Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for December, 2014

Hindi film music round-up 2014: More misses than hits


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A still from the ‘Ek Villain’ song ‘Galliyan’

SINCE it’s an appropriate time to write a year-end special, I was wondering which genre to choose. And considering that the only blog I wrote on new Hindi film music this year was a review of the ‘Haider’ soundtrack, I decided to use that as a theme for the year-ender.

Actually, there were hardly any positive trends to write about. Overall, 2014 was such a dismal year for new Hindi film music, and barring ‘Haider’ and ‘Finding Fanny’, most movies didn’t have a set of consistent songs.

Yes, some of them, like ‘Ek Villain’, ‘Citylights’, ‘Queen’, ‘PK’, ‘Happy Ending’ and ‘2 States’, had one or may be two outstanding songs, but that was it. Others, like ‘Gunday’, ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Kick’ and ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’, had a couple of commercial hits, and nothing more. ‘Khamoshiyan’, released at the fag end of the year with four music directors (Jeet Ganguli, Ankit Tiwari, Bobby-Imran and Naved Jafar), seems to have the right punch on initial listening. But one can gauge its commercial impact only next month.

How much of the new music was really memorable? How many movies had songs that we could still hum in the coming year? Hardly anything. In 2013, we heard some outstanding work in ‘Aashiqui 2’, ‘Lootera’, ‘Kai Po Che’ and ‘Raanjhana’, with ‘Aashiqui 2’ attracting both the masses and the classes, bagging six Global Indian Music Academy (GIMA) awards. In 2014, ‘Haider’ and ‘Finding Fanny’ had some neat numbers, but these again catered to a limited audience.

Even from the performers’ point of view, A R Rahman had only a couple of films like ‘Highway’, ‘Lekar Hum Deewana Dil’ and the Hindi version of ‘Kochadaiyaan’, though none of them matched his past work. Rising star Amit Trivedi only came up with ‘Queen’, and the music directors who were somewhat prolific included Jeet Gangulii and Mithoon, with Vishal Bhardwaj, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar producing some good fare.

Among the singers, the year cemented Arijit Singh’s position as a leading male voice, whereas Armaan Malik showed promise as a newcomer, with ‘Auliya’ in ‘Ungli’. Of the female singers, Shreya Ghoshal continued to rock, and Kanika Khanna had a couple of uptempo hits like ‘Baby doll’ (‘Ragini MMS 2’) and ‘Lovely’ (‘Happy New Year’).

Lyricist Gulzar was reasonably prolific with ‘Haider’, ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ and ‘Kill Dil’, but Javed Akhtar was nowhere to be heard and Swanand Kirkire was selective. Irshad Kamil and Amitabh Bhattacharya produced some decent stuff, and newcomer Rashmi Singh shone in the few tracks she wrote.

Yet, the average quality of music was nothing to talk about. In fact, one hopes the Bhatt production ‘Khamoshiyan’ sets the mood for some melodic music in the coming year, in which one is also looking forward to Amit Trivedi’s music in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Bombay Velvet’.

In such a scenario, it was obviously difficult to prepare a list of top 10 movie soundtracks. Hence, I have stuck to 10 most appealing songs, which again, is this blogger’s personal opinion, and not based on any public surveys or amount of commercial success.

For a more balanced view, I have stuck to one song per film. Some hits like ‘Tune maari entriyaan’ (‘Gunday’), ‘Baby doll’ (‘Ragini MMS 2’) and ‘Saturday Saturday’ (‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’) don’t feature in this list, though popular with the masses, because they were temporary fads at best.

1 Galliyan – Ek Villain: This song was another boost for composer and singer Ankit Tiwari, who hit the headlines last year with ‘Sun raha hai na tu’ in ‘Aashiqui 2’. An unplugged version was sung by him and Shraddha Kapoor. Both versions were penned by Manoj Muntashir.

