Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vichitra Vatavaran: Strange Atmosphere from the SubContinent

Walk through a bazaar on the Indian sub continent on an evening and your senses will be assaulted. The smells of freshly frying foods sizzle and smoke, animal dung mixes with the acrid exhaust of poorly maintained engines, the bouquet of freshly plucked roses and gladioli piled like mountains on the side of the road, ready for gifting to the gods.  Colors swirl before your eyes though many are dressed in simple white dhotis and black burqas. Gods with bright orange faces dance, green flags flutter before green walls of a mosque, pink,yellow and blue lights flash from shops, from trucks, from temples as the darkness moves in.  And then there are the sounds.

Ah the sounds!  At first it is perceived as a wall of noise. Screeching cacophony, nothing more. Everything is at high volume. The film songs, the call to prayer, the beggars singing for alms, the man reading the paper for those who cannot read but are interested in the ways of the world. A brass band pushes its way through the thronging traffic stopping for the trumpeter to take a solo as dancers flail arms and bodies in return for currency notes. From a laneway religious music, could be qawwali, could be a bhajan, could be a hymn wafts into your consciousness but as you turn to look, a rickshaw with loudspeakers attached swerves to miss you. Its blasting the latest songs from the newest film running for the 45th straight ‘House Full’ week at the cinema down the street. 

Vichitra Vatavaran: Soundz of the Subcontinent Vol 17 is the Washerman’s Dog’s attempt to capture, in 30 tracks, a bumper crop of musical sounds of the sort you might encounter in a busy bazaar. Music in all of its glory, from the sublime to the salacious. From the finely controlled to the manically feral. With one eye especially open to the jittery, electric and brash, Vol. 17 is slightly lopsided in the favor of pop and film music but includes other sparkling gems such as street music, hotel-jazz and slick folk music.   

Sit back, light a cigarette or crack open a Kingfisher or Murree Beer. Prepare to be pleasantly pummelled. The atmosphere (vatavaran) is about to get distinctly weird (vichitra).

Part 1
Sharaabi (Pashto Film Song; Pakistan) With rumbling dhol and electric keyboard runs worthy of an over-zealous agit-prop department, this rollicking disco number comes from the mean streets of Peshawar where a raunchy form of low-brow cinema struggles for survival in a time and place spoiled by the bloodless Taliban. The song’s title Sharaabi literally means ‘boozer’ but also has the connotation of a happy soul. Someone who loves to drink, but also to dance, laugh and love too.

Tickle Me Not (Chic Chocolate; India) Chic Chocolate was born Antonio Xavier Vaz in Goa, the tiny Portuguese enclave south of Bombay, established by Vasco da Gama. Vaz was one of India’s premier jazz trumpeters who learned very meaty chops as a star in various Bombay jazz bands, some led by expatriate African-American jazz leaders like Teddy Weatherford. Chic Chocolate styled himself as the sub continental Louis Armstrong, making sure he always carried several white handkerchiefs on stage to wipe away the sweat, just like Satchmo. By the 1950s he, like many of India’s legendary jazzmen were finding work mainly in the Hindi film studios of Bombay.  This wonderful little piece comes from an EP put out the year after he passed away in 1967. 

Raga Megh Malhar (Charanjit Singh; India)  From deep in the cavernous film studios of Bollywood in 1981 emerged a record of syntho-pop based on classical Indian ragas. The composer and performer was a session musician and wedding band leader by the name of Charanjit Singh who had recently laid his hands on some Roland and Jupiter electronic keyboards. He doodled and fiddled then recorded the new sounds, many of which were souped-up versions of traditional ragas. The album that followed sank like a Tata bus into a Himalayan ravine, no more to be heard until it was hailed by critics in Europe as being an early sample of acid-house music! Singh had used a thing called the TB-303 (Roland bass synthesizer) which was the staple sound of acid house. His album, from which this monsoon season raga is lifted, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, reigns today as a much revered cult classic.

