by Muddy Waters, Tampa Red’s ‘It hurts me too’, Lowell Fulson’s ‘Sinner’s prayer’ and Leroy Carr’s ‘Blues before sunrise’.

Riding with the King – With BB King: Clapton fulfilled his dream of collaborating with one of his heroes in this 2000 album, which also featured great talent like guitarists Andy Fairweather Low, Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II, keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist Nathan East and drummer Steve Gadd. The version of Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Keys to the highway’ is brilliant.

Me and Mr Johnson – Solo: Another blues tribute, this time dedicated to the legendary Robert Johnson, with Clapton exclusively playing his compositions. Released in 2004, it contains Clapton’s versions of favourites ‘Milkcow’s calf blues’, ‘Love in vain’ and ‘Kind hearted woman blues’.

The Road to Escondido – with JJ Cale: Clapton had over the years popularized two Cale songs ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After midnight’. In this 2006 collaboration, he teams up with his idol on songs like ‘Sporting life blues’, ‘Hard to thrill’, ‘Don’t cry sister’ and ‘Ride the river’. The guests include guitarists Derek Trucks and John Mayer.


Fraser2

Andy Fraser of Free

THE week gone by has been rather sad for rock music, following the death of three outstanding musicians – Toto bassist Mike Porcaro, Free bassist/ pianist Andy Fraser and Twisted Sister drummer A J Pero. While each of them was incredibly talented, they were at their prime in different periods – Fraser in the late 60s and early 70s, Porcaro in the early to mid-1980s, and Pero in the late 1980s.

Followers of good old ‘classic’ rock would remember Fraser’s group Free not only for its rock staple ‘All right now’, but also because it was the earlier band of super-vocalist Paul Rodgers, who made waves in the mid-1970s with Bad Company. In fact, Rodgers is considered one of the greatest rock vocalists ever, but there again, much of his success and memorable songs are due to Bad Company.

On its own, Free was one of the most popular bands on the British circuit, shuffling between early hard rock and blues-influenced rock. It released six studio albums, including the successful ‘Fire and Water’, ‘Highway’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. Besides Rodgers and Fraser, who passed away at age 62, it had the incredible talents of guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke (who also joined Bad Company), and later featured keyboardist John Rabbit Bundrick and bassist Tetsuo Yamauchi.

Yet, barring those who followed Free as part of the late 1960s and early 1970s British rock scene, a large number of people outside the UK and US knew it primarily as Rodgers’ earlier band. Thus, the work of Fraser and Kossoff was somewhat overlooked during their hey days, but recognised only much later, specially when people saw footage of their performance of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. In many cases, Bad Company fans became Free admirers later.

FREE is a classic example of the earlier band of a rock superstar (in this case Rodgers). And come to think of it, there are quite a few examples of such outfits, which were on the one hand admired by a select set in its performing days, but became even more famous because one or two of its members became superstars later.

Here, let’s take a look at 10 such names. This isn’t a complete list, but an ideal starting point for those who want to follow the larger repertoire of the more famous artistes we have idolised over the years.

Yardbirds: An extremely popular group on its own, this also was a launch pad of sorts for guitarists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. Hits included ‘For your love’, ‘Heart full of soul’ and ‘Over under sideways down’.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Mayall was one of the biggest names in the British blues scene in the 1960s, and his group Bluesbreakers included guitarists Clapton, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and bassists John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Jack Bruce of Cream.

Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated: Like Mayall’s group, this outfit launched many stars, including drummers Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and Ginger Baker of Cream. Jack Bruce played with both Bluesbreakers and Blues Incorporated, and he and Baker played with Graham Bond Organisation, before they attained superstardom with Cream, along with Clapton.

Mott The Hoople: Best known as the band featuring guitarist Mick Ralphs, who later made it big with Bad Company. The group also featured guitarists Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, best known for his collaborations with David Bowie.

The Byrds: Hugely popular in the mid-1960s with hits like ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ and its cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, it also was the earlier group of David Crosby, part of the legendary Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Buffalo Springfield: The earlier group of Stephen Stills and Neil Young of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, it also featured Jim Messina who later formed country-rock group Poco and earned fame with the group Loggins & Messina. Interestingly, Poco also featured Springfield’s Richie Furay and bassist Randy Meisner, later of the Eagles.

Flying Burrito Brothers: The earlier group of Eagles founding member and multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon and singer-songwriter Gram Parsons.

The Jeff Beck Group/ Faces: Super-singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood, later of the Rolling Stones, were an integral part of guitarist Jeff Beck’s group, before they formed the Small Faces, which later became the Faces. Interestingly, the Faces also had keyboardist Ian Maclagan, who toured and recorded often with the Stones.

