Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for September, 2012

Goodbye, Andy Williams

The following tribute, dedicated to singer Andy Williams who passed away earlier this week, is an adaptation of the song ‘Where Do I Begin?’, sung by him, composed by Francis Lai and written by Carl Sigman for the film ‘Love Story’.

Andy, thank you for the music. You’ll be in our minds forever.

Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a voice can be
Your magic timbre that flows gently like the breeze
The simple thrills that your songs give to me
Where do I start

With your ‘Moon River’
You gave new meaning to this music world of mine
There’ll never be such lovely songs, another time
‘Born Free’, ‘Solitaire’, ‘Feelings’, ‘Butterfly’
They filled my heart

They filled my heart with very special memories
With angels’ songs , with great rhapsodies
They filled my soul with so much melody
That everywhere I go I’m never lonely
With tunes of love that do speak softly
Andy Williams, you’ll be always there

How long does it last
Can tunes be measured by how much we play
I have no answers now but this much I can say
I know ‘Love Story’ and ‘A Time for Us’ will always stay
You’re forever there



The Mumbai symphony

WHEN the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) began playing the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler’s ‘Symphony 5’ on Tuesday evening, there was feather-drop silence. The Adagietto, after all, is one of the Austrian composer’s most recognised pieces of music, enticing listeners with its ‘sehr langsam’ (very slow) pace and romantic brilliance.

Conducted by Christoph Poppen of Germany, the Mahler masterpiece was the highlight of the second day of this year’s September season of SOI.  From the solitary trumpet opening to the energetic and epic finale, the five-movement ‘Symphony 5’ was played to perfection, gaining a standing ovation and nearly 10 minutes of applause. The evening’s other pieces ― the prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Lohengrin’ and Richard Strauss’ tone poem ‘Death and Transfiguration’ ― set the perfect pace for a wonderful evening.

The concert is part of the SOI’s 13th season. Beginning with Poppen conducting a Beethoven special that included the ‘Violin Concerto’ and the ‘Pastoral Symphony 6’, it will conclude this Sunday with operatic favourites composed by Wagner, Franz von Suppe, Giaochino Rossini, Johann Strauss Jr, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and others, in a session conducted by Zane Dalal.

Obviously, the city’s small but devoted number of western classical followers is thrilled. Back in February, they had witnessed two operas ― Pietro Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s ‘I Pagliacci’ ― and Carl Orff’s scenic cantata ‘Carmina Burana’. So this time, there was some variety.

For the past six years, Mumbai has been looking forward to the SOI’s February and September seasons. Though there are many one-off concerts and festivals through the year, most of them feature smaller chamber orchestras or even solo players, duos, trios and quartets. Festivals like Sangat Chamber Music Festival and Arties Festival, featuring young musicians, have earned their own place in the city’s music calendar.

For more popular pieces like symphonies and concertos, which require larger and more varied orchestras, the SOI concerts have provided an ideal platform. Much credit would go to Khushroo Suntook, chairman of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Marat Bisangaliev, the orchestra’s musical director, and Zane Dalal, conductor in residence, for spearheading this effort.

Over the years, Mumbai has seen many large orchestras like the Israel, Vienna and Munich Philharmonic, thanks mainly to the efforts of conductor Zubin Mehta. Ensembles like the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy and Paranjoti Choir have played a great role in the city’s musical landscape, There was also this huge extravaganza organised by the Mehli Mehta Foundation in 2008, featuring greats like pianist Daniel Barenboim, tenor Placido Domingo and violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

With the SOI concerts, the Mumbai audience is at least guaranteed of three-day events twice a year. During the past six years, the orchestra and NCPA have done a commendable job in getting high-quality musicians and using a good mix of programming. Though there have been no ‘superstars’ barring composer-conductor Karl Jenkins in 2009, conductors like Adrian Leaper, Alexander Annisimov, Evgeny Bushkov, Johannes Wildner, Dalal and now Poppen have led some spectacular recitals.

On the programme front, there has been a good mix of the popular and rare. We’ve seen Beethoven’s ‘Choral Symphony 9’, Maurice Ravel’s charming ‘Bolero’, Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherzade’ and Mahler’s ‘Symphony 5’, and we’ve also heard composers like Ernest Chausson, Isaac Albeniz and Henryk Wieniawski, who are not too well-known in India.

Given this, a few challenges remain. One, though SOI stands for Symphony Orchestra of India, only 17 of the 80 musicians are Indian. The effort should be to increase that considerably.

Secondly, though a price range of Rs 800-2,000 per show may be justified considering the scale of the concerts and number of musicians, there is nothing like a season pass for those wanting to attend all three days. If a little concession is given on such season passes, more people may want to attend the entire festival, instead of going on only one or two days.

