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Archive for May, 2013

Instruments from India — 9/ Harmonium


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IN September 2012, 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 earlier parts of the series talked about the violin, sitar, bansuri, sarangi, different types of veena, sarod, santoor and shehnai/ nadaswaram. This month, we feature the harmonium.

SOME purists reading the headline many instantly point out that the harmonium isn’t actually an Indian instrument. They are surely right, as its ancestral form was created in Denmark in the 18th century, and soon, began to be played in many regions of Europe.

The truth, of course, is that the harmonium has played such an important role in various genres of Indian music, including Hindustani classical, ghazals, qawwalis, bhajans, semi-classical, folk and film music, that it is now accepted as an Indian instrument. In fact, the first versions to be used in India were made in France and brought in by missionaries in the late 19th century. Over the years, Indian musicians incorporated many changes in keeping with Indian melodic styles. Today, the words ‘samvadini’ or ‘peti’ are also used for the harmonium.

The harmonium is hugely popular and is kept in many homes, played in group songs and even by street performers and underprivileged people in trains. Many children are in fact initiated into music through the harmonium.

However, in the concert circuit, it is used more as an accompanying instrument. Though some musicians have successfully played it solo and even recorded albums, it has most often been used to provide assistance to vocalists. Those who have seen legendary vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi perform live would have also admired the way harmonium greats like Appa Jalgaonkar, Tulsidas Borkar and Purushottam Walawalkar created their own aura in the concert.

Here, we shall talk of the features of the instrument, its limitations, how it became popular in Indian music, its use in various genres and the main players associated with it.

Features: The Indian harmonium is normally played with the musician seated on the ground, pumping what are known as bellows with the left hand, and playing the notes with the right (in case he/ she is right-handed). In Sufiana music, it is sometimes played by keeping one end on the musician’s lap and the other on the ground. Some people even wear it around the neck using a strap, and play it while standing or walking. All these styles differ from the western technique where the musician is seated on a chair, pumps the bellows with both feet, and plays the notes with both hands.

The harmonium belongs to the family of free-reed aerophones, where sound is produced when air passes a vibrating reed or strip in a frame. Besides the harmonium, such a free-reed feature is used in various global folk instruments, and also in the harmonica and accordion.

The biggest advantage of the harmonium is that, like the basic keyboard, it is relatively easier to learn. One can get a hang of the notations fast, as one can see all the keys upfront. However, it takes a huge amount of practice to actually make it sound more melodious and reach levels of perfection. A high-quality harmonium can have 39 keys and therefore a range of up to three octaves.

Drawbacks: The limitations of the harmonium are more technical by nature, and revolve around its inability to produce meend (the slides between notes, typical in Indian music) and the fact that, once tuned, it cannot be adjusted during the course of performance. Some connoisseurs of Indian music, and even some traditional-minded musicians, are against the instrument because of its foreign origins, and prefer the bowed string instrument sarangi which sounds closer to the human voice.

Because of its disadvantages, it was banned by All India Radio for many years in the mid-20th century, a move that still raises huge debates.

Growth in Indian music: After being brought to India, the harmonium was first used as an accompanying instrument for stage musicals and in devotional music like keertan. But its ability to play sustained notes was seen as a benefit by some classical vocalists, who began using it as an accompanying instrument.

The harmonium as one currently knows it began to be manufactured in India around 1925, but became commercially available only after 1940. Among the instrument-makers, HP Bhagat is considered one of the pioneers, and his make pleased the connoisseurs too.

Use in different genres: We’ve already mentioned that the harmonium is used across various genres. Let us talk briefly about how it is used.

In a Hindustani classical concert, the harmonium player often accompanies the main vocalist, sitting to his or her left. Besides providing the accompanying music, they often repeat or improvise upon the phrases sung by the performer after they have completed the line. The harmonium is also used to provide the ‘lehera’ or melodic accompaniment in a tabla recital.

In ghazals and bhajans, the singer usually plays the harmonium himself, as we’ve seen in performances by Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota and others. Some singers may have an extra player to providing contrasting melodies. In a qawwali, two or three harmonium players perform simultaneously, and add vibrancy to the performance.

In Hindi films, the harmonium has been filmed in song sequences, often with the player standing and playing. Two well-known examples are ‘Leke pehla pehla pyaar’ from CID and ‘Deewane hai deewane ko na ghar chahiye’ from Zanjeer. It has also been in countless songs, one weird example being the intro to ‘Sheela ki jawani’ from Tees Maar Khan.