Spencer Davis Group: Best known because it featured keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Steve Winwood and his brother Muff. The group is best known for the songs ‘Gimme some lovin’, ‘Somebody help me’ and ‘Keep on running’. Steve later played a leading role in the groups Traffic and Blind Faith, before embarking on a solo career.

Them: A hugely successful Irish band in the mid-1960s, Them featured vocalist Van Morrison, who became a solo legend in his own right. The band was best known for its anthem ‘Gloria’, and was also a huge influence on the Doors.

AS we said, besides Free, we have cited the examples of 10 such bands which featured future greats. For those interested in the earlier work of these phenomenal musicians, it would be a good idea to check out their songs from their early career. There are a lot of unknown gems left to discover.


dylan

Shadows in the Night

Artiste: Bob Dylan

Genre: Evergreens

Label: Sony Music

Rating: ****


BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?

Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.

Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.

The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”

The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.

Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”

‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.

On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”

The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.

Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.

Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.

In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.

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


gaga

Lady Gaga at the Oscars 2015

LET’S start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Among other things at the Oscar Awards 2015, Lady Gaga’s rendition of’ The Sound of Music’ medley made headlines worldwide. Both the social media and conventional publications were abuzz with comments and articles on how the pop sensation could actually sing too. For many, it came as the biggest surprise on earth.

Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a very talented artiste, having started at the age of four and been a teenage sensation in theatrical musicals. However, she has largely been known for her antics than for her music. The world discussed her more for her outlandish ‘meat dress’, her egg-shaped costumes and ultra-weird hairdos. She’s also been the product of some extremely creative new age marketing strategies aimed at various categories which lapped things up instantly.

Her performance at the Oscars was not only an eye-opener, but also the smartest thing she’s probably done. Within a 10-minute span, she and the event organisers did nothing but sell pure nostalgia to the ideal target audience, comprising millions of television viewers across the globe, a large chunk of which had never taken Lady Gaga seriously before, and who after her show associated her instantly with emotions they had related to while they were growing up.

If one looks closely, it’s not that Lady Gaga is the only singer in the world who could have given this performance. Yes, she hit the right notes and created a stir, but that’s something that any talented singer would do, including Mumbai’s very own Vivienne Pocha, Samantha Edwards, Dominique Cerejo and Caralisa Monteiro. Most singers begin their lessons with ‘The Sound of Music’, and songs from the movie are ingrained not only among singers but among music lovers too.

An entire generation has grown up on and has mastered these songs, but when Lady Gaga performed them, everyone raved about her singing talents and how hard she worked on voice training. And the trick there clearly lay in how the whole episode was packaged. It wasn’t just an ordinary medley, but the epitome of marketing savvy.

First, extracts of songs from the original movie were shown, getting the audience into a nostalgic mood. This was followed by Lady Gaga’s performance, comprising songs not featured in the visual clip. Her trained voice, flowing gown, tattooed arms, uncharacteristically simple hairstyle and minimal physical movement, as well as the live violins, went perfectly with the ambience, and one didn’t really care if the classic ‘Edelweiss’ didn’t really fit in or match the original. Across the world, the ‘halls’ were alive to the sound of music.

The performance touched a chord, and the singer got a standing ovation. Even as people were clapping, in walked Julie Andrews, the star of the original film, and after a brief interaction, Lady Gaga just vanished. The applause continued, and what would have been an ordinary rendition turned out to be a memorable moment in recent Oscar history.

Within minutes, videos of Gaga’s act went viral on YouTube, and in the hours that followed, the world posted and shared more about her enormous singing talent than about best actor Eddie Redmayne or best film ‘Birdman’. Articles on her ‘surprise performance’ were posted everywhere, while some sections wondered what the hype was all about. This was showbiz at its very best. To pun on a Queen song, don’t be surprised if for a few days, all you hear is Lady-O Gaga.

EVER since she arrived on the scene in 2008 with her album ‘The Fame’, Lady Gaga has been one of the music industry’s most successful marketing stories. While much credit to her success would go to her former manager Troy Carter, with whom she split a couple of years ago, the singer has herself contributed with ideas that have revolutionised the way celebrity brands can be sold.

Initially, her focus was on the teenage and young segment – and she used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remarkably to build her fan base and popularise songs like ‘Just dance’, ‘Poker face’ and ‘Bad romance’. But that was something many people were doing.

Before one could blink, she aimed at the other extreme of the audience, collaborating with veteran singer Tony Bennett, 60 years her senior, first on the song ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, and then on the album ‘Cheek to Cheek’, which has immortal classics like ‘Lush life’, ‘It don’t mean a thing’, ‘Sophisticated lady’ and ‘Nature boy’. The recoding won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance, and her new manager Bobby Campbell became a celebrity too.