Thirdly, now that the seasons have been well-established in Mumbai, it’s just the right time to take the concerts to other cities, to help widen the exposure of western classical music there.

Finally comes the question of audience profile. In Mumbai, a large section of attendees comprises people from the Parsi and Christian communities, besides diplomats and musicians. Though there have been various efforts like workshops and newspaper advertisements, the following for western classical remains largely limited to a few sections. Of course, that’s the case with many other genres too.

Keeping this in mind, the programming for the next season in February 2013 seems like a smart move. The opening day will have a Beethoven special yet again (obviously, Indian crowds relate to him and Mozart most), followed by compositions of Leonard Bernstein, Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvorak on the second day.

The final day begins with Camille Saint-Saens’ ‘Violin Concerto 3’ and
Tchaikovsky’s ‘Symphony 5’ (whose second movement inspired John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’). But after the break, there is a triple concerto called ‘The Melody of Rhythm’, featuring banjo player Bela Fleck, bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla wizard Zakir Hussain.

Now that’s not western classical music, the purists will scoff. Sell-out, they may scream. But the good thing is that it will surely bring in some diverse crowds, who will anyway be exposed to western classical music in the first half.

Much before that happens, of course, a lot of smaller events have been lined up. On October 15, violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Stephen Kovacevich will be performing at the Tata Theatre. This will be followed by the Joy of Music festival, featuring solo recitals by Ilya Rashkovskiy and Giuseppe Andaloro on piano, and Alvarro Pierri on guitar. The Sangat festival is normally scheduled in December.

Surely, Mumbai’s western classical music buffs are in for an exciting season.

The music of ‘Barfi’: Jalebi or Karela?

FRIENDS for 20 years, Jalebi Bhai and Karela Boy meet over a cup of tea and pakodas, for another round of discussions on Hindi film music. They do this once a month, greeting each other with a hug, choosing a topic for debate, slowly disagreeing with each other over various things, quarrelling and cursing each other, and finally reaching a compromise.

They think differently. In terms of their personality and musical taste, they are diametrically opposite. Jalebi is an optimist, Karela is a pessimist. Jalebi is open-minded, Karela is a stickler for perfection. Jalebi likes all kinds of music, Karela is stuck in the 1960s and 1970s. Jalebi loves pop music, Karela hates paap music. Jalebi keeps dripping with oily praises, Karela is a bored gourd. In short, Jalebi can be very sweet, and Karela extremely bitter.

This time, they meet just after watching Anurag Basu’s ‘Barfi’. The first 30 minutes are very different from their usual encounters, as they don’t disagree on a single thing. Both say in chorus: “The movie is great, one of the best released after the year 2000. The direction and screenplay are brilliant, and the performances by Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Ileana D’Cruz are first-rate.”

So far, so good. The problem starts when they start talking about the film’s music. Just when both have agreed about the sheer brilliance of the movie, Jalebi makes the mistake of lavishly praising the music. Look at what follows:

Jalebi: Barfi has the freshest music released in the last 10 years. Congratulations to music director Pritam.

Karela: Freshest, did you say? It is fresh-sounding, all right. But calling it the freshest would be taking things too far.

Jalebi: Come on Karela, the songs are so hummable and well-written. In today’s movies, where do you find such freshness? It’s got that ’60s and ’70s feel. Pure, simple melodies. Look at the song ‘Ala Barfi’. It’s so hummable and clean in an era where people are coming out with ‘Halkat Jawani’ and ‘Jalebi Bai’.

Karela: Obviously they were inspired to write ‘Jalebi Bai’ after meeting you, Jalebi Bhai. Regarding ‘Ala Barfi’, it seems to have a Kishore Kumar hangover. And what do the lyrics mean? ‘Gud gud gud gud’. ‘Jhun jhun jhun jhun’, ‘Phuss phuss phuss phuss’. ‘Bud bud bud bud’. ‘Bhurr bhurr bhurr bhurr’. On top of that they use the word ‘Maula’, so that people can call it a Sufi song.

Jalebi: Ha ha ha, Karela. If ‘Ina Meena Deeka’ and ‘Main hoon jhum jhum jhumroo’ could become such a rage in their time, what’s stopping this? ‘Barfi’ has other wonderful songs too, where the lyrics have depth. Must give credit to lyricists Swanand Kirkire, Sayyed Quadri, Neelesh Misra and Ashish Pandit for writing clean and meaningful songs. On top of that, ‘Main kya karoon’, ‘Aashiyan’, ‘Kyon’ and that beautiful ghazal ‘Phir le aya dil’ are all wonderfully composed. Some lines are just awesome. Like “Nazar ke sihayi se likhenge tujhe hazaar chithiyan.” Or “Pyaar ke sikko se maheene ka kharcha chalayein.” Sheer poetry.

Karela: Good songs, no doubt. Wonderful lyrics, without question. But what inconsistent singing! If there was more uniformity in singing, this would have gone to another level. That’s my biggest problem with the music.