Nashe Diye Wich (Punjabi film song; Mala; Pakistan) In the socially conservative South Asian countries scenes which involve men drinking to excess, in a nightclub, watching a voluptuous vamp shimmy and shake signal villany ahead.  But the nightclub scene has given the public some of the snappiest and most memorable filmi songs of all time.  Mala, (Nasreen Nazli), was born into a family of singers and enjoyed considerable celebrity and popularity in 1950s and 60s Pakistani cinema. This sexy number is from the 1973 hit film Jeera Blade.

Ghalib ka ek Khat (Urdu prose reading; Zia Mohyiddin; Pakistan)  Generally regarded as the greatest Urdu language poet in history, Mirza Assadullah Ghalib, the 19th century writer, was renown for his love of wine, passion for his city, Delhi, and a sometime sublime, sometime acidic use of the mellifluous Urdu language. In addition to his many beloved poems Ghalib, was an artful and prolific correspondent.  Zia Mohyiddin, one of the sub continent’s greatest theatrical voices, gives an exuberant reading of one letter in which the poet bemoans his poor economic circumstances, which among other things means he is unable to enjoy his beloved Tabrizi wine as often as he’d like.

Tum Mere Pass Raho (Urdu ghazal; Nayyara Noor; Pakistan) If Ghalib takes the honors as greatest Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is regarded as the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century.  And among the many Pakistani and Indian singers who have sung his lyrics, Assamese-Punjabi chantuese Nayyara Noor is among the most loved. A natural singer from a merchant’s family, Nayyaras graceful singing of ghazals made her an instant icon in the 1970s. This rendition of one of Faiz’s most famous poems (Stay Close to Me/My Murderer/My Darling) is a private home recording from the early 1970s.

Kan Pesum Varthaigai (Tamil film song; Karthik; India) 7-G Rainbow Colony was one of biggest Tamil films of 2004, winning national and regional dramatic and music awards.  This song illustrates that, though less well known than Bollywood, south Indian cinema is no slouch when it comes to music or cinematic sophistication.  The soundtrack was recorded live using a 40 piece orchestra.  A bit of southern class from Chennai! 

Saigal Blues (Hindi film song; Chetan Shasital; India) A surprise hit in 2011 the film Delhi Belly was a black comedy which had the critics applauding but the gatekeepers of morality whispering, ‘tauba tauba’. This improbable success included an improbably excellent song, Saigal Blues, a tongue-in-cheek homage to Kundan Lal Saigal, considered one of the greatest voices of Hindi cinema. Vocals from a by-gone age mix with outstanding and moody modern blues-rock backing to make it truly one of kind. 

Bana Re Bagan Mein (Folk song; Shyam Brass Band; India) The brass band holds a huge place in South Asian music. Attendant at every wedding, political rally, public holiday and religious celebration, the Indian brass band operates to the same principles Indian traffic does.  Seeming chaos, fast pace, unrelenting and slightly dangerous meanderings pull up at the last moment into a coherent piece of joy and relief.  The Shyam Brass Band is from Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Voice From The Inner Soul (Garage rock; Confusions; India) A true rarity, this cut comes from one of more obscure chapters of Indian music, garage rock.  In the early 1970s, the makers of Simla Filter cigarettes sponsored a national Battle of the Bands which brought all local latent Jimi Hendrixes out from their bedrooms and  the railway clubs of towns across India to compete for a chance to be recorded and hailed as India’s best rock n’ roll band.  Confusions hailed from Madras (Chennai) and won the 1970 contest with this ever so heavy rocker, Voice From the Inner Soul.

Hello, Madam Disco (Urdu film song; Naheed Akhtar; Pakistan) Had Naheed Akhtar been born in India she would have undoubtedly been as big as Asha Bhosle.  With a strong cheeky voice she epitomized the sound of Pakistan’s Lollywood film industry throughout the 1970s.  This disco number from the long forgotten film Mohabbat ho to Aisi Ho, is a stone cold classic. Catchy to a fault you won’t  be able to stop greeting every woman you meet with Hello, Madam Disco, for a week to come.

