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Archive for November, 2012

A perfect tribute to the great Hindi film lyricists


BOOK REVIEW

Romancing The Song: Hindi Cinema’s Lyrical Journey

Author: Manek Premchand

Jharna Books; pp 654; Price: Rs 1,500

THE words have always mattered. In the world of Hindi film music, the lyricist has most often been an equal contributor. After all, hundreds of songs wouldn’t have been so sublime, if it wasn’t for the charm of their lines. Yet, barring a section of passionate and knowledgeable music lovers, the role of this community has largely been overlooked. In many cases, people know entire songs without knowing who penned them, and sometimes, music companies release compilations without mentioning the writers.

Lyrics, of course, have their own beauty and depth, and the great lyricists have been geniuses in their own ‘write’. Keeping this in mind, it would be essential for Hindi film music followers to read Manek Premchand’s latest book Romancing The Song: Hindi Cinema’s Lyrical Journey. It not only talks of the most talented songwriters to have graced Hindi film music, but makes a deep study of different themes under which songs have been written, and how songwriting has changed with time, keeping in mind the political, social and even technological scenario of the day.

On first reaction, it would be very obvious to state that Manek has done a great amount of research for this book. But honestly, what he’s written is the result of much, much, much more than pure research. He’s monitored songs of every era in elaborate detail, analysed the findings of his studies, offered his own explanations, and even compared how songwriters have approached similar subjects differently with their individual styles.

Besides being a consultant with Saregama India, show compere and radio personality, Manek has earlier written Yesterday’s Melodies, Today’s Memories, which profiled the best-known singers, composers and lyricists of the golden period till 1970, and Musical Moments from Hindi Films, which listed and described 435 of the greatest songs released in the genre. He’s worked on his latest book for around five years, and quite clearly, this is a labour of love and the result of enormous passion for and deep understanding of the subject.

In Romancing the Song, Manek divides the lyrical journey into four 20-year periods, beginning in 1931, when talking films were introduced in India. En route, he mentions numerous lyricists, their songwriting styles, words they loved to use, the composers and singers of the songs, the filmmakers who emphasised on meaningful music and even how certain subjects or themes were popular or fashionable during specific periods.

The 654-page book has a foreword by Gulzar, keynote by LK Advani, curtain-raiser by eminent radio personality Ameen Sayani and ‘Last Word’ by santoor maestro Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma. The names of so many lyricists are mentioned that it is impossible for this blogger to include each and every one. But from the early era, we have Kidar Sharma, Agha Hashr Kashmiri, DN Madhok, Arzoo Lucknowi, Aah Sitapuri, J Nakhshab, PL Santoshi, GS Nepali and Zia Sarhadi, to name a few. The use of poetry by Ghalib and Meerabai is also considered.

They are followed by Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Rajinder Krishan, Kaifi Azmi, Kavi Pradeep, Hasrat Jaipuri, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Qamar Jalalabadi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Indeevar, Bharat Vyas, Asad Bhopali, Anand Bakshi, Naqsh Lyallpuri, SH Bihari, Prem Dhawan, Gulshan Bawra, Neeraj, Yogesh, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Nida Fazli, Amit Khanna, Shahryaar, Ravindra Jain and Anjaan, among others. Among today’s writers, the songs of Prasoon Joshi, Sameer, Irshad Kamil and Swanand Kirkire have been featured.

Short profiles of the lyricists have been reserved for the end of the book. Most chapters focus on specific themes, including songs from historical films, the steam engine, bird-related songs, shama-parwana, communal harmony, India’s independence, women-centric songs, use of English words, songs on the moon and sky, rain songs, festival songs, alcohol-related songs, the flower power era, the disco era, parody, cabaret songs, mujras, the arrival of obscene lyrics, the current trend of Punjabiyat, topori lingo, so on and so forth. Specific genres like ghazals and related forms like rubais, nazm and doteenya, qawwalis, devotional numbers and patriotic songs are covered in depth.

Besides the lyricists, songs of films by Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, BR Chopra, the Navketan banner, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Nasir Hussain and V Shantaram are covered extensively A glossary explaining meanings of commonly-used words is helpful.

From the above description, it is obvious how much detailing and hard work has gone into this book. From the reader’s perspective, however, a few additional points need to be mentioned.