Jalebi: Would you care to explain your brilliant theory please?

Karela: You have half a dozen male singers literally – Mohit Chauhan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Papon, Nikhil Paul George, Arijit Singh… even lyricist Swanand Kirkire sings a version of ‘Ala Barfi’. With no disrespect meant, the character of Ranbir Kapoor cannot speak. Yet, he’s got six singing voices crooning in six different pitches. On some songs, he seems like he’s been awarded a Sangeet Visharad. On others, the vocals are flatter than punctured tyres. Some songs sound like an American trying to learn his first few words of Hindi. Others sound like Mirza Ghalib speaking in a mushaira.

Jalebi: You are stuck in pre-historic times! Don’t you know that using different singers has been the trend for the past 10 years? Even Rahman does it.

Karela: What Rahman does needn’t work for everybody. And mind you, even Rahman stuck with only one singer Mohit Chauhan for Ranbir in ‘Rockstar’.  That worked perfectly. Moreover, this trend wasn’t invented by Rahman. In the past, there have been numerous examples of two singers singing for the same actor in the same film. Manna Dey and Mukesh for Rajesh Khanna in Anand. Kishore and RD for Amitabh in Shaan. Rafi and Kishore for Rishi Kapoor in Karz. But those guys could really sing and adapt themselves. You never noted such a stark difference. But by and large those days, you had specific voices for specific actors, which worked better. Kishore for Rajesh Khanna. Mukesh for Raj Kapoor. Rafi for Shammi Kapoor. Even later, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet mainly sang for Shah Rukh Khan. Today, any singer seems to go with any actor.

Jalebi: It’s not fair to compare everybody with Kishore or Rafi or Mukesh. Or Udit or Abhijeet, for that matter. Times have changed. Most films today have rubbish music. This is a welcome change. Unlike those days when there were only four or five male, and two or three females singers, today there are so many talented playback singers…

Karela: Half of them consist of non-playback singers. Or playback non-singers, whatever you might want to call them. Actually, only half the people today can actually sing. The others sing songs like ‘Pareshan pareshan pareshan’ to make headlines. People like me get ‘pareshan’ in the process. As for music directors, where was C Ramchandra in ‘Anarkali’? And where is Sajid-Wajid in ‘Anarkali disco chali’?

Jalebi: We’re digressing from the topic of ‘Barfi’, but let me tell you, today, ‘Pareshaan’ and ‘Anarkali disco chali’ have more takers. They are in keeping with trends.

Karela: You so-called modern people do any rubbish in the name of innovation, and you call it a trend. Anyone who disagrees with your so-called fads is an old-fashioned fool.

Jalebi: You can only describe yourself best. Old-fashioned fool, that’s what you are. Your words, not mine. By comparing ‘Pareshan’ with the ‘Barfi’ songs, you have just proved how foolish you are. The ‘Barfi’ music rocks. That’s it. In this film, each singer has been selected on the basis of how his texture suits the song’s mood.

Karela: What texture are you talking of, you… hmmm.. new-fashioned oaf? Look at this singer, Nikhil Paul George. In ‘Main kya karoon’, he just keeps croaking ‘Kya karoon main kya karoon main kya karoon’. Aur kya karoge? Vicks ki goli lo, khich-khich door karo.

Jalebi: There’s no need to be so rude. Even your favourite Bob Dylan has a very cracked-up voice.

Karela: You’re comparing Nikhil Paul George with Bob Dylan? You must be joking. Yes, Nikhil has half the Beatles in his name. But he can’t hold a single note like them. For instance, ‘Aashiyan’ is a nice and peppy composition, am not arguing about that. But he pronounces ‘Itni si hasee, itni si khushi’ as ‘Itti si hasee, itti si cushy’. He sings ‘Mahine’ as ‘Maahine’. In fact, in the duet version, Shreya Ghoshal saves the song. Though she too sings ‘Itti si hasee’, her voice is gorgeous. Then, there’s Arijit Singh singing ‘Saawali si raat’ and pronouncing it ‘Saawaley’, and his tone sounds like he’s singing a kindergarten nursery rhyme.

Jalebi:  Okay, agreed their diction isn’t great. But by themselves, the songs are catchy. ‘Main kya karoon’ has some nice flamenco guitars, and ‘Aashiyan’ has a nice folksy feel and great violins. Look at Papon’s singing in ‘Kyon’. He’s got a lovely rich voice that sounds so good in the film.

Karela: Agreed, but don’t you think Sunidhi’s sudden husky entry messes up the song? If Shreya had sung that song, it would have been a great contrast. After two minutes of sheer melody, this song suddenly sounds jerky.