Pyasa Hai Mera Dil Pyar Dekhade (Urdu film song; Naheed Akhtar; Pakistan) In which Naheed Akhtar tears a leaf from the Donna Summers handbook of style and demands amidst a few mighty orgasmic groans that someone show her love. How did this stuff get past the censors? 

Sorry Sorry Sir (Love Letter) (Hinglish pop song; Bappi Lahiri; India) The irrepressible, some would say, tasteless, human jellybean Bappi Lahiri ruled the roost in Bollywood during the disco era. Never one to shy away from sampling far and wide Bappi was a man bursting with energy and ideas and glittering with bling. This H(indi) (E)nglish song is from a double non-filmi pop album called Music Lover.

jhoom Jhoom Nachen (Pakistan International Airways Inflight Music; M. Ashraf; Pakistan)   M. Ashraf one of Lollywood’s great music directors (whose creative alter ego was none other than Naheed Akhtar) also wrote instrumental reworkings of folk songs, many of which, such as this, were picked up the national airlines.

Kaliz Boom Bang (Konkani pop song; Aurvile and Trisca; India) The Goans of India’s west coast have produced some of India’s best jazz and classical musicians.  This is a re-make of the 1969 hit originally sung by Chris Perry.


Part 2

Kriti-Baroque (Semi-classical fusion; Laszlo Hortobagyi; Hungary/India) Indian classical music has always attracted western classical and jazz musicians. Laszlo Hortobagyi is a Hungarian composer who fell under the spell of the sitar and surbahar and like a junkie remained hooked to his drug throughout his life.  This track must be the first-ever recording of a harpsichord interpreting an Indian raga.  Handle with care!

Tera Pyar Menu (Punjabi folk; Saida Begum; India) Punjabis are an exuberant race. Saida Begum provides non-Bhangra evidence of same on this lively, drum driven folk love song.

Yeh Lal Rang (Instrumental; Van Shipley; India) The Methodist guitar slinger from Lucknow was also pretty good at playing the fiddle. Yeh Lal Rang, was a hit from the early 70’s hit film, Prem Nagar. Van Shipley’s lap-steel interpretation is representative of the sort of popular music you’d hear in cinemas at intermission.

Hindi Song (Impromptu street song; Unknown; India) One whole genre of music that is very sadly undocumented is this sort of impromptu soul tune, sung by a blind man in the Hindu holy city, Hardiwar.  He keeps rhythm on a plastic bucket and sends his vocals soaring heavenward asking the Lord, to come visit his house so he can have a vision of Him.  Stellar. Stunning.

Balochi Love Song (Folk music; Mureed Buledi; Pakistan) Baluchistan is South Asia’s Kurdistan. A vast expanse of desert and feudal tribes that stretch across parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Baluchis, like the Kurds, have spent decades fighting cultural isolation or assimilation. Not to mention political extinction.  Mureed Buledi is one of Pakistani Baluchistan’s best loved singers. Here he sings a famous desert love song.

I Married a Female Wrestler (English pop song; Unknown/originally by Ernest Ignatius; India/Sri Lanka) This is a cover of the wildly popular late 60’s hit by Indian/Sri Lankan singer Ernest Ignatius who sang on Radio Ceylon. A definite oddity but one that captures the humour of the Goan/Anglo-Indian community well.

Luki Luki Ankhan (Nepali pop song; Dhiraj Rai; Nepal) Nepal, India’s little neighbor to the north has sourced some great talent, starting with the Buddha, way back several millenia ago. In recent years, actresses, actors and playback singers such as Anuradha Paudwal, Udit Naryan and Manish Koirala. And in the jazz world there is the iconic and very un-Nepali named Louiz Banks.  This is a snappy little pop ditty by the singer Dhiraj Rai, of the sort you’ll be likely to hear next time you visit Kathmandu.