By doing this album, she targeted a much older generation, making many grandparents relive their younger days and also relating to their grandchildren’s fascination for Lady Gaga. More than any other pop singer, she charmed two extreme generations, using nothing but simple common sense, and bridged the gap in her own way.

The Lady Gaga success story till her third album ‘Born This Way’, released in 2013, has been covered in Anita Elberse’s thoroughly researched book ‘Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Bucks – are the Future of the Entertainment Business’. In fact, she is the only case which has been studied twice in the book, which also talks of brands like entertainment houses Warner Brothers, MGM and Marvel Entertainment, superstar Tom Cruise, record label Octone Records, musical acts Radiohead and Jay-Z, online video channels YouTube and Hulu, football club Real Madrid and tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, besides other names in book publishing, television and basketball.

The first case study on ‘Launching and Managing Blockbusters’, talks about Lady Gaga’s rise to fame, her initial album launches, how she targeted the young generation through the social media, her obsession for image-building through shock value and the way she used the live concert medium to build up her fan base.

The book says: “Gaga heavily relied on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread further word of mouth and strengthen her connection with her fans – or her “little monsters”, as she liked to call them. She turned out to be extraordinarily skilled at doing so: by 2011, Gaga was the most popular living person on Facebook and the most followed person on Twitter.

The second case study is used in a chapter on the ‘Future of Blockbuster Strategies’. Special mention is made on how, while releasing her album ‘Born This Way’, she partnered with brands like Beats high-end headphones, Amazon, Belvedere vodka, Best Buy, Guilte Group, Starbucks and Zygna. With most musicians relying on conventional marketing means by tying up with record labels, Gaga collaborated with an unusual mix of brands, to reach out to a wider set of audiences.

The Beats headphone tie-up helped her connect with sound-conscious audiences. While Amazon offered her album ‘Born this Way’ for 99 cents to promote its new cloud-based service, Belvedere promoted its vodka by holding a contest offering tickets to her concert in London. Best Buy bundled the album with the purchase of a phone, and Gulite Group created special Gaga-inspired merchandise including a dress similar to one worn by her. Starbucks promoted her album big-time in their stores, and Zygna, the social gaming giant, created a special game called ‘Gagaville’ based on its very popular ‘Farmville’.

Now, many musicians had done such collaborations in the past. But where Gaga scored was how she used a combination of various consumer segments to attract the larger sum of people who would directly listen to her music. And while she followed these new age marketing tactics, she also stuck to conventional philanthropic practices like contributing to various charities and relief efforts, besides launching the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses on youth empowerment and issues like self-confidence, well-being, mentoring, anti-bullying and career development.

Unlike Michael Jackson, Madonna or Whitney Houston, who relied primarily on individual image, record sales and live performances, Lady Gaga has been lucky to bloom at the right time in the digital age. She may not really reach the pure artistic status of the three names mentioned above, but as a brand, she has spearheaded a completely new approach. And to her credit, she hasn’t stuck to the same formula, but experimented fearlessly.

If many questioned her talent earlier, and insisted she like many of her contemporaries was more the creation of hype than substance, they slowly changed track after she released ‘Cheek to Cheek’ with their old favourite Tony Bennett. By singing ‘The Sound of Music’ songs at the hugely popular Oscar ceremony, she has seemingly laid all the criticism to rest. Equally important, this being the 50th year since ‘The Sound of Music’ was first released, she and Julie Andrews combined in a manner that would attract today’s youngsters to the legendary film.

The best thing was that she sang songs everyone knew and sang along, and yet made the world believe she was the only person in the universe who could manage it so well. It doesn’t matter whether most of her newfound admirers bother whether her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Who cares, as long as ‘Lady’ portrays her older, mature side, and ‘Gaga’ her young, fun-loving one?


Ilaiya

Swappnam – Dance, Theatre, Dreams

Music: Ilaiyaraaja

Genre: Classical dance music/ Carnatic/ devotional

Label: Purple note

Price: Rs 150

Rating: *****

ONE of India’s greatest composers ever, Ilaiyaraaja has recently been in the news for providing the music for the Amitabh Bachchan-Dhanush Hindi film ‘Shamitabh’. On a more traditional note, he has also composed ‘Swappnam’, a dance ballet based on a performance by Bharatnatyam exponent Krithika Subrahmanian.

With a heavy Carnatic and devotional base dedicated to Lord Shiva, the 10 tracks take you through various emotions and situations like dreams of the young, adoration, romance, recognition, awakening, realisation, reverence, wisdom, dreams of the old and truth. The presence of talented vocalists like Poornima Satish, Sudha Raghunathan, Abishek Raghuram, Vasudha Ravi, Rajashree Pathak and Bharath Sunder lends variety.