Jalebi: You talk like you’re the most enlightened music critic in the world. But since you’ve grown up on ghazals, you couldn’t possibly have a problem with Shafqat Amanat Ali singing ‘Phir le aya dil’. Shafqat has been trained in your favourite Patiala gharana. And those singers can never go wrong. I also like the female version sung by Rekha Bhardwaj. It’s an absolutely great song.

Karela: Agreed. But why have another version by Arijit Singh? He just can’t match up to Shafqat. He does try hard, by singing a ‘sargam’ passage to show that he’s attended music lessons, but his version falls flat. Anyway, three versions of the same song is a bit much

Jalebi: The song uses some wonderfully Urdu poetry by Sayeed Quadri.

Karela: That’s what. All the songs have very simple words, which can be identified easily by the lay listener. Then, this song throws up high-flown Urdu words like ‘muyyassar’, ‘badastoor’ and ‘mussalsal’. Yes, I agree people will need a dictionary, whether they want to find out the meaning of ‘Muyassar’ or ‘Phuss phuss phuss’.

Jalebi: Lord, it’s difficult to argue with you. But you must agree that this is Pritam’s best and most original score ever.

Karela: Some of the background  music has been taken from the film ‘Amelie’. And from western classical pieces. The song ‘Saawali si raat’ seems obviously inspired by Oriya singer Akshaya Mohanty’s ‘Chandramalli hase’. I don’t suspect anything with the other songs, though one never knows with Pritam. In the past, he has lifted songs from Arabic, Indonesian and South Korean melodies. Maybe he has chosen Greenland or Equador this time, we will never get to know.

Jalebi: Is there anything about the film’s music which you can praise without putting in a thousand counter-arguments.

Karela: Yes, they used the original Bengali hit ‘Duranto ghurnir ei legecche paak’, sung by Hemanta Kumar and composed by Salil Chowdhury. Just proves that great words and a great tune have to be accompanied by a great voice. If one of them goes haywire, the song loses its charm.

Jalebi: You have a point. Probably, if Pritam had on all songs just stuck to KK or Atif Aslam, two singers who are versatile and who can adapt, he may have got more uniformity.

Karela: That’s what I’ve been saying all along. You’re so pessimistic, closed-minded and negative by nature, you just can’t agree to what I say. You just can’t appreciate art.

Jalebi: Look, this argument can go on and on. But both of us have to go home now. What’s important is that these things don’t really matter because the film is so brilliant. People like you can keep cribbing about the music, but ultimately, it’s the beauty of the film that matters.

Karela: I totally disagree when you say that between the two of us, only you think the film is brilliant. In today’s age, or whatever age for that matter, ‘Barfi’ is a masterpiece. Hats off to Anurag, Ranbir, Priyanka and Ileana.

Jalebi: And Pritam?

Karela: Definitely, but he should have been more careful in choosing his male playback singers. Good night.

 This blog has been inspired by a very lively discussion we had on Facebook, after this writer posted that much as he liked the tunes and lyrics of the songs of ‘Barfi’, the choice of playback singers wasn’t perfect, as each singer had a different texture and style. The writer’s  view was that in ‘Barfi’, there was a “mix of voices ranging from classically trained to pleasant with no frills to downright jarring and off-key.”

Those participating in the discussion were Mimmy Jain, KJ Singh, Rajiv Vijayakar, Jessica S Dcruz Menezes, Sridhar TVN, Pranay Rilja, Nilakshi Sengupta, Subhasree Basu, Shubhodeep Pal and Vicky Solanki.

Both Jalebi and Karela represent various views put forth by the participants, with many additional sentences thrown in. Some spoke in favour of multiple singers, and others felt too many variety kills the spice.

Today, there is obviously a tendency to use multiple singers in a film, even if for the same actor. Gone are the days when you identified specific voices with specific stars. But what’s also happening is that any voice is being chosen for any actor, in the name of experimentation and talent promotion. Some good songs have been marred by a wrong choice of singers.

What view do you, the reader, subscribe to? It would be great to hear your feedback.


Instruments from India – 1/ Violin

HAVING completed 50 articles in my blog, I thought the time was right to start a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The idea is two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they may not have heard before, and two, to expose those who haven’t really followed Indian music, specially those staying abroad, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various instruments offer.

The first question, of course, was: Which instrument to begin with? Initial thoughts focused on the stringed instrument sitar, because of its popularity in the West, thanks mainly to the efforts of Ravi Shankar. Then, I thought of the percussion instrument tabla, because of the glamour and genius of Zakir Hussain, who’s very popular both in India and abroad.

However, I decided to begin with the violin, mainly because it is one instrument which is used across cultures globally. Abroad, it’s played a crucial role in western classical music, having been used prominently in symphonies, concertos, string quartets and solo recitals. It’s also used in country music, folk, new age and world music, and to a lesser extent, in jazz and rock. Names like Niccolo Paganini, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman of Mahavishnu Orchestra, David Cross of King Crimson, Regina Carter, Nigel Kennedy, Karen Briggs, Alison Krauss, Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band and Vanessa-Mae, to name a few, have made a mark across different genres.