Natta (Carnatic jazz; T.K. Ramamoorthy; India) Definitely one of the strangest yet most delightful and rewarding fusion recordings to come out of India. Ramamoorthy of which little is known was a Tamilian music lover who in 1969 issued a record titled Fabulous Notes & Beats of the Indian Carnatic-Jazz. This has since become a sensation among cultists and collectors. This is one of the many lovely innovative but seldom heard tracks from that ground-breaking record. This is the roots of Kadri Gopalnath!

Khari Neem ke Neechey (Punjabi folk song; Tina Sani; Pakistan/Bangladesh) This is a beautiful, spare version of an old Punjabi folk love song about a beautiful girl. Tina Sani is Bengali but before Bangladesh was created was a hugely popular singer of ghazals and lokgeet in Pakistan. Alas, she still is, having recently just completed a triumphant tour of that country late last/early this year.

Naina Laagey (Electronica; MIDIval PunditZ; India) While you’re not likely to hear this song in the bazaar’s of India, you’ll definitely hear it on the FM radio or in Khan Market bars.  The electronica duo MIDIval PunditZ are accomplished leaders in the field and work largely out of Delhi.  Very cool and contemporary.

Bijli Bhari Hai (Instrumental pop; Tafo Brothers; Pakistan) These guys could be considered M. Ashraf and Naheed Akhtar’s studio backing band. Led by the Tafo Brothers of Lahore, this 6 man band composed and played the coolest backing tracks in 1970s Lollywood. Think of them as the Memphis Horns ala Indus!

Disco Jugni  (Urdu disco; Noor Jahan; Pakistan)  A wild ride through filmi disco by the Queen of all South Asian playback singers, Madam Noor Jahan. Jugni literally means ‘female firefly’ and implies a somewhat ‘loose’ woman who flits from one lover to the next. At the same time, the term has a deeply spiritual significance: the spirit of God.  You figure which one she is singing about! The film is Sahib Bahadur circa 1980s.

Kam Nahin Sharab Se Shokhiyan Shabab Ki (Hindi film song; Asha Bhosle; India) Asha Bhosle the younger sister of India’s ‘nightingale’ Lata Mangkeshkar had to spend years singing the songs her sister would never do, the fast, jazzy, disco and drunken songs.  When she finally broke into the superstar space it was largely on the back of these sorts of numbers, even though she found them artistically limiting.  It says a lot about her vocal artistry that she can make a song such as this sound so cool.  From the film Aag aur Daag.

The She I Love (English pop song; Mohammad Rafi; India) Mohammad Rafi, like most playback singers was required to sing in any number of languages; he recorded albums or sang in films in Hindi, Sindhi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and south Indian languages.  But other than a few phrases he rarely sang a whole song in English.The She I Love by Kalyanji Anandji is a real rarity. It is not a film song and is strangely creepy but appealing at the same time. 

Toba Toba  (Urdu pop song; Salma and Sabina Agha; Pakistan/UK) This is  Hindi/Urdu cover of ABBA’s Mamma Mia by the sisters Salma and Sabina. Salma was another cross border beauty who took Bollywood by storm in the early 80s but little was produced by her sister other than this immensely rare album in which they sing the hits of ABBA in Hindi!



Asli Jat said...

Thanks for this, the link only seems to get the 2nd album though. Mind you that's an amazing listen in itself.

Nathan Rabe said...

Asli, glad you like it. I've checked both files and they seem to be different and links are working.Can you give me a bit more info on the problem?

Asli Jat said...

Sorry about that my eyesight is getting bad in my old age I didn't see the 1st link !

It's only when I read your comments & you mentioned links not link that I looked again & found the 1st one.

Thanks again, your blog has such an eclectic mix it's amazing.

Nishitha KM said...

hi.thanks for sharing the post.plan your wedding more memorable with sankar live music wedding events.sankar is one of the best singers in bangalore.he performed many corporate events like INTEL, IBM,Centum Electronics, Wipro, Accenture, TATA Group, Karle and many more..