Main players: Though there were many accomplished harmonium players before, Pandit Govindrao Tembe was the first to popularise it as a solo instrument, an effort which he passionately pursued till he passed away in 1955. He was also a renowned accompanist to many great vocalists and wrote many compositions for Marathi natya sangeet (drama music).

Jnan Prakash Ghosh (known more for his mastery of the tabla), P Madhukar and Bhishmadev Vedi were also responsible in popularising the instrument in the middle of the 20th century. From the 1950s onwards, some of the great players were Appa Jalgaonkar, Tulsidas Borkar, Purushottam Walavalkar, Rambhau Bijapure, Govindrao Patwardhan and Manohar Chimote.

Many years later, Aravind Thatte and Vidyadhar Oke created fresh innovations. While the former played the complicated form called the tappa on the harmonium, the latter created an improvised and more intricate variety of the instrument called a melodium, which can play 22 microtones. Later-day harmonium players include Jyoti Goho, Sudhir Nayak, Ravindra Katoti, Seema Shirodkar, Deb Kumar Banerjee, Kedar Naphade, Suvendu Banerjee and Shriram Hasabnis.

At classical concerts across India, one can see many talented harmonium players. Some of them may not be famous but play with true passion and genius. The harmonium, after all, has its own melody and magic.

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CD review/ The Next Day — David Bowie


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The Next Day/ David Bowie
Genre: Rock
Sony Music/ Rs 399
Rating: ****

ON his 66th birthday on January 8, David Bowie released his new single ‘Where are we now?’, announcing that it was part of his 24th studio album ‘The Next Day’. While the song got instant recognition, lots of airplay and loads of viral hits with its moody, melancholic feel and its subject revolving around Berlin, many fans were indeed surprised that the veteran English musician was actually releasing something new.

Bowie had released his last album ‘Reality’ a decade ago, and many people felt he had retired for good, as he had cut down appearances following heart trouble and angioplasty in 2004. So they waited eagerly for the new album to hit the stores, till it finally came out on March 8. For those who have admired older hits like ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, ‘Diamond Dogs’ ‘Aladdin Sane’, ‘Heroes’ and even the commercial hit ‘Let’s Dance’, this was a huge comeback.

While the CD has 14 tracks, the special vinyl edition has three additional bonus tracks. What’s interesting is that Bowie has kept his songs short and snappy, with only five songs over four minutes in length, and has focussed mainly on the guitar and peppy rhythms to embellish them. The lyric-writing shows a certain maturity, using metaphors stylishly.

The title track, whose video attracted controversy for its alleged excesses, opens the show. Here, Bowie uses an energetic rock sound and a crisp guitar-and-drums intro. The lines “Here I am, not quite dying, my body left to rot in a hollow tree, its branches throwing shadows, on the gallows for me, and the next day, and the next, and another day” fill the chorus.

The second track ‘Dirty Boys’ is more artistic and innovative, using the baritone saxophone to good effect, specially in the coda. ‘The stars (are out tonight)’ has an infectious tune, and lines that go: “Stars are never sleeping, dead ones and the living, we live closer to the earth, never to the heavens, the stars are never far away, the stars are out tonight.”

‘Love is lost’ is graced by a punchy and cyclical rhythm line with smooth guitar and keyboard overlays, and terrific lines like: “Your country’s new, your friends are new; Your house and even your eyes are new; Your maid is new, and your accent too; But your fear is as old as the world.”

The other highlights include ‘Valentine’s Day’, with its trademark 70s feel, ‘Boss of me’, with its nice, sing-along hook, ‘Dancing out in space’, with its uptempo ambience and wah-wah lacings, and ‘How does the grass grow?’, with its catchy chorus. But the best lines are reserved for ‘You feel so lonely you can die’ and ‘Heat’.

The former, set to a haunting melody line, goes: “No one ever saw you moving through the dark, leaving slips of paper somewhere in the park, hidden from your friends, stealing all they knew, love is thrown in airless rooms, then vile rewards for you.” And the latter, an apocalyptic, brooding number, says: “Then we saw mission is dark, trapped between the rocks, blocking the waterfall, the songs of dust, the world would end, and night was always falling, the peacock in the snow.”