2 Muskurane – Citylights: Composed by Jeet Ganguli and sung by Arijit Singh, this keyboard-driven song was somewhat underrated, but extremely melodious. Lyrics were by the promising Rashmi Singh.

3 Bismil – Haider: Vishal Bhardwaj’s music in ‘Haider’ had many good songs, including Gulzar’s ‘Aao na’, ‘Jhelum’ and ‘Khul kabhi’ and the Faiz Ahmed Faiz-penned ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ and ‘Aaj ke naam’. But it was Gulzar’s ‘Bismil’, sung by Sukhwinder, which stood out, with its distinct Kashmiri folk aura and peppy beat.

4 Manwa laage – Happy New Year: Shreya Ghoshal and Arijit shine on this Vishal-Shekhar tune, written by Irshad Kamil in the Shah Rukh starrer. A folksy touch and some neat arrangements give this number a boost.

5 Fanny re – Finding Fanny: This one sung by Mukhtiyar Ali and composed by Matthias Duplessey had a catchy tune and neat arrangements, even though the singer went ‘off’ somewhere in the middle.

6 Harjaaiyan – Queen: Singer Nandini Srikar, who once sang ‘Bhare naina’ in ‘Ra.One’ has a clear winner in this song, composed by Amit Trivedi and written by Anvita Dutt in the film ‘Queen’. The voice sparkles here.

7 Chaar kadam – PK: Singer Shaan teams up with Shreya in this catchy ditty. Composed by Shantanu Moitra and written by Swanand Kirkire, it has a nice sing-along feel.

8 Auliya – Ungli: A simple pop song with a Sufiana influence, composed by Salim-Sulaiman, written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and sung by Armaan Malik. A good boost for Armaan.

9 Khamoshiyan – Khamoshiyan: This Jeet Ganguli song written by Rashmi Singh and sung by Arijit just made it to the list, as it was released in second half of December. It’s the kind of song that will grow after a few listens, and will hopefully be a success in 2015.

10 Patakha guddi – Highway: To pep up the tempo a bit, we conclude with this Rahman tune, sung by Sultana and Jyoti Nooran and written by Irshad Kamil has a neat Sufiana influence and soulful singing.

PS: Apologies to fans of Yo Yo Honey Singh, who may complain that this list was prepared under the influence of ‘Chaar botal vodka’.

CD review/ Khamoshi Ki Aawaz — Pankaj Udhas


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Khamoshi Ki Aawaz/ Pankaj Udhas

Genre: Ghazal

Velvet Voices/ Rs 250

Rating: ****

EARLY last year, ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas had released ‘Dastkhat’, an album containing the poetry of the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz. On his latest collection ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’, he continues with the mood of good poetry, but instead of focusing on one writer, he chooses a mix of both traditional and modern names.

If Faiz’s style uses complex Urdu words and metaphors, and is normally followed by only those with a deep knowledge of the language, the poetry on the new album is much simpler, and thus easier to relate to among the masses. With a blend of inter-related thoughts and contrasting concepts, the seven-track CD has poetry of the highest calibre. Besides ghazals by Jigar Moradabadi, Mirza Ghalib, Parveen Shakir and Ahmed Faraaz, ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’ has one charming nazm by Ajay Pandey ‘Sahab’.

The songs have an easy listening feel, dominated by pleasant keyboards, violin, sarangi and bansuri. Though one initially feels there isn’t much variety in the structure of the compositions, the tunes take their time to grow on you. Once they do, you feel like hearing them repeatedly.

The album begins with Moradabadi’s popular ‘Saqi ki har nigaah bal kha ke pee gaya’, once rendered by Mohammed Rafi. The lines ‘Sarmasti-e-azal mujhe jab yaad aa gayi, duniya-e-aitbaar ko thukra ke pee gaya’ are truly impressive.

Ghalib’s ‘Koi umeed bar nahin aati’ runs into almost nine minutes, and is one of the album’s highlights. If Udhas sings ‘Maut ka ek din mo-ayeeyan hai, neend kyon raat bhar nahin aati’ on this ghazal, Faraaz’s ‘Kuchh na kisise bolenge’ has a related concept with ‘Neend toh kya aayegi Faraaz, maut aati toh so lenge’.