  • Though this book is broadly recommended for anybody who’s into Hindi film music, either deeply or in passing, three types of people should specifically benefit from it.
  1. Musicians, comprising singers, composers and lyricists, who are especially interested in learning about the thought process, creativity, word-usage acumen and poetic skill that went behind the making of some classics. The younger generation of lyricists, in particular, will find a wealth of inspiration and motivation in these pages.
  2. The hardcore music follower, who’s always in search of more information and trivia. Even the self-confessed music encyclopaedia will hopefully discover dozens of new things here and probably understand his favourite songs in a fresh perspective.
  3. Those who are fond of the genre, but have limited knowledge of lyricists or even songs as such– those who know songs without knowing who wrote them, who know the tunes without knowing the words, or who know the mukhdas without knowing the antaras. With its relevant explanations and translations, this book may help enhance the knowledge of such people.
  • Each person may have his or her favourite era of film music. So even though the book covers the entire 80-year span in detail, some readers may not be interested in the earliest phase, while others may detest songs from the past 20 years. As such, it might be worthwhile to go through the Table of Contents, and choose whatever would be of more interest.
  • This blogger’s personal observation has been that a section of diehard music lovers, specially the extra-knowledgeable and passionate ones, also tend to be extremely opinionated and biased. They may find the work of some lyricists great, but in their opinion, some of the others are mediocre or over-rated. Naturally, such people think their view is correct. Since Manek’s approach towards each lyricist has been totally unbiased, and based on his contribution to cinema, it would be ideal if such readers keep an open mind, rather than let personal prejudice come in the way.
  • While Manek has published the lyrics of so many songs of different time periods, one may tend to skip songs one hasn’t heard before. Obviously, if one knows the tune, he or she will be more interested in reading the lyrics. But at times, one can also discover some wonderful poetry even if one isn’t familiar with that song.  Maybe one can get to hear unknown yet beautiful songs that way.
  •  Finally, one may always find personal favourites missing from the examples taken in this book. Personally, for instance, I wondered why ‘Kuch toh log kahenge’ wasn’t included, though three other songs from Amar Prem are mentioned. Ditto with ‘Main shaayar badnaam’ from Namak Haraam, ‘Aye meri zohra zabeen’ from Waqt, and the three Aandhi songs ‘Tere bina zindagi se’, ‘Tum aa gaye ho’ and ‘Is mod se jaate hain’. Similarly, when an entire chapter has been dedicated to train-based songs from the 1931-50 period, later super-hits on the same subject, like ‘Rail gaadi’ (Aashirwaad) and ‘Gaadi bula rahi hai’ (Dost), have been omitted.

All these songs were lyrical beauties, undoubtedly. But while each reader may have his or her own list of missing numbers, the truth is that it’s impossible to mention each and every great song, considering the volume of magnificent work released during the past 80s years. There’s always the case of the author’s perspective, and the fact that some outstandingly-written songs may not just fit into the flow of the book or theme of the chapter.

What Romancing The Song offers, in essence, is a truly in-depth analysis of how songs and their lyrics have changed over the years, and a remarkable study of the contributions of some of the greatest lyricists, many of whom haven’t received the plaudits they have always deserved. Clearly, this is one of the most comprehensive and captivating books on Hindi film music. It is not only a collector’s treasure, but something that can be repeatedly used for reference and knowledge enhancement. And yes, it should also act as an ‘ear’-opener to those listeners who haven’t given the lyricist his due recognition.

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CD review/ Once More – Colonial Cousins


Once More/ Colonial Cousins

Genre: Indipop

Universal Music/ Rs 150

Rating: *** ½

Time is the healer, time moves on, Time don’t wait for anyone; You tell me you’ll be back, but that will take some time; I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting, yeah, yeah…

AROUND 16 years ago, the Colonial Cousins sang these lines on ‘Krishna’, the masterpiece from their self-titled debut. The group, comprising Hariharan and Lesle Lewis, went on to release two more albums, The Way We Do It and Aatma, blending Indian and western elements in what was branded ‘vocal fusion’ or ‘eclectic Indipop’.

They took a long break from Hindi music thereafter and concentrated on individual projects and even Tamil films as a duo, though fans continued to sing ‘I’m waiting, I’m waiting’ in the hope that they’d return. A few months ago, Lesle released his solo Indipop album Tanha Sa Hoon (reviewed earlier in this blog) and now the Cousins are back after a 11-year hiatus, with a seven-song set called Once More.

Quite appropriately, they end the new album with ‘Radhe Govind Gopal’, a rejoinder to ‘Krishna’. After Hariharan renders a bhajan-styled line “Shree Radhe Govind Gopal tera pyaara naam hai,”  Lesle goes on to appeal to children to save the world they live in, as smooth guitars, a charming sitar and temple manjira play in the backdrop. Only, the definition of time changes from what we heard in ‘Krishna’. This time, the words are:

Times have changed, it ain’t so good; Everybody’s being misunderstood, misunderstood; Reach for your heart, search for the truth; We hide in disguise, losing our roots; Living in fear, living in fear

‘Radhe Govind Gopal’ is clearly one of the highlights of Once More. And while its style is very bhajan-pop, the other songs vary from north-eastern folk and hard rock-meets-Maharashtrian rhythms to ballads and tracks filled with classical wizardry. The lyrics credits are shared by Raajesh Johri, Kumaar and Lesle, and interestingly, the album uses English on only three songs, the emphasis being more on Hindi.