The six-minute-plus ‘Dreams of the Young’ or ‘Aezhisayaai’ is a perfect opener. It begins with an orchestral portion played with a western classical feel and yet including Carnatic overtones, followed by Abhishek Raghuram’s vocal, set to a flute, veena, violin, mridangam and ghatam backdrop. ‘Adoration’, or ‘Kaadhaar Kuzhaiyaada’ is rendered with melodic brilliance in raag Jog by Poornima Satish and Vasudha Ravi. An extract of Adishankara’s Ardhanareeswara Ashtaka, ‘Romance’ or ‘Pradeepta Rathnojwala’ sung by popular Malayalam composer Shareth, Arunmozhi (who is actually Ilaiyaraaja’s flautist who otherwise goes by the name Napoleon) and group has excellent display of percussion.

One of the highlights is the sargam-driven voice symphony ‘Recognition’ or ‘Koovina Poonguyil’, sung by Poornima Satish and group, and beginning with the heavenly sound of birds humming. Sudha Raghunathan, Vasudha Ravi and Sreenivas team up on ‘Realisation’ or ‘Ammaye Appa’, whereas Rajashree Pathak makes apt use of raag Puriya Dhanashri on ‘Reverence’ or ‘Bhajeham’, which has the theme line ‘Bhajeham bhajeham shivoham shivoham’.

Bharath Sunder’s ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Aye Metha Kadinam’, composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, makes exquisite use of the veena. Swati Tirunal’s ‘Dreams of the Old’ or ‘Visweswara Darshan’, sung by Rajashree Pathak, Abishek Raghuram, is a melodic anthem rendered with a Hindustani feel in raag Sindhu Bhairavi with the lines ‘Visweswara darshan kar chalo man tum Kashi’.

The album concludes with a 30-second spoken stretch by Ilaiyaraaja on ‘Truth’ or ‘Anbum Shivamum’. It’s an apt ending to one of the best creations by the master-composer.

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


IMG

Zikr Tera/ Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod

Genre: Ghazal

Label: Copyright Roopkumar Rathod; published by Turnkey Music & Publishing

Price: Rs 200

Rating: *** 1/2

OVER the past two decades or so, the ghazal duo of Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod has released some popular albums like ‘Ishaara’, ‘Mohabbat Ho Gayi’, ‘Mitwa’, ‘Khushboo’ and ‘Bazm-e-Meer’. To mark their 25th wedding anniversary, they have now come out with ‘Zikr tera’, which is also a tribute to the late Jagjit Singh.

Featuring eight ghazals, a highlight of the album is the choice of simple yet effective poetry, mostly penned by newer names. Each ghazal contains only three or four shers, which help the songs attain a certain compactness. The arrangements by Deepak Pandit are melodic, with some neat solos and interludes.

The collection has five solo songs by Roopkumar, two by Sunali and one duet in the opening song ‘Haathon mein haath’. Penned by Shakeel Azmi, it impresses with the matla “Kuchh is tarah se milein hum ki baat reh jaaye, Bichad bhi jaaye toh haathon mein haath reh jaaye”. The poet also writes Sunali’s ‘Aur kuchh din’, which begins, “Aur kuchh din yahaan rukne ka bahaana milta, Is naye shahar mein koi toh puraana milta.”

The young poet Saani Aslam contributes with ‘Zaroorat uski’, which goes, “Rukh badalte hue mausam si hai fitrat uski, kuchh dinon ke liye main bhi tha zaroorat uski” and the veteran Madan Pal writes ‘Sawaal sabne kiya’. Both songs are sung by Roopkumar.

A highlight of the album is Parveen Kumar Ashhk, who writes the last three ghazals. On Sunali’s ‘Abr guzra’, he shows a distinct influence of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the opening sher “Abr guzra hai bekhabar kitna, zard hai aaska shajar kitna”. Both ‘Meri chaadar tha’ and ‘Zamin ko aye khuda’ have been sung by Roopkumar, with the latter having the wonderful lines, “Mohabbat mein badal jaaye siyaasat, Khuda Lahore Dilli se mila de.”

The rendition of the poetry is assisted by the clear diction of the singers. Among the musicians, Deepak Pandit shines on the violin, with Ashvin Srinivasan and Rakesh Chaurasia chipping in on flute, Sunil Das playing sitar, Heera Pandit handling tabla and percussion, and Sanjay Jaipurwale contributing on guitar.

On the whole, it’s a well-produced album, though one wishes there were a couple of duets more. That would have created a perfect balance.

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

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