Of the bonus tracks, the instrumental ‘Plan’ offers variety with its jangling guitars and psychedelic feel. And in the entire set, the only number that seems out of place is ‘If you can see me’, which is a bit too noisy and more on the punk-rock side.

The cynical may argue that his latest effort comes nowhere near the class of Bowie’s gems from the 70s, and that its front sleeve is just an unimaginative improvisation of the ‘Heroes’ cover. But to give Bowie due credit, he’s come up with a set of highly likeable songs at a time when people had never imagined he would ever do so. The numbers grow after a few listens, and some are good enough to play repeatedly.

‘The Next Day’ has its highs, and a must for his fans.

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

Take Five: The pioneers of electronic music


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Giorgio Moroder (top) and Kraftwerk

In November 2012, we started a series called ‘Take Five’, which would recommend five albums or artistes from various genres of international music. This series will be carried once in two months. The first three parts talked of British alternative rock, classical crossover and world music, respectively. This month, we look at five pioneers of electronic music.

TODAY, the world is tripping on electronic dance music, or EDM, as acts like David Guetta, Avicii, Deadmau5 and Swedish House Mafia are attracting thousands of fans at packed venues. With its Sunburn festival and various standalone events, India too has attracted the top DJs, right from Paul Oakenfold and Paul van Dyk to Armin van Buuren and Tiesto.

EDM is only one of the forms of electronic music, where music is produced through synthesisers and computers, avoiding acoustic instruments. Over the years, there have been various other categories, and it’s not necessary that all of them have to be danced to. Without getting into details, some popular styles include electronica, big beat, techno, trance, dubstep, ambient, trip-hop, electronic rock, breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, synthpop, industrial, garage and, of course, good old disco, in which many EDM artistes trace their roots.

Hardcore fans are very touchy about their specific tastes, often looking down at those who listen to any other kind of electronic music. For instance, a house music fan will find a trance follower weird, and a trance addict will wonder what’s so great about electronic rock.

What’s more is that each of these is further broken down into numerous sub-categories. For instance, trance itself is divided into psychedelic trance, progressive trance, tech trance, Euro trance, Goa trance, Ibiza trance, acid trance, dream trance, etc etc. Confused? Never mind, the fans know what they are listening to, or at least they think so.

These days, electronic music has become so popular that every other day, one hears of some new stars. The younger generation, in particular, loves this genre, and adores the latest biggies. Not many would, however, know or bother about how electronic music started, and who were the early pioneers.

Keeping that in mind, this column mentions five such acts which have played a major role in establishing electronic music in some form or the other. But before that, a few bits of important information about the actual roots.

To begin with, the first electronic instrument ever made was called the theremin, developed by Russian physicist Leon Theremin back in 1924. Another major figure was German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who inspired a generation of musicians across all genres, including electronic music.

These two people were arguably the fathers of electronic music. But when we think of electronic music in the popular sense of the term, the following five acts have played a pioneering role. There are others too, no doubt, and we shall mention some of them at the end of this feature. But the role played by these five has been immense.

Kraftwerk: Formed in 1970 by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider in Dusseldorf, Germany, Kraftwerk was one of the earliest groups to popularise electronic music. Though it used harmony inspired by western classical music, its sound was strictly electronic, creating vocals through a vocoder or computerised speech software.

The group became a huge success with its 1974 song ‘Autobahn’, and its albums ‘Radioaktivitat’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’ became popular. However, its super-success came with the 1978 album ‘Man Machine’, which had its biggest hit ‘The Model’. It later released ‘Tour de France soundtracks’ in 2003, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the famous cycle race.

Kraftwerk was a huge influence on various artistes, including electronic music groups Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, The Human League and Soft Cell, besides acts like Joy Division, New Order, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys and Bjork. Its song ‘Neon Lights’ was covered by U2 and Simple Minds.

Giorgio Moroder: Best known for his collaboration with singer Donna Summer on songs like ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Love To Love You Baby’, Italy-born, US-settled Moroder was the most path-breaking producer of the disco era.

He also worked with artistes like Irene Cara, Blondie, Three Degrees and David Bowie, and was much in demand for his electronic disco sound, besides contributing to the films ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Flashdance’.

While the late 70s and early 80s spawned similar artistes like Chic and the genre-defining Cerrone, Moroder was a hero for acts like New Order, Daft Punk, The Human League, Air, Royskopp, Yellow Magic Orchestra and even Madonna, besides a whole range of current EDM acts.