Of the songs, the opener ‘Aaiyo Re’, which uses north-east Indian folk elements, begins with a guitar-flute intro and then heralds the onset of the rains with the lines: Aaiyo re aaiyo saawan aaiyo re; rimhim baarishon se bheega hai jahaan; kaisa matwala dekho mausam jawaan aaiyo re.” Strangely, the word is pronounced ‘sawan’ initially and ‘saawan’ later.  Catchy Assamese back-up vocals lend an earthy element.

‘Ma Ma Re, Ma Ma Re’ is a racy and smartly done mix of clubby chants, classical passages and English pop vocals. A female back-up goes ‘A-aaha ha’ Hariharan sings a neat sargam stretch, and Lesle follows up with the line: “Show me the way to follow you to your heart, I only want to be around you now.” Typical Cousins mix, with Hari excelling here.

The Cousins try to repeat the formula on the third track ‘Janaab-e-Ali’, but this is the only number which falls flat, thanks mainly to senseless lyrics like “Somebody tell me kahaan hai janaab-e-aali; Aadat purani hai dil ko churaane waali.” The song does have a wonderful ‘tutti’ portion, where the shehnai, flute and clarinet are played together to create a unique sound. But later on, they try to fill in too many things ― the words ‘Chunari sambhaal baby’ and a high-pitched classical passage come in from nowhere, leading to a mess.

The next song ‘Kaise Samjhayein’ gets even louder, but this time, things are in control, as Maharasthrian lezhim beats are played energetically to distortion-filled hard rock guitars, with both singing in Hindi: “Saari saari raat jaage, jiya beqarar laage, iss dil ko kaise samjhayein.”

Just when you think the entire album will follow a similar pattern, things slow down with ‘Tak Dhina Dhin’, which has the wonderful lines: “Raaton mein taaron se baatein karenge, agar ambar se jhilmil sitaron kahenge, tujhe dekha, tujhe dekha, tere dil se jo pyaar hua.” A short female back-up and a stylish guitar solo add charm.

‘Sajna ve’, which talks of lost love, is a melodious treat, as the lines ‘Sajna ve, sajna ve, tere liye main toh jee raha hoon” are played to a nylon-string guitar backdrop. The vocals touch the high notes beautifully, especially the words ‘sapnon’, ‘ashkon’,’duniya’ and ‘tanha’. This and ‘Radhe Govind Gopal’ give the album a perfect ending.

Though the Cousins are pretty much back in form, a couple of areas could have been looked into. One is the order of the songs. While the album definitely has variety in terms of style, the faster numbers dominate the first half and the soulful ones come later. If one of the slower songs had been placed earlier, there would have been a better balance, tempo-wise.

Secondly, with four songs sung in Hindi, there are portions where both Hariharan and Lesle render similar passages or even the same lines one after the other. While their timbres aren’t exactly similar, they aren’t totally contrasting either. Leslie sings in his pop style, using certain words in a more western manner, and Hariharan is rooted in classical music, down to the exact microtones. For the trained ear, one of the voices would sound more polished and flexible than the other, especially on ‘Aaiyo Re’ and ‘Tak Dhina Dhin’.

Finally, the album cover makes no mention of the instrumentalists and back-up singers at all. A wide variety of musicians has been used, and some have played important roles in the songs. Though one would assume Lesle has played most of the guitars, one would definitely like to know who else has played or sung on the album.

The flaws apart, this is definitely a timely comeback. Obviously, this may not be in the same league as the debut album, which had an absolutely new sound, and remains one of the best-ever releases in Indipop. A band like the Colonial Cousins will always have a set formula, and the only way they can keep producing good music is through the strength and variety of their compositions. Largely, they succeed in Once More.

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

 

CD review/ Talaash; Music: Ram Sampath


Talaash/ Music: Ram Sampath

Genre: Hindi film music

T-Series/ Rs 175

Rating: *** 1/2

BEFORE he got into composing Hindi film music, Ram Sampath focused on ad jingles and also co-founded the band Colourblind in the late 90s. His cinema break came with the offbeat Indian English flick Let’s Talk in 2002. Ever since, he’s done a few movies like Khakee and Luv Ka The End, without hitting the big time till last year’s Delhi Belly.

Though the Delhi Belly score was known more for the controversial and bizarre lyrics of ‘Bhaag DK Bose’ and ‘Ja Chudail’, the music director got a good platform, beginning a collaboration with the film’s co-producer Aamir Khan. Next came Aamir’s TV show Satyamev Jayate, and Ram became pretty well-known.

Now, with Reema Kagti’s Talaash, Ram gets another chance to work with Aamir, who’s acted in and co-produced the film. The movie has five songs and one remix, and the heartening things are that the tunes stay away from the Delhi Belly formula, employ the lyrical talents of Javed Akhtar, and show a fair amount of variety.

Like in Delhi Belly and Luv Ka The End, Ram doesn’t opt for mainstream singers in Talaash, and in fact, sings two songs himself. The focus these days, of course, has been the rather unusual and distinct voice of Suman Sridhar, who renders the opener ‘Muskaanein Jhoothi Hai’ picturised on Kareena Kapoor.