In India, the violin, which is an adaptation of the western model, finds a very prominent place in the south Indian classical Carnatic tradition, which boasts of a large number of talented musicians. It is also used in north Indian classical music, known as Hindustani music, and in Indian film music, folk music and Indo-jazz fusion.

This blog will look at the violin in different genres of Indian music, and to listen to the names mentioned, one can always take the help of YouTube. By and large, I will make only a basic reference to technicalities of playing, as the main idea is to create basic awareness of various styles and performers. And while I have named quite a few performers and tried to cover the main names in each genre, the lists mentioned are by no means exhaustive or complete.

Carnatic music: Though the basic instrument is the same, the Carnatic musician’s position, grip and manner of fingering is different from his western classical counterpart. The musician sits on the stage, and holds the violin perpendicular to the chest, with the scroll (end of the neck) pointing downwards.

In Carnatic music, the violin is used both as a solo instrument or as an accompaniment to a vocalist.

When played as a solo instrument, the musician adapts the compositions, which are originally written for vocals and are based on raags, the melodic modes used in Indian classical music. He is normally accompanied by the tambura (a stringed instrument providing a drone sound) and percussion instruments like the mridangam (a two-sided drum), a ghatam (which resembles a pot) and kanjira (which is held in one hand and played with the other).

While accompanying a vocalist, the violinist usually plays phrases to coordinate with the singer. Here, he must have perfect mastery over the composition, and also an individual style to embellish the solo passages.

Among the violinists, Baluswami Dikshitar, brother of famous composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar, is believed to have introduced the instrument to Carnatic music. The early trendsetters included T Chowdiah, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, V Lakshminarayana and Parur Sundaram Iyer.

From the 1950s onwards, artistes like Lalgudi Jayaraman (picture on right), TN Krishnan, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, and brothers MS Anantharaman and MS Gopalakrishnan (picture on left) spread the instrument’s popularity. TV Gopalakrishnan made a mark as a vocalist, violinist and mridangam player, besides teaching the great music directors Ilayaraja and AR Rahman, saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath and percussionist Sivamani.

From the 1970s, L Subramnaniam and L Shankar helped popularise Carnatic music in the West, by collaborating with foreign artistes. Yet, they continued to play traditional Carnatic music. Besides his Carnatic recitals, Mysore Manjunath is known for his collaborations with Hindustani musicians.

Those performing regularly today include A Kanyakumari, Nagai Muralidharan, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi (son and daughter of Lalgudi Jayaraman), M Narmadha (daughter of MS Gopalakrishnan), the brothers’ duo of Kumaresh and Ganesh, Jyotna Srikanth, Viji Krishnan and Sriram Krishnan (children of TN Krishnan) and Vittal Ramamurthy. As an accompanist, S Varadarajan is a class of his own.

Hindustani music: Compared to Carnatic music, Hindustani music finds lesser use of the violin. Yet, there have been some notable performers, both solo and as accompanists.

Hindustani compositions in different raags could be written either for voice and adapted, or could be primarily for the instrument. Here too, the performer sits on the stage, though the grip and technique is different from the Carnatic practitioner.

The legendary multi-instrumentalist Baba Alauddin Khan was a master at the Hindustani violin (see earlier blog: India’s most versatile classical musician). Other luminaries include Gajananrao Joshi, who also made a mark as a vocalist, VG Jog, DK Datar and N Rajam, sister of Carnatic genius TN Krishnan. The great MS Gopalakrishnan also practised Hindustani violin successfully.

Those practising today include Sangeeta Shankar (Rajam’s daughter), Kala Ramnath, Milind Raikar and Johar Ali Khan. Though Hindustani vocalists normally prefer accompaniment from a harmonium or sarangi, some use the violin too. Pandit Jasraj is often assisted by Kala Ramnath and Kishori Amonkar by Milind Raikar.

Fusion: The violin, specially the Carnatic style, has been used in many projects fusing Indian music with jazz, western classical and popular music.

L Subramaniam collaborated with a range of western artistes like violinists Stephane Grappelli, Yehudi Menuhin and Jean-Luc Ponty, flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, keyboardists Herbie Hancock and Joe Sample, and bassist Stanley Clarke. His son Ambi is one of the talents to watch out for.

In the 1970s, violinist L Shankar was an integral part of fusion supergroup Shakti, along with guitarist John McLaughlin, tabla wizard Zakir Hussain and ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram. He also created a custom-made double violin. Later, besides many projects with violinist Gingger, he has played with greats like Peter Gabriel, Sting, Elton John, Frank Zappa, Lou Reed and Eric Clapton.