Brian Eno: He first became famous playing synthesisers for the art rock band Roxy Music, but boredom with touring and his rifts with frontman Bryan Ferry made him branch out on his own. Today, Eno is considered to be one of the biggest influences in electronic music, especially ambient sounds.

A self-professed ‘non-musician’, he popularised what is called ‘generative music’, where system-generated music keeps changing as several independent musical tracks blend. He collaborated with various artistes like David Bowie, Robert Fripp of the band King Crimson, David Byrne of Talking Heads to produce some experimental sounds.

The list of musicians followed by Eno includes the Chemical Brothers, Devo, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Moby, Robert Miles, the Prodigy, Deep Forest and Groove Armada.

Tangerine Dream: Founded by Edgar Froese in Berlin, Germany, in 1967, Tangerine Dream inspired a lot of instrumental music of the 80s and 90s, and also on new age, space music and EDM. Along with Kraftwerk and other German bands of the 70s, it developed Krautrock, a form of electronic rock.

Best known for albums like ‘Phaedra’, ‘Rubycon’ and ‘Ricochet’. Tangerine Dream set norms for early trance music, with its use of lush soundscapes and synth pads along with repetitive synthesiser sequences. It influenced ambient artistes like Moby, The Orb, Aphex Twin, Deepspace and the Future Sound of London, besides bands like Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and Kasabian.

Jean Michel Jarre: The Frenchman is known as the European electronic music community’s premier ambassador, and has influenced a range of ambient and new age musicians. Like Greek composer Vangelis, he elevated the synthesiser to newer heights in the 70s and 80s, releasing acclaimed albums like ‘Oxygene’, ‘Equinoxe’ and ‘Rendez-vous’.

Jarre’s shows were characterised by blinding lights, flashy laser displays and ample pyrotechnics, and he holds the world record for the largest attendance at an outdoor event, attracting more than a million people at his shows. He is also the first western musician to perform in China.

Besides being a role model for the early generation of trance musicians, Jarre has been admired and followed by new age greats like Yanni and Kitaro.

While these may be five of the biggest pioneers of electronic music, the list is by no means complete. Over the years, many other artistes have impacted the way the genre sounds today.

Among the earlier lot, German musician Klaus Schulze is considered a progenitor in trance, and Greek composer Vangelis is known to create new styles in the use of the synthesiser. Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Ultravox played a huge role in popularising electronic music commercially.

Of the 90s musicians, Moby has been a huge influence on various styles ranging from EDM, electronica, house and ambient music. Robert Miles set trends in ambient and house music, Basement Jaxx wrote some of the biggest progressive house anthems, whereas Massive Attack and Portishead defined the trip-hop sound. St Germain added a jazz sound to house music, and Radiohead has used a lot of electronic music in its alternative rock.

The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Morcheeba have written fresh rules in electronica and big beat. Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk and Sasha were among those who helped popularise the DJ culture, and over the past four or five years, David Guetta has played a huge role in making EDM a household name.

The list of trendsetters is long. But the truth is that electronic music is not only huge today, but also promises to be the sound of the future.

The amazing grace of Gangubai Hangal


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WHEN I interviewed Gangubai Hangal for Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper back in 2001, she was 88 years old. She was staying at the Hilltop hotel in Worli, Mumbai, with her daughter Krishna and son Baburao, and had chosen that place as it was close to Nehru Centre, where she was scheduled to attend a function.

Keeping in mind her age and seniority, the staff photographer Suresh KK chose to take pictures of her as she was sitting on the sofa and speaking. She was happy to know I belonged to the Dharwad-Hubli region of north Karnataka, and thus conversed in Kannada, reminiscing about the olden days and how classical music had changed.

The interview over, she asked Suresh whether these were all the photographs he wanted. Before he could reply, Gangubai joked: “Take some nice action photographs. We can go to the terrace and you’ll get some good shots there, and a nice background view. Come, I’ll walk up there. Do you think I am an old lady?”

ON Sunday, May 5, this incident came to mind, as I sat at the Karnataka Sangha auditorium in Matunga, Mumbai. The occasion was an audio-visual presentation cum listening session on the life and music of the great Hubli-based singer, who charmed music lovers for decades with her distinct, somewhat-masculine voice. In attendance were 100-odd diehard classical music fans, many of whom were above 70 years of age.