Suman had earlier rendered ‘Tonight’ in Luv Ka The End, but is otherwise known for her massacred remixes of classics like ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’, ‘Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho’ and ‘Hawa Hawaii’. Luckily, with originals, one doesn’t get into those comparisons, but though her timbre has oomph, her enunciation is awry, and she tends to lisp and sound forced at times. Yet, despite its technical singing drawbacks, the song is lifted by its bar-room jazz feel, a marvellous double bass, catchy back-up vocals and lines that go “Muskaanein jhooti hain, pehchaanein jhooti hai, rangeeni hai chaayi, phir bhi hai tanhaiyee.”

‘Jee Le Zaraa’ is rendered by Vishal Dadlani, known more as vocalist of the rock Pentagram and as one half of the music director duo Vishal-Shekhar. His voice texture sounds a bit too heavy and gruff here, but he pulls it off with some controlled singing. Interestingly, the tunehas a very fleeting resemblance to a portion from the Musafir song ‘Rabba’, which Vishal-Shekhar composed. The song also comes in a faster, dance-friendly version remixed by Mikey McLeary.

Song No 3, ‘Jiyaa Laage Na’, is a beauty. With a semi-classical thumri vocal style and a peppy rhythm, it grows on repeated listening, with singers Sona Mohapatra and Ravindra Upadhyay complementing each other perfectly, and executing the nuances neatly. The lyrics contain gems like ‘O.. main anjaani, hoon woh kahaani, hogi jo na poori; O.. paas aaoge, toh paaoge, phit bhi hai ek doori’.

The next two numbers are sung by Ram himself, and they’re both stylistically different. ‘Hona Kya Hai’ is upbeat and has some snazzy keyboards and techno interludes, though the main line has a tune that’s somewhat reminiscent of the ‘Shaan se’ part of the old song ‘Doston se pyaar kiya’, albeit in a lower pitch. Whatever, the song is perfect for the club circuit.

Ram’s ‘Laakh Duniya Kahe’ is a moving and smoothly-arranged ballad with the wonderful lines “Tumne chhoda hai kab saath mera, thaamey ho aaj bhi haath mera, koi manzil, koi rehguzar ho, aaj bhi tum mere humsafar ho, jaaoon chaahe jahaan tum wahin ho.” Here too, the voice seems to be under stress on the high notes, especially while singing the words ‘manzil’ and ‘gaaye’, and the chorus drags. But it’s a beautiful tune which haunts you, even though one feels a little more ‘taiyyari’ and vocal robustness was needed in its rendition.

The flaws notwithstanding, ‘Talaash’ is impressive overall, moreso because it’s got a sound of its own. Obviously, this is a high point for Ram, who has so far not been too prolific in terms of number of releases, but who’s got a few good breaks over the past year or so. However, though he’s got a good mentor in Aamir Khan, one hopes he diversifies and works with other filmmakers too. That’ll give him wider exposure and experience.

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

 

Instruments from India – 3/ Bamboo flute


IN September, I had begun a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The aim was two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various Indian instruments offer.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mention the leading performers in each style. However, while I have tried to name all the main musicians, the lists mentioned are by no means exhaustive or complete. In all parts of the series, I shall use a similar format to maintain uniformity, and some portions on the concert structure may be repeated verbatim if needed.

The first two parts of the series talked about the violin and sitar, respectively. This month, we feature the bansuri and other bamboo flutes used in India.

LIKE the violin, the flute has been used in various musical cultures across the world, and is also known to be the earliest musical instrument ever. However, while musicians from the West largely use a metal flute, their Indian counterparts play the bamboo flute, commonly known as the bansuri in north India, and venu in the south.

India is not the only country to specialise in bamboo flutes, as one finds different varieties in other Asian countries, especially in China, Japan, Korea and certain Far Eastern regions. In India, however, the flute has a religious significance, as it’s associated with Lord Krishna, who was known to play three varieties – venu, murali and vamsi. It was even seen in Buddhist paintings of the 1st century.

The bamboo flute is used in both north Indian Hindustani music and Carnatic music from the south. The length of flutes varies between the 12-inch (or lower) murali to the 40-inch shankhbansuri, though many musicians prefer it to be about 20 inches. They could have between six or eight holes.

Among today’s musicians, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia (picture on left) is the best-known Hindustani exponent, whereas N Ramani (picture on right) leads the Carnatic list. The instrument also finds extensive use in folk music, film music, fusion, devotional music and classical dance. Let’s look at each genre:

Hindustani music: The word bansuri is a combination of bans (bamboo) and sur (melody). Like the sitar and other Hindustani instruments, the bansuri is primarily played by a solo artiste, with accompaniment from the tabla (or in some cases, the pakhawaj drum) and from the stringed drone instrument tanpura. At times, it is also used as a duet (called jugalbandi) with other instruments.

A concert usually begins with the rendition of a classical raga, the melodic mode used in Indian music. The first piece comprises a three-part movement beginning with the slow alaap, increasing tempo with the jod and reaching a faster climax with the jhala. Here, there is no tabla/ pakhawaj accompaniment.

