Some of my songs
01 Jan 1970 |

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Some Regions that have influenced our composers

Music composers are invariably influenced by certain styles, certain genres of music. Often, the demands of the film itself will necessitate the style of the music — for example, a film set in the caribbean naturally tends to have a carribbean flavor, especially in the opening shots of the film, to establish the caribbean locale. And thus, it has always been, that music continues to develop and enrichen because of outside influences. If you consider, whatever your concept of “pure” Indian music may be, as the color white, then the influencing music, if added in a few drops of its color, enrichens this color. The not-so-thin line is when the influence becomes the main color! Instead of a hint, or a flavor, it now becomes the main theme.

For this article, I want to talk about the composers and the foreign regions from which they pulled musical influences. I am not referring to “genre influences”, which would be stuff like rock and roll(C Ramchandra, et al), jazz (RD, et al), western classical (Salil Chaudhari, et al). We are strictly talking regional influences here, which would mean regional FOLK influences.

Many of the earlier movies tended to have mughal and persian themes. Mughal-e-azam, and Anarkali were simply two