For a generation which has grown up on Gangubai and her guru-bhai Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who both carried forward the Kirana gharana teachings of their guru Sawai Gandharva, the event was a treat. Presented jointly by Omkar Sur Mandal and Kalabharati, the performing arts circle of the Karnataka Sangha, it was compered by connoisseur and senior critic Prakash G Burde, who provided many interesting glimpses of the doyenne’s life.

Besides snippets of her television interviews given in Marathi, the two-hour session showcased her renditions of ragas like Adana, Todi, Yaman, Kalawati, Jogiya and Bhairavi, and the Carnatic piece Madhyamavati, besides a thumri in Tilang. Most often, she would be accompanied by daughter Krishna, whose mellifluous voice provided a wonderful contrast, but in Chandrakauns, Gangubai was featured alone. Another highlight was a live rendition of raga Prabhat Bhairav, which she sang at least five times at the Sawai Gandharva festival in Pune.

The event was also held as part of Gangubai’s birth centenary celebrations. She was born on March 5, 1913, just 16 days before the great shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan, and just less than two months before Indian cinema was born. And while the media has correctly highlighted the film landmark, it has unfortunately ignored the birth centenaries of two of India’s greatest musicians.

Gangubai’s life had many interesting facets. She was initiated into music at a young age by her mother Ambabai, who was a Carnatic singer. As Hindustani music was growing in popularity in the Hubli-Dharwad region, the young girl was keen to learn that style. In fact, besides Sawai Gandharva, Bhimsen-ji and her, north Karnataka also produced stalwarts like vocalists Mallikarjun Mansur, Kumar Gandharva and Basavraj Rajguru, and sitar maestros Rehmat Khan and Bale Khan.

Gangubai’s family settled down in Hubli so that she could focus on singing, even though people criticised her decision as her mother belonged to a lower caste where music wasn’t considered honourable. Her early gurus included Krishnacharya Hulgur and Dattopant Desai, but it was only through Sawai Gandharva’s guidance that she cultivated her unique style.

Gangubai would travel 14 km every morning from Hubli to Kundgol, and return at night after a hectic day of musical education. But slowly, she imbibed the finer nuances of the Kirana gharana, and was regularly giving concerts when she was 20, sometimes referred to as Gandhari, besides Gangubai. In 1933, she recorded a Marathi song ‘Tu tithe an mi etha ha’ with G N Joshi, and in 1936, appeared and sang in the film ‘Vijayache Lagne’.

Initially, she had a feminine voice, but there was a sudden change after a throat operation when she was in her early 30s. Instead of being disappointed, Gangubai was actually thrilled because it now sounded closer to that of her guru, and she could sing the lower notes more fluently. The rest is history, as it was that voice which made her different from most of the established female singers, including luminaries like Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar and Hirabai Badodekar, and her contemporaries like Saraswati Rane and Roshanara Begum.

Gangubai passed away on July 21, 2009, at the age of 96. Though she was very active for most of her life, her last few years had a couple of setbacks. She overcame bone marrow cancer in 2003, but was completely shattered when Krishna passed away in 2004 after suffering from cancer. Yet, Gangubai made a comeback in 2006, to give a concert to mark 75 years of her musical career.

Those who’ve seen Gangubai live in concert or even in pictures would have one lasting image of hers. Very often, she would cover her left ear with her palm, and sing in deep concentration. Like her voice, that image will stay forever.

For those fortunate to know or even meet her, memories of her spontaneous sense of humour and zest for life linger on. One just can’t forget the way she climbed the stairs as an 88-year-old, posing for photographs with the enthusiasm of someone 70 years younger.

CD review/ Aashiqui 2; Music: various


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Aashiqui 2/ Music: Jeet Gangulli, Mithoon, Ankit Tiwari

Genre: Hindi film music

T-Series/ Rs 175

Rating: ****

BACK in 1990, the songs of Mahesh Bhatt’s Aashiqui had become a rage, catapulting music directors Nadeem-Shravan and singer Kumar Sanu to stardom, and giving Anuradha Paudwal some of her biggest hits. Even today, songs like ‘Main duniya bhula doonga’, ‘Ek sanam chahiye’, ‘Dheere dheere se’, ‘Nazar ke saamne’, ‘Dil ka aalam’, ‘Jaane jigar jaaneman’, ‘Ab tere bin’ and ‘Tu meri zindagi’ are hummed by many.