After the alaap-jod-jhala sequence, the instrumentalist plays two or three compositions in the same raga, with percussion accompaniment. These are known as gats or bandishes, and while the flautist demonstrates his skill here, the tabla/ pakhawaj player also plays certain brisk passages, much to the audience’s delight.

Once this first raga is over, the flautist may play another raag, or may play certain light ragas, folk tunes or devotional pieces, depending on the time allotted. Hindustani flautists usually prefer raags Pahadi and Bhairavi to conclude their shows, and use smaller flutes for folk compositions. The bansuri is also used as an accompaniment in lighter classical vocal forms like the thumri, dadra and hori.

Among performers, though Chaurasia is extremely popular among today’s audiences, it was actually Pt Pannalal Ghosh who elevated the status of the flute from a folk instrument into a classical one, before he passed away in 1960. Other renowned bansuri exponents from the earlier generation have been Raghunath Prasanna of Benaras, Vijay Raghav Rao, a disciple of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and Devendra Murdeshwar and Niranjan Halidpur, both students of Ghosh.

Chaurasia’s rise to fame happened from the mid-60s onwards, and remains undiminished to this day. Another popular contemporary is Pandit Raghunath Seth, who learnt from vocalist S N Ratanjankar and Pannalal Ghosh.  Flautists from a slightly younger batch include Ronu Majumdar, Pravin Godkhindi, Raghunath Prasanna’s son Rajendra Prasanna, Sunil Kant Gupta and Nityanand Haldipur, who is a disciple of surbahar exponent Annapurna Devi. Among Chaurasia’s students, Rakesh Chaurasia (his nephew), Rajendra Teredesai, Rupak Kulkarni and Vivek Sonar have been prolific. Foreigners like Steve Gorn have also taken to the bansuri.

The best-known jugalbandi combination is Chaurasia with santoor monarch Shivkumar Sharma. In 1966-67, the two of them were joined by Hindustani guitarist Brij Bhushan Kabra on the album ‘Call of the Valley’, and many years later, they released ‘The Valley Recalls’ as a duo. Besides them, there have been duets like Ronu Majumdar with santoor player Satish Vyas, and Sonar with sitar exponent Chirag Katti.

These apart, Chaurasia has collaborated with Hindustani vocalist Kishori Amonkar and Carnatic vocalist Balamuralikrishna to produce some divine music. Among the north-south jugalbandis, mention must also be made of the partnership between Godkhindi and Carnatic saxophone player Kadri Gopalnath, both in live performances and on the albums Raag Rang and Yatra.

Carnatic music: As compared to the violin and veena, the flute or venu finds lesser usage in Carnatic music. However, flautists like Sarabha Sastri, Palladam Sanjiva Rao, H Ramchandra Shastri, TR Mahalingam and N Ramani helped create an audience for the instrument in Carnatic music.

Though the flute was played for years in south India, the first person to bring it into the actual Carnatic music format was Sarabha Sastri in the late 19th century. However, it was Mahalingam (also known as ‘Mali’) who brought in a new technique which was instantly accepted. His disciples K S Narayanan and N Ramani took the tradition further, with the latter playing a huge role in elevating its status in Carnatic music, emphasising on the vocal style of playing.

Other practitioners of the Carnatic flute have included the Sikkil sisters Kunjumani and Neela, whose daughter Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar also played the instrument, and K Bhaskaran. The youngsters include Naveen Kumar and the genius Shashank Subramanyam. Yet, though the instrument is admired for its melodic quality, fewer newcomers are getting into the field as compared to other Carnatic instruments.

Hindi film music: Both the bansuri and metal flute have been used in film music from across India. Among the Hindi film songs, some stand out.

The most common example of a flute solo is the theme music from the 1983 film Hero, picturised on Jackie Shroff. The tune was recreated in a faster way by DJ Nasha on ‘Flute Fantasy’.

Within songs, the flute has been used for years, one of the early examples being ‘Suhani Raat Dhal Chuki’ by music director Naushad in the 1949 film Dulari. Other well-known examples are ‘Mohe panghat pe’ (Mughal-e-Azam), ‘Pyaar hua ikrar hua’ (Shree 420), ‘Suno sajna papihe ne’ (Aaye Din Bahar Ke), ‘Chingari koi bhadke’ and ‘Raina beet jaaye’ (Amar Prem), ‘Khaali haath shaam aayi hai’ (Ijaazat) and ‘Neela aasmaan so gaya’ (Silsila). The last one was composed by Shiv-Hari or Shivkumar Sharma-Hariprasad Chaurasia, who used both the santoor and bansuri extensively.

Rahman has used the flute in the Lagaan song ‘Radha kaise na jale’ and more recently in ‘Saans’ from Jab Tak Hai Jaan, where Naveen Kumar has played a smaller folk version.

