Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Intermission at Picture Palace: Sunil Ganguly

Every Saturday morning between the age of 10 and 17, during the school year, my friends and I would hike down through the bazar of Mussoorie, (Queen of Hills, as the Indian Tourism Promotion Board used to refer to this once grand Raj hill station) and see a movie. An old American or English action picture at Rialto. The latest Rajesh Khanna melodrama at Picture Palace.

Waiting for the film to start
As we waited for the film to start and at intermission the cinema’s management would put on a record of some pop music, more often than not the same record played over and over for several months at a time.  Cliff Richards was popular as was, in the early 70s, The Ballad of John and Yoko.
Another sound that caressed our ears was a sweet Hawaiian guitar that sounded both foreign and Indian, contemporary and timeless. Cool and slightly weird.  I never knew who this was, and at the time, who cared? It was just music holding our attention until the lights dimmed and John Wayne or Richard Burton or Dev Anand lit up the screen.

As Fate would have it that strange, alluring ‘Intermission’ sound has come back to me by way of a record I picked up recently from a new old friend in Allahabad.  The music was that of the electric guitarist Sunil Ganguly, another unsung hero of Indian pop music.

Born (1940) in the far-eastern Indian State of Tripura, Ganguly, studied singing and classical music with various Pandits  before settling on his instrument of choice, the electrified Hawaiian guitar.  At a time when such instruments were exotic and hardly mainstream, Ganguly, developed a style of playing the instrument that was highly influential. Many Indian guitarists, including Brijbhusan Kabra, Van Shipley and others credit Ganguly with being a huge influence. And indeed, if you are familiar at all with Indian guitar playing prior to the cassette-led music revolution of the early 1980s you’ll agree that Ganguly’s modus has come to define the genre. 

As with all popular music artists he had to play covers and interpretations of popular Hindi film songs but Ganguly also brought his foundations in classical Hindustani music to the instrument and made several recordings of Indian classical music.

This record, shared tonight, is a rare treat and has one of the best titles of all time: Sunil Ganguly Plays Reminiscental Melodies of Lata Mangeskhar from Hindi Films.    

Ganguly’s music has been followed by a small cult of collectors and music lovers over the years and most recently, he has featured on an excellent compilation by Sublime Frequencies called Bollywood Steel Guitar.  However, full original recordings of his are difficult to locate.  It is another wonderful star of the glittering Indian universe of popular music. An LP issued in 1975 with, one wonders, what audience in mind?  The artwork is appealing. Sunil's name all mod colours and  a slightly off kilter photo perspective of what looks like an early Moog Synthesizer. Where is the electric guitar? Apparently, there were more than cinema hall managers who liked this sort of music! 


I love it!

So crack open a packet of mango papad, sip on your Fanta, sit back and let the lights dim. Ladies and gentlemen, the unique, sublime guitar musings of Tripura’s Sunil Ganguly.


Track Listing:
01 Rajnigandha Phool Tumhare
02 Rahen Na Rahen
03 Aja Re Pardesi.
04 Bada Natkhat Hai Yeh
05 Yun Hasraton ke Daagh
06 Allah Tero Nam Ishwar
07 Tera Bina Zindagi Se
08 Mad Bhari Yeh Hawaen
09 Hum Nahin Mataa-e-Koocha-o-bazar Ki
10 Na Jiya Lage Na
11 Megha Chhaye Adhi Raat
12 Raton Ke Saye


Listen here.


15 comments:

Rebecca said...

Can't wait! Let the music (and action!) begin...

Giri Mandi said...

Wah, amazing!
Actually my secret dream is to release a series of recordings with those titles... "The Languid Guitar of Giri"; "The sloppy Melodies of Giri"; "The Involuted Licks of Giri"... but "Plays Reminscential Melodies..." is absolutely unbeatable!
The artwork is memorable too. Do you really see an early Moog in the front cover? I should say it's a sort of cubist Rubik's cube after a psychedelic blast, but maybe it's a side-effect of the music.
Many thanks, precious Ajnabi!

ajnabi said...

Giri,
I can't wait to hear the Languid Guitar of Giri! Non-involuted greetings!

Giri Mandi said...

Oh, I'll start immediately!
Mmm... "Another sound that caressed our ears was a sweet Hawaiian guitar that sounded both foreign and Indian, contemporary and timeless. Cool and slightly weird. I never knew who this was..."

Possibly Santo & Johnny?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd_xFJbGaEM&feature=related

ajnabi said...

Wah! Beautiful!

Giri Mandi said...

Yeah! They were very popular back then, and used to play all the greatest hits... don't miss their Godfather's Theme, with a groovin' drummer!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en6uhrhYRsE&feature=related

ajnabi said...

Two thumbs up! who are they?

Giri Mandi said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santo_%26_Johnny

They were extremely popular here in Italy, where they had produced a bunch of LPs. Actually we kids got to know many international hits from their instrumental versions!

Giri Mandi said...

Their italian productions:

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santo_%26_Johnny

ajnabi said...

Thanks!

Giri Mandi said...

Thanks to you, indeed!

Holly said...

Many thanks!

ajnabi said...

Holly, not a problem.. Are you a DJ?

Holly said...

Not currently - but was for years. While recovering from broadcast burnout, I'm still passionate about music! :-)

ajnabi said...

good to know the burnout is for the broadcasting and not the 'music'. Enjoy!