Naturally, for those who’ve grown up on those classics, the first reaction to the music of Mohit Suri’s Aashiqui 2 would be to compare the two. But then, such a comparison would be unfair and pointless as there is a huge 23-year gap between these two films. If one listens to the new album with that mind-block, one may never appreciate it in its truest sense.

Remove that bias, and you slowly discover that Aashiqui 2 is one of the best music albums to come out over the past three or four years. At a time when composers are experimenting with sounds, going in for dance numbers. Punjabi and Sufi flavours or alternative approaches, Aashiqui 2 works because it is simple, clean and lyrically-appealing. And what’s really commendable is that though it features three music directors (Jeet Gangulli, Mithoon and Ankit Tiwari) and four lyricists (Irshad Kamil, Mithoon, Sandeep Nath and Sanjay Masoomm), there’s a certain consistency and coherence in the sound and songwriting.

A clear highlight of the 11-track CD is the quality of the arrangements. The acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, bansuri and santoor have been used charmingly, and the production and recording are of the highest standard. And even if one senses a bit of monotony in some of the later tracks, it is offset by the smart instrumentation.

The set begins with ‘Tum hi ho’, composed and written by Mithoon. It begins with a pleasant keyboard stretch after which Arijit Singh renders the lines “Hum tere bin reh nahin sakte, tere bina kya wajood mera.” Sung with depth and feel, it impresses on the lines, “Tera mera rishta hai kaisa, ik pal door gawaraa nahin, tere liye har roz hai jeete, tujh ko diya mera waqt sabhi.”

Mithoon contributes to two other numbers. ‘Meri Aashiqui’, written by Irshad Kamil and sung by Palak Muchhal and Arijit, continues from ‘Tum hi ho’, retaining the lines ‘Kyunki tum hi ho, ab tum hi ho, zindagi ab tum hi ho; chain bhi, mera dard bhi, meri aashiqui tum hi ho’. Then, there is ‘Aashiqui —The Love Theme’, a soothing piano-based instrumental using the same tune as ‘Meri aashiqui’.

One of the film’s clear highlights is ‘Sunn raha hai’. Composed and sung by Ankit Tiwari, and written by Sandeep Nath, it uses a rock power ballad style, with a repeated guitar line in the beginning, a sudden burst of electric guitar, charming use of the zitar (a cross between the sitar and guitar) and a pumped-up crowd-clapping backdrop at the end. The lines ‘Sun raha hai tu, ro raha hoon mein’ are the kind that’ll make you sing along.

The female version of this song, sung by Shreya Ghoshal, changes the orchestration completely, using acoustic guitar, bansuri, santoor and the claypot percussion instrument ghatam, reminding you of the Shiv-Hari style.

The other numbers are composed by Jeet Gangulli, who once worked as part of a duo with Pritam before concentrating on Bengali films. ‘Chahun mein ya naa’, written by Irshad Kamil and sung by Palak Muchhal and Arijit Singh, is a pleasant love song, with some striking orchestrations, a melodic electric guitar passage and wonderful lines like “Mere chhote chhote khwaab hain, khwaabon mein geet hain, geeton mein zindagi hai, chaahat hai, preet hai.”

‘Hum mar jaayenge’, sung by the sweet-voiced Tulsi Kumar and Arijit, boasts of some incredible flute portions, set mostly to acoustic guitar and keyboard backdrop. ‘Piya aaye na’ (Tulsi Kumar and KK) is one of the peppier tunes, using vocal overdubs and back-up singers.

‘Bhula dena’, sung by Mustafa Zahid, is melancholic and pathos-filled, and has an outstanding lead guitar passage in the middle. Both the keyboard-driven ‘Aasan nahin yahan’ and guitar-backed ‘Milne hai mujhse aayi’ begin with brilliant lines by Irshad Kamil, and both have been sung powerfully by Arijit. While the former starts with “Aasaan nahin yahaan aashiq ho jaana, palkon pe kaanton ko sajaana; aashiq ko milta hai gham ki saugaatein, sabko na milta yeh khazana,” the latter begins, “Milne hai mujhse aayi, phir jaane kyon tanhai, kis mod pe laayi aashiqui.”

To be sure, a couple of songs take time to grow on you. But the more you listen to them, the more refreshing they sound. Only time can tell whether they will match the popularity of the original Aashiqui, with today’s audiences being more impatient and exposed to wider choice. But on its own, the Aashiqui 2 music stands out. It’s the kind of CD you’ll want to play on loop, discovering something new each time. That happens rarely these days.

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

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