Talking of bansuri players in Hindi films, Chaurasia has worked with other composers before Shiv-Hari worked together in movies. Manohari Singh, primarily a saxophone player, also played the flute brilliantly, more so with R D Burman. And talking of RD, one of the most gorgeous flute compisitions is found in his Bengali song ‘Phire eso Anuradha’.

As a music director, Raghunath Seth scored for the films Ek Baar Phir, Yeh Nazdeekiyan, Damul and Mrityudand, where he made prominent use of the bansuri. Today, Ronu Majumdar, Rakesh Chaurasia and Naveen Kumar play bansuri in many film songs and Indipop albums.

Talking about films, the bansuri plays a very prominent role in Ang Lee’s Hollywood movie Life of Pi, which has music by Mychael Danna. A Sony Music source confirms that the flute has been played by Jatinder Jeetu, who’s not known at all, but has done an outstanding job.

Experimental music and fusion: Because of the beauty of its tone and improvisational quality, the bansuri finds an easy place in the world of fusion. Back in 1986, Chaurasia teamed up with tabla wizard Zakir Hussain, guitarist John McLaughlin and saxophonist Jan Garbarek on the album ‘Making Music’. In the late 90s, he joined Zakir, McLaughlin and ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram on the group Remember Shakti, whose live performances were released on the album ‘Music Without Boundaries’.

Vijay Raghav Rao released a fairly path-breaking album called ‘Destiny: A Symphonic Fable’, which was basically an orchestral album but used heavy doses of both the bansuri and western-styled flutes. Ronu Majumdar has done a fair amount of fusion work, including his album ‘Moonlight Whispers’ with jazz guitarist Larry Coryell.

Among the bands, Mumbai-based fusion group Filter Coffee has flautist Shriram Sampat in its line-up. The bansuri has attracted foreign musicians too, examples being Prem Joshua, who also plays sitar and saxophone. Closer home, Nepali bansuri player Manose has done some experimental work on the album ‘Epiphany’ and on recordings with new age spiritual singer Deva Premal. In Pakistan, the popular Mekaal Hasan Band has a fantastic flautist in Mohammad Ahsan Papu.

(This was written much later: In October 2013, flautist Rajeev Raja released his album ‘Cosmic Chant’, using both western concert flute and bansuri). He played with his band Rajeev Raja Combine.)

Folk, ghazals, devotional music and dance: Needless to say, the bansuri is played in many forms of north Indian folk music. It has also been used as an accompaniment on many ghazals, especially by Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas.

In devotional music, many songs on Lord Krishna use the bansuri. These include Meera bhajans and even dance recitals based on Jayadev’s 12th century composition Gita Govinda. With its devotional nature, the instrument finds a place in the backdrop of many Indian classical dances.

The beauty of the Indian bamboo flute lies in the sheer purity of its sound and ability to relax minds. Whichever genre it is used in, it sounds like magic to the ears.

For Your Ears Only: The music of James Bond revisited


This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

ADELE’S mesmerising voice fills the air the moment the train-top action sequence concludes in the latest James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’, and the credits are shown against an underwater scene. For the British singer, the entry into the prestigious James Bond club is another feather in the cap, after the string of Grammys she won earlier this year for her album ‘21’.

Musically, Bond has always been beautiful. Over the past 50 years, ever since ‘Dr No’ was released in 1962, the soundtrack has played an extremely important role in James Bond movies, with film enthusiasts following the score as much as the action scenes and cinematography, other essential ingredients of the brand. While the ‘James Bond Theme’ is one of the most recognised pieces of film music ever, the choice of the title track’s singer has also been a subject of much discussion, especially since Shirley Bassey rendered the marvellous ‘Goldfinger’ back in 1964.

Here, let’s talk of the film scores first, and then discuss the songs.

The extra-popular ‘James Bond Theme’ was written by Monty Norman for ‘Dr No’, though a controversy arose when John Barry, who led the orchestra in that film and composed several subsequent themes, claimed it was his score. In fact, Barry has composed the soundtrack for nine of the 23 Bond films, followed by David Arnold, with five newer ones.

Other well-known film composers to wield the Bond baton include Marvin Hamlisch (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’) and Michael Kamen (‘Licensed to Kill’). In ‘Skyfall’, director Sam Mendes, working on his first Bond movie, stuck to close associate Thomas Newman, who composed music in his earlier ventures ‘American Beauty’, ‘The Road to Perdition’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’.

The music in Bond movies is very situational, and often captures the mood of the moment perfectly. For each composer ― and there have been quite a few ― the challenge is to sound absolutely fresh with each film, and yet retain the basic theme as often as possible.

Various people have re-arranged Bond tunes for commercial release. Recently, EMI Music has put out a collection of original pieces to mark 50 years of the brand. And if you’re looking for an absolutely amazing compilation, check out a CD called ‘The Very Best of James Bond Themes’, played to exceptional arrangements and superb jazz improvisations  by the Undercover Agents Orchestra. A very rare CD, and if you find it, you’ll be lucky.