The album has other interesting examples of lines on the same subject. If Faraaz has another ghazal ‘Is se pehle ke bewafa ho jaaye, kyon na ae-dost hum judaa ho jaaye’, Parveen Shakir’s ‘Teri khushboo ka pata karti hai’ has the sher ‘Dil ko us raah pe chalna hi nahin, jo mujhko tujhse judaa karti hai’.

The late Shakir, one of the popular female poets of Pakistan, also pens ‘Sundar komal sapnon ki baaraat guzar gayee janan’. Sung and arranged like a dreamy ballad, this number grows after a few replays.

The album concludes with Ajay Pandey’s ‘Sahab’s nazm ‘Ajab ek paagal si ladki hai’, which has lyrics that inspire the album’s title. While the poet initially writes ‘Tumhein khamoshiyon mein kya meri aawaaz aati hai, Andheron mein abhi tak kya mera chehra chamakta hai’, he later says, ‘Seher se shaam tak jeevan mein itna shor rehta hai, Na woh khamoshiyan baaki na ab woh aahatein baaki’.

Throughout the album, Udhas sticks to straightforward singing, keeping the feel light. Appropriate accompaniment is provided by arranger Sameer Nichani, violin/ swarleen player Rajendra Singh Sodha, flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, guitarist Ankur Mukherjee, sarangi exponents Sabir Khan and Dilshad Khan, and percussionist Nirmal Pawar. Everyone keeps things simple, and that’s the strength of ‘Khamoshi Ki Aawaz’.

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

Yanni is coming back to India, but how many can really afford him?


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THAT memory is still vivid. In March 1997, I had visited the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, to cover the much-awaited Yanni concert. With the glorious Taj Mahal in the backdrop, the setting seemed perfect, and I even ignored the mosquitoes that occasionally did marathons on my forearms.

Before the show, I was confused whether I was a Yanni fan or not. Yes, I had loved the ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album, but his studio albums were too elevator-friendly for my comfort. The show changed everything – for a while, at least.

Lavishly produced, it featured an immensely talented orchestra conducted by Armen Anassian. Violins, cellos, flutes, trumpets, French horns, guitars, basses, drums and the didgeridoo mingled magnificently on tracks like ‘Adagio in C Minor’, ‘Dance with a Stranger’, ‘Niki Nana’ and ‘Santorini’.

While Yanni’s keyboard unleashed its expected magic, violinist Karen Briggs was a revelation. The concert was held over the next two days, and easily, it was one of the best shows India has witnessed.

WITH this background, let’s welcome Yiannis Chryssomallis aka Yanni to India once again. In January, the ace Greek new age composer and musician will perform in Vadodara. Earlier this year, he played in India after 17 years, with shows in Chennai and Bangalore. Those who have missed him so far would want to attend his spectacle this time.

Sounds good? Yes and no. While the concert at Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas Palace on January 23 promises to be musically-outstanding and larger than life, as is the case with most Yanni shows, there are two major bottlenecks. One is the astonishingly steep ticket fare, and the second revolves whether Yanni’s following in India is remotely as close it was in 1997.

The Chennai and Bangalore concerts didn’t come cheap either. In Chennai, the ticket denominations, from the lowest onwards, were ₹ 2,000, ₹ 3,000, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8,000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000. In Bangalore, they cost ₹ 2,500, ₹ 5,000, ₹ 8.000, ₹ 15,000 and ₹ 20,000.

If you thought that was expensive, check out Vadodara. Part of the four-day VadFest, or Vadodara International Art & Culture Festival, those attending will have to pay ₹ 5,000, ₹ 7,000, ₹ 10,000, ₹ 12,000, ₹ 20,000 or, hold your breaths, ₹ 75,000. Unless they are influential enough to get a free invite, that is.