Other genres: The violin is also played in film music, popular non-film music and Indian folk music.

Most of the older music directors from Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishen to SD Burman and Salil Chowdhury used the instrument in compositions, primarily in the large orchestras that were in vogue those days. One of the great film violinists those days was Anthony Gonsalves. RD Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji and Laxmikant-Pyarelal continued the trend, with Pyarelal himself being an accomplished violinist. Other violinists from the Hindi film industry are Uttam Singh and Amar Haldipur, who have made a name as music arrangers, and Surendra Singh.

In the south, film music directors like Ilayaraja and L Vaidyanathan have used the violin extensively. Ghazal artistes like Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas have used the instrument as accompaniment, though here, the emphasis is mainly on the singer. Deepak Pandit is one violinist who has played with ghazal stars and in film music, besides releasing the album ‘Miracle’.

Fusion band Swarathma has a talented violinist in Sanjeev Nayak. Sharat Chandra Srivastava, who plays for the band Mrigya and has guested for the group Parikrama, has also recorded Indian versions of popular western classical tunes. Then, there’s Sankarshan Kini of the acoustic group Whirling Kalapas, who plays violin, mandolin and percussion.

On the folk front, violinist Sunita Bhuyan has blended music from the north-east Indian state of Assam with classical and rock styles on her album ‘Bihu Strings’. Folk music from various states of India uses the instrument too.

Naturally, the violin has had a major role in Indian music overall. Unlike many instruments which are suited to specific genres, it has a pan-India appeal, and can easily be grasped by global audiences. But that’s the beauty of the violin, which fits into any kind of music.

CD review/ Tempest – Bob Dylan

Tempest/ Bob Dylan

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Sony Music/ Rs 499

Rating: *****

THE times they are a-changin’, but Bob Dylan isn’t. At 71, having spent 50 glorious years in the recording business, the ace singer-songwriter still does regular concert tours, weaves words like a magician and churns out absolutely phenomenal albums.

When he first announced the title of his latest album, two stories did the rounds. One was that it was inspired by a similar-sounding play by William Shakespeare, and the other was that it would be his last recording effort. Blaaahhhhh, responded Dylan.

Whatever it is, there’s no denying that Dylan can easily be called the Shakespeare of songwriting. Yes, there are those who argue that his recent songs lack the sheer poetic brilliance and creative consistency of his 60s and 70s work, but he’s still crisp, prolific and highly-listenable, no doubt.

Dylan’s 35th studio album, ‘Tempest’ contains 10 songs and lasts a solid 68 minutes. Pretty long, for sure, with five numbers lasting over seven minutes. But it’s also clearly his best album in a decade, after 2001’s masterpiece ‘Love and Theft’.

Lyrically, ‘Tempest’ is one of his darkest and most vivid albums ever, filled with words and tales of gore, doom and uncertainty. Marvels like “You’ve got the same eyes that your mother does; If only you could prove who your father was,”  “Your father left you, your mother too; Even death has washed its hands of you” and “If love is a sin then beauty is a crime; All things are beautiful in their time” still overflow from that magical pen.

Most songs are sung in a narrative fashion, with Dylan actually telling lengthy stories or describing landmark events. His voice, never textbook-perfect, sounds even more raw, rugged and raspy, almost like a cross between a morning brush gargle, an attack of whooping cough and bluesman Howling Wolf’s whisky-spruced wail. But it suits these songs oh-so-perfectly, making them grander and more gorgeous, even in those flashing off-key moments.

Musically, ‘Tempest’ meanders between raw blues, quintessential folk-rock, earthy country and southern American boogie. Gone are the signature harmonica solos of yore. Instead, a talented back-up band that includes David Hidalgo of Los Lobos concentrates more on guitar, keyboards, bass, violin, banjo, accordion and mandolin.

While all songs are penned exclusively by Dylan, the opening track and video song ‘Duquesne Whistle’ has been co-written with Robert Hunter, who once graced Grateful Dead tunes and also worked on Dylan’s album’s ‘Down in the Groove’ and ‘Together Through Life’.

‘Duquesne Whistle’ begins with a melodic guitar-piano riff followed by a punchy stomp, before Dylan sings: “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing, blowing like it’s gonna sweep my world away.” Catchy and infectious, it’s closest the album comes to Dylan’s 60s folk-rock-boogie sound, with typically-styled emphasis on the words ‘blowing’, ‘sky’, ‘alive’ and ‘head’.

The tempo slows down with the bittersweet ballad ‘Soon after midnight’, with Dylan singing “I’m searching for phrases, to sing your praises, I need to tell someone; It’s soon after midnight, and my day has just begun.” It’s a haunting melody, setting the mood for some heartbroken lines on the uptempo ‘Narrow Way’, where he sings “I can’t work up to you; You’re surely gonna have to work down to me someday.”