While most new Bond themes have retained elements of the original piece, the title songs are as varied as can be, ranging from soulful balladry to rocking grunge to synthesiser-driven pop. Welsh diva Shirley Bassey has done the most songs – besides ‘Goldfinger’, she had the unforgettable ‘Diamonds are Forever’ and ‘Moonraker’.

Interestingly, a large number of title songs have been sung by women. Popular ones are Nancy Sinatra (‘You Only Live Twice’), Carly Simon (‘Nobody Does it Better’ in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’), Tina Turner (‘Golden Eye’, interestingly written by Bono and The Edge of U2) and Sheena Easton (‘For Your Eyes Only’) Others are by Rita Coolidge (‘All Time High’ in ‘Octopussy’), Lulu (‘The Man With The Golden Gun’), Madonna (‘Die Another Day’), Gladys Knight (‘Licensed to Kill’), Lani Hall (‘Never Say Never Again’) and Sheryl Crow (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’).

The men singing Bond title songs include Matt Monro (who was superb in ‘From Russia with Love’, effortlessly hitting the high notes towards the end), the versatile Tom Jones (‘Thunderball’) and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell (who gives a grunge feel to ‘You Know My Name’ in ‘Casino Royale’). Jazz legend Louis Armstrong sang the secondary tune ‘We Have All The Time in the World’ in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. And of course, Paul McCartney was joined by his band Wings on ‘Live And Let Die’, where the music was composed by Beatles associate George Martin.

The Bond catalogue has also heard some unusual renditions, which foray into experimental territory. The duet by Jack White and Alicia Keys in the ‘Quantum Of Solace’ song ‘Another Way to Die’, and British new wave band Duran Duran’s ‘A View to A Kill’ were totally different from most songs from the genre. Norwegian duo A-ha did a synth-pop piece in ‘The Living Daylights’, whereas alternative rock band Garbage came up with the neatly orchestrated ‘The World is Not Enough’.

Another lesser-noticed characteristic of James Bond music is the tendency of composers to use tunes written by others. Besides western classical composers Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Chopin, Bond movies of the past have included popular themes from other films like ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’. In ‘Skyfall’, the climax features an extract of the Animals’ 60s version of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’.

In the end, while the signature theme remains an eternal favourite, which Bond song has been the most popular?

General belief would hint at Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ or ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, but a BBC Radio poll conducted a couple of months ago sprung a surprise by declaring Paul McCartney and the Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’ as the winner,  followed by Carly Simon’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ song at second spot, with  ‘Goldfinger’ strangely making it to No 3.

‘Goldfinger’, of course, is currently leading a poll conducted by The Telegraph London website, garnering 21 per cent of the votes, much ahead of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ ― No 2 at 13 per cent ― and A-ha’s ‘The Living Daylights ― third at 12.5 per cent. This survey, however, gives participants an option of only 11 songs.

The poll results may not really matter, as each person would have his or her own favourite, and answers would also depend on the age profile of the participants. What’s consistent is the quality of the Bond songs, even though the styles of various performers have differed vastly.

So while we celebrate 50 years of this magnificent music, let’s again soak in Adele’s voice, which is the flavour of the season.

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
And face it all together
Let the sky fall, when it crumbles

Take Five: Gems from the British alternative scene


This article begins a new series, ‘Take Five’, recommending five albums or artistes from various genres of international music. The series will be carried once every two months, and this time, we shall talk of British alternative/ indie albums released in 2012

WHEN it comes to new sounds, the alternative/ indie genre is surely bubbling with innovation. If heavy metal, thrash, punk and rap-rock largely stick to a specific formula, musicians creating ‘non-metal modern rock’ often blend influences as diverse as psychedelic, progressive, folk, electronica and symphonic music to create their own unique sound.

While both the US and the UK have led the way in the alternative scene, 2012 has arguably belonged to the Britishers. Yes, the Americans have produced gems like ‘Some Nights’ by Fun (reviewed earlier in this blog) and ‘Blunderbuss’ by Jack White (very innovative mix of garage rock, blues and folk), but England is obviously brimming with such acts.

Here, we take a look at five such albums released this year. Some are by relatively older acts which have been around for a decade or more, and some are by debutants. None of these albums would have achieved whopping commercial success, but musically, the quality is just up there. What’s remarkable, of course, is that all of them sound totally different, and despite some obvious influences, have a style of their own.

In no specific order, you could check out:

Richard Hawley/ Standing at the Sky’s Edge: The Sheffield-born singer-songwriter-guitarist has been on the scene for a decade now. He’s had a following of his own, mainly for the rich timbre of his voice. But while earlier albums like ‘Coles Corner’ and ‘Truelove’s Gutter’ boasted of brooding ballads straight out of the Frank Sinatra and Roy Orbison style sheets, his latest venture is a trippy diversification into space rock territory.