Yanni is scheduled to play for about two hours. And going by the map of the venue, those with the cheapest tickets will probably be sitting a few kilometres away, watching the proceedings on a giant screen, if at all.

Considering that very few people want to go alone for such shows, and would want to go with their spouses or friends, the cost per individual will naturally multiply. For two people, that will mean ₹ 10,000.

The richer class may be able to afford such fares, but what about the middle-class fan or the student who would want to attend too? Unless no-one wants them in the crowd!

From the viewpoint of organisers, an event of Yanni’s scale would incur huge costs. The Agra show featured 40 musicians, and one would assume similar numbers will be utilised this time. Besides this, there will be personal managers, tour managers, sound engineering teams, lighting teams, set-designing teams and public relations agents, most of whom may come from abroad as they are familiar with Yanni’s requirements. Despite the presence of airline and hospitality sponsors, putting up so many people is a huge cost. On top of that, there are the artiste and crew fees.

Besides the people factor, we have costs related to setting up the show – the equipment, speakers, lights, sets, giant screens, caterers’ fees, beverage company expenses, etc, etc. One has to take taxes into account, and there are many sundry expenses which come up closer to the event. Yes, some of these finances may be offset through sponsors. But this isn’t like many other shows – the sheer scale will be much larger. It’s a different matter that acts like Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd made even grander appearances.

Keeping this in mind, the organisers may try to justify their decision to fix such high ticket rates. But then, who are they actually targeting? From the simple price structure, it’s obvious that a large number will attend just because they have the moolah, irrespective of whether they enjoy Yanni or not. Many of them may not even have heard of him before. The true fans may just dream of a telecast or watch it on DVD.

Another thing needs to be considered. When Yanni came to Agra in 1997, he was at his peak. His ‘Live at the Acropolis’ album had sold hugely across the world, and India was no exception. Even though the Agra shows had a large number of politicians, businessmen and richie-doodles in the crowd, there were a few fans who travelled from Delhi to watch him perform.

The Yanni phase lasted from late 1994, after ‘Acropolis’ was released, to about late 1997, when Yanni combined his shows at Agra and the Forbidden City, Beijing, to release the ‘Tribute’ album. He later played at the Kremlin, Moscow, and Burj Khalifa, Dubai, and though his studio albums did well on the new age charts, they never made it to the top of the overall Billboard charts. Even new age, as a genre, became stagnant after the 2000s.

Today, the world listens to lots of other music, with electronic dance music, modern rock, world music, fusion and ambient lounge attracting listeners. The term ‘new age’ was pretty fashionable in the second half of the 1990s, thanks to artistes like Yanni, Enigma, Enya, Bradley Joseph and Kitaro, but what affected the genre’s long-term popularity was that there was no set pattern of sound. Anything that sounded a little offbeat and unlike the common genres was described as new age, and very often, spiritually uplifting and religious chant-driven music was also placed in the same family.

In all fairness, Yanni’s shows may be still as spectacular as they were 17 years ago. Though the ambience may not have the same effect as the Taj Mahal or Acropolis or Kremlin, the quality of musicianship will undoubtedly be high, as many younger instrumentalists would have joined his troupe. Moreover, his brand of music is best enjoyed live, and not on CD or even DVD.

The question, of course, is: how many people can really afford the Vadodara show? And if they do, how many will comprise the right kind of people? Only those with enough money to throw around can dream of paying ₹ 20,000 to get a hundred yards close to Yanni, and ₹ 75,000 to smell his perfume, and then falsely boast that they shook hands with the man.

The magical music of Mali


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WAITING TO ROCK INDIA: Vieux Farka Toure performs in Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai this month

INDIAN fans of the world music genre would instantly recognise Mali for the contributions of Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita. While the former was one of Africa’s best known singers, guitarists and multi-instrumentalists, the latter is an Afro-pop singer-songwriter also known as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’. Still others would associate the West African country with the album ‘Mali Music’, released by Damon Albarn of the groups Blur and Gorillaz.