The nostalgic and moodily-orchestrated ‘Long and Wasted Years’ has some memorable lines. The song begins, “It’s been such a long long time, since we loved each other when our hearts were true,” and later goes on to, “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes, there are secrets in them I can’t disguise; Come back baby, If I ever hurt your feelings, I apologise.” But the best is reserved for the song’s finale: “I think that when my back was turned, the whole world behind me burned, It’s been a while, since we walked down that long long isle; We cried on that on that cold and frosty morn, we cried because our souls were torn; So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years.” Bravo!

‘Pay in Blood’ moves at a brisk pace, with smart guitarwork and lines like “The more I take, the more I give; The more I die, the more I live” and “I pay in blood, but not my own.” The country-folk charmer ‘Scarlet Town’ is beautifully orchestrated, with a smooth guitar passage smack in the centre.

‘Early Roman Kings’ has a blues stomp straight out of the Muddy Waters beauty ‘Mannish Boy’. Add to that a vibrant keyboard line, and classic words like “I can strip you of life, strip you of breath, ship you down to the house of death; One day you will ask for me, there’ll be no one else that you wanna see.”

The nine-minute ‘Tin Angel’ is a three-part story of adultery, murder and suicide Playing to a steady groove and a slapping bassline backdrop. It has the vicious lines “Get up, stand up, you greedy lipped wench, and cover your face to solve all the consequence; You are making my heart feel sick, put your clothes back on, double quick.” Shades of the unforgettable ‘Positively 4th Street’ here.

Which brings us to the two epics that conclude the album. Written as a folk-waltz, the 14-minute title track talks of the sinking of the Titanic. Beginning with, “The pale moon rose in its glory, out of the western town, she told a sad sad story, of a great ship that went down”, it even makes a reference of Leonardo di Caprio, star of the James Cameron film, on “Leo took his sketch book, he was often so inclined; He closed his eyes and painted the scenery in his mind.”

The album concludes with the awesome ‘Roll on, John’, a heartfelt dedication to John Lennon. The touching tribute talks of the Beatles legend’s days in Liverpool, his work with the band Quarrymen and the early concerts in Hamburg, makes references to the unforgettable lines “I heard the news today oh boy” and ‘Come together right now over me” and even takes a bit of inspiration from poet William Blake (“Tiger tiger burning bright”) and children’s bedtime prayers (“I pray the lord my soul to keep”).

Any flaws? Maybe one, in that some numbers like ‘Early Roman Kings’ ‘Tin Angel’ and the title song use the same instrumental themes and chord progressions repeatedly. But then, these songs narrate stories, and the initial monotony is drowned by the mastery of the words.

All in all, ‘Tempest’ is the perfect way to celebrate Dylan’s golden jubilee. Among the rock stars, only two others have been active for those many years – the Beatles’s Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. But while both of them have been extra-busy on the live circuit, their studio recordings are nowhere near their past.  As for Dylan, the magic of Mr Tambourine Man is still blowing in the wind.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic


In their own write: Of Hal David and other great lyricists

In English-language music, singer-songwriters have always carved a niche of their own. The moment one mentions the genre, one thinks of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Don McLean… the list is endless. Even partnerships like Lennon-McCartney of the Beatles, Jagger-Richards of the Rolling Stones, Anderson-Ulvaeus of Abba, the Gibb brothers of the Bee Gees, Gilmour-Waters of Pink Floyd and Crosby-Still-Nash-Young come to mind.

In such a scenario, where does that leave the stand-alone lyricist? People who wrote the words of songs which were eventually composed, sung and popularised by others.

This question came to mind when one heard of the recent death of Hal David, one of the greatest lyricists of the 20th century. In partnership with composer Burt Bacharach, he created a series of hits that included ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’, ‘I say a little prayer’, ‘(They long to be) Close to you’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Magic Moments’ and ‘Message to Michael’.

Bacharach-David were one of the most prolific songwriting teams (in the picture, David is on the right). While singer Dionne Warwick rendered many of their compositions, others to use their creations included the Carpenters, Perry Como, BJ Thomas, the 5th Dimension, Tom Jones, Herp Albert, Dusty Springfield and even newer acts like Alicia Keys, the White Stripes and the Flaming Lips.

After splitting from Bacharach, David wrote for composers Albert Hammond and Henry Mancini of Pink Panther fame. Surely, his death at age 91 marks the end of an era. He belonged to a minority set, comprising musicians who continued to write gem after gem, without singing them or composing their tunes commercially.

Minority set, did we say? Well come to think of it, one can think of very few stand-alone lyricists. While some like Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, George M Cohan and Irving Berlin were among the greatest lyricists in history, the truth is that they also composed their songs.

Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics to classics like ‘Autumn leaves’, ‘Satin doll’, ‘Travelling light’ and ‘Something’s gotta give’, but he made an equal mark as a composer and singer. Blues biggie Willie Dixon and ‘Tulsa sound’ pioneer JJ Cale were also known for the quality of their lyrics, but in reality, they wrote entire songs, most of which were popularised by others like Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. Norman Gimbel wrote Roberta Flack’s hugely-successful ‘Killing me softly’, but as a lyricist, he was more famous for his translations of foreign language songs, including Portuguese tunes written by Vinicius de Moraes for Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

While talking of stand-alone lyricists who have made a huge contribution to English-language music, only a few names come to mind. The trendsetter was WS Gilbert of the famed duo Gilbert & Sullivan, which wrote many comic operas in the late 19th century, and was an inspiration for many others.

Here, we name the 12 other prolific writers, besides Gilbert and David, who made a major contribution in their fields:

Ira Gershwin: The writer of some of the best-known tunes of Broadway, Ira was best known for his partnership with his elder brother, the legendary composer George Gershwin. After George’s untimely death, Ira continued writing songs for composers like Kurt Weill and Jerome Kem. Best known for: The songs ‘Embraceable you’, ‘I got rhythm’, ‘Someone to watch over me’, ‘The man I love’, ‘But not for me’. Contrary to general belief, he didn’t write George’s famous ‘Summertime’ — DuBose Heyward authored that song.

Oscar Hammerstein II: The writer of some 850 Broadway and Hollywood songs, Hammerstein was primarily known for his work with composer Richard Rodgers, though he worked with other musicians too. Best known for: ‘The Sound of Music’ soundtrack, and the standards ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’.

Lorenz Hart: Another partner of Richard Rodgers, Hart was extremely popular on the Broadway scene. Best known for: The songs ‘The lady is a tramp’, ‘My funny Valentine’, ‘Blue moon’, ‘Falling in love with love’.

Gus Kahn: German-born, US-settled Gus was one of the most prolific names of the early 20th century, more so for his work with Tin Pan Alley. Best known for: The songs ‘Dream a little dream of me’, ‘It had to be you’, ‘Side by side’.

Arthur Freed:  Another giant from the early 20th century, the American lyricist was mostly associated with composer Nacio Herb Brown. Best known for: The songs ‘Singing in the rain’, ‘The Broadway melody’ and ‘All I do is dream of you’.

Alan Jay Lerner: Worked with the famous composer Frederick Loewe, Lerner worked on numerous theatre works and their film adaptations. Best known for: The stage and film versions of ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Camelot’ and ‘Brigadoon’, and the film ‘The Little Prince’.

Yip Harburg: A close friend of Ira Gershwin, Harburg wrote some famous standards in the Great American Songbook. Best known for: The songs ‘April in Paris’, ‘It’s only a paper moon’, ‘Over the rainbow’, ‘Old devil moon’.

Dorothy Fields: Broadway and early Hollywood had many female lyricists, but Fields was the most prolific of them all. Best known for: The songs ‘The way you look tonight’, ‘On the sunny sides of the street’.

Carl Sigman: His early work included associations with jazz greats Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo, but later, he wrote huge hits for pop musicians of the 50s and 60s. Best known for: ‘My heart cries for you’ (Dinah Shore), ‘Ebb tide’ (the Righteous Brothers’) and ‘Where do I begin? (Andy Williams in the film ‘Love Story’).

Tim Rice: The perfect foil to the compositions of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rice also penned songs popularised by Elvis Presley, Elton John and Freddie Mercury: Best known for: The Webber musicals ‘Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Evita’, the film ‘The Lion King’ and the Elton John musical ‘Aida’.

Bernie Taupin: Elton John’s long-time collaborator, Taupin did selective but successful work with other musicians like Starship, Kid Rock and Courtney Love. He also wrote for the film ‘Brokeback Mountain’. Best known for: The song ‘We built this city’ by Starship, and most of Elton John hits, like ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Crocodile rock’, ‘Tiny dancer’, ‘Candle in the wind’, ‘Your song’, ‘Rocket man’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Something in the way you look tonight’.

Diane Warren: A Grammy and Golden Globe winner, Warren is one of the most consistent among the newer lyricists, writing hits for Whitney Houston, Laura Branigan, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Enrique Iglesias, Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Toni Braxton, Gloria Estefan and many others. Best known for: The songs ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us now’ (by Starship), ‘Because you loved me’ (Celine Dion), ‘Unbreak my heart’ (Toni Braxton), ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’ (Aerosmith). ‘You haven’t seen the last of me’ (Cher).

As one notices, it’s a pretty short list. Among today’s generation, quite a few of those mentioned are totally unknown. Yet, each of them is legendary in his or her own way. Hal David was one of a kind, and his contribution to music deserves a huge round of applause. Goodbye, Hal.

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