Wailing distortion-filled psychedelic guitars and effortless rock-friendly vocals characterise this nine-song effort. The opener ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ begins with Indian-styled strings but soon settles into screaming riffs. The title track, which begins with the lines “Joseph was a good man though he killed his wife,” sees Hawley in prime vocal form.

Every other track is a gem, but personal favourites are ‘Down in the Woods’, which has traces of Jesus & Mary Chain, and the mellowed-down and moody ‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’. The final number ‘Before’ starts in a balladsy mood (check the way he sings “It won’t be me who closes the door”) before marvellously picking up tempo, to bring an energetic climax to an absolutely first-rate album.

Alt-J/ An Awesome Wave: Alt J was somewhat rejected by the media till it won the coveted Mercury Prize last week. This Brit indie-pop quartet combines the individual talents of guitarist/ bassist Gwil Sainsbury, keyboardist  Gus Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green to create a heady mix, but it’s vocalist Joe Newman’s distinct vocals that give the sound an edge.

The sound is a smooth cocktail of elements ranging from alternative pop, hip-hop, trip-hop, folk and synthesiser-driven rock. The instant charmer here is ‘Breezeblocks’, with its infectious vocals, strong bassline and neat choruses. Other stand-out tracks include ‘Tesselate’, with its electronica flavour, ‘Something Good’, with its consistent drum beat and groovy synths, and ‘Taro’, which has incredible vocals and melodic orchestrations at the end.

The album may take a while to grow on you, but turns out to be one of the freshest sounds of the year. A well-deserved Mercury.

Spritualized/ Sweet Heart Sweet Light: Fronted by Jason Pierce, Warwickshire outfit Spiritualized isn’t new in the business. In fact, it has been around since the early 90s, and ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ is its seventh studio album, coming after acclaimed efforts like 1997’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ and 2001’s ‘Let It Come Down’.

The group’s sound is characterised by repeated vocal lines and choruses set against neo-psychedelic sonic structures. The new album has a very offbeat cover which just says ‘Huh?’ One of the highlights is the nine-minute ‘Hey Jane’, also known for its provocative and ultra-violent video revolving around a transvestite. ‘Little Girl’ slows down the tempo, with philosophical lines like “Sometimes I wish that I was dead, ‘cause only living can feel the pain; sometimes I wish that I could fly; you get so grounded that life will pass you by.”

Also worth checking out are the haunting ballad ‘Freedom’, which has the lines “Freedom is your if you want it”, and ‘I Am What I Am’, which blends strong lead vocals with crisp female back-up lines. Finally, ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’ builds up in a very ‘Hey Jude’ manner, complete with the incessant choruses at the end.

One of Spiritualized’s biggest strengths is its lyrics. And aided by a versatile set of songs, they have a winner here.

Django Django/ Self-titled album: The psychedelic quartet, which met at art school in Edinburgh, has recently released its self-titled debut. It won a Mercury Prize nomination, but lost out to Alt-J.

Consisting of drummer-producer David Maclean, singer-guitarist Vincent Neff, bassist Jimmy Dixon and synth-man Tommy Grace, the band relies on vibrant drumming and spacey synthesisers, aided by melodic and charming vocals. Some of the numbers have a dance feel too, broadening their appeal. And if you’re looking at influences, you’ll find a bit of Kraftwerk electronic pop and the Beach Boys’ surf-rock here, mixed with a contemporary club feel.

Adrenalin-filled tracks like ‘Waveforms’ and ‘Default’ were popular even before the album was released in January, but each of the 13 tracks has a certain vibrancy. ‘Zumm Zumm’ begins with the lines ‘Got to get to know… know you’ against strong synthesisers and rhythms, and ‘Wor’ kicks off with a wailing siren against a thumping drum-‘n’-bass line.

‘Life is a Beach’ has an incredible guitar line and snazzy vocals. ‘Firewater’ has a stunning bass backdrop, and vocalist Neff is on great form on ‘Storm’ and ‘Hail Bop’. Finally, the Middle Eastern ambience ‘Skies Over Cairo’ is something to die for. The kind of stuff you can play all day.

Muse/ The 2nd Law: What an album, really! Devon-based Muse is another band which has been on the scene for a while, earlier impressing on the album ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ and ‘The Resistance’. Their latest ‘The 2nd Law’ again sees them at their versatile best, blending alternative rock, space rock, prog-metal, electronica and even strains of symphonic music.

Matthew Bellamy is simply outstanding on vocals, guitars and keyboards-synthesisers, and he’s ably assisted by bassist Christopher Walsteinholme and drummer Dominic Howard. The rhythmic ‘Supremacy’, the freaky ‘Madness’ and the marvellously constructed and chorus-heavy ‘Survivors’ are among the highlights. The two-part epic ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ and ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’ boast of incredible keyboards and conversational dialogues.

The picks of the lot are ‘Animals’, with its tuneful guitar-drum interaction, and ‘Explorers’, with its outstanding vocals and Beatles-ish influence. They are just among the best songs created this year, proving Muse is here to stay.

All five bands are worth checking out. Press play!

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