Just like South Africa has had big names like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Dollar Brand and Vhusi Mhalasela, Mali has had a number of stars over the years. And yet, despite the fact that the country is steeped hugely in musical culture, militants announced early last year that they were banning all music, forcing many artistes into exile. For a country where people literally breathe music, that was an unfortunate development.

This year, India is having a good taste of Malian music, thanks to the Blackberrys Sharp Nights – Masters of World Music series organised by upscale menswear brand Blackberrys. Last month, New Delhi and Hyderabad witnessed performances by famed singer Fatoumata Diawara. Now, singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, will perform in Pune on December 3, Bengaluru on December 6 and Mumbai on December 10.

Vieux has performed at Mumbai’s Blue Frog on an earlier visit, and those who missed that now have a chance to see him. At the same time, those enthusiastic about world music may begin with this list of 10 brilliant Malian musicians. We add a few more names at the end, for those who would like to explore even further.

Ali Farka Toure: Blending traditional Malian music with American blues, Ali Farka Toure has been ranked No 76 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 greatest guitarists of all time’. Recommended albums include ‘Savane’, ‘Talking Timbuktu’, ‘From Mississippi to Mali’ (with blues and reggae musician Corey Harris) and ‘In The Heart of the Moon’ (with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate). Ali passed away In 2006.

Salif Keita: Combining West African musical styles with popular European and American influences, Keita made it big in Paris in the mid-1980s. He recorded some successful albums after returning to Mali, including ‘Mouffou’ and ‘La Difference’.

Rokia Traore: An award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, Traore uses vocal harmonies which are rare in Malian music. Her 1997 album ‘Mouneissa’ was popular, and she later released some superb collections like ‘Wanita’, ‘Bownboi’ and ‘Tchamantche’.

Tinariwen: The Grammy-winning group from northern Mali was formed in the late 1970s, but became a sensation with the 2007 album ‘Aman Iman’ (‘Water is Life’). Their style is essentially guitar-driven and they use traditional melodies of the Tuareg community.

Toumani Diabate: Best known for his collaboration with Ali Farka Toure on ‘In The Heart of The Moon’, Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge harp. His father Sidiki Diabate pioneered the instrument, and his younger brother Mamodou Sidiki Diabate is a prominent player too.

Vieux Farka Toure: The son of Ali Farka Toure, Vieux is one of the most promising musicians of Mali, and has often been called ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’. His self-titled debut album features both his father and Diabate, and his latest album ‘Mon Pays’ was released as a homage to his homeland.

Amadou & Mariam: Comprising the couple of Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals and Mariam Doumbia on vocals, the group made a name for itself playing Malian blues. Both the musicians are blind.

Oumou Sangare: One of the most popular singers of Mali, Sangare belongs to the Wassoulou region. Her 1990 debut ‘Moussolou’ was hugely popular in Africa, and later she became well-known outside the continent too.

Fatoumata Diawara: Currently living in France, Diawara blends Wassoulou traditions with international influences. Her powerful voice blends well with her slick guitaring, and she’s been a success on her shows in the US, South America and Asia.

Bassekou Kouyate: A master of the string instrument ngoni, Kouyate has played with Diabate and American banjo player Bela Fleck. He has released the albums ‘Segu Blue’, ‘I Speak Fula’ and ‘Jama Ko’.

WHILE these 10 musicians may be perfect for those wanting an initiation into the music of Mali, the country has produced many other prominent artistes. These include singers Fanta Sacko and Fanta Damba, singer-guitarists Afel Boucom and Habib Koite, singer-kora player Kandia Kouyate and rap group Tata Pound.

Indeed, Mali is a goldmine for African music. Despite the political upheaval it has faced, the nation has produced a wealth of talent. In case you missed Fatoumata Diawara’s shows last month, Vieux Farka Toure will surely provide a heady dose of Malian magic in the three shows he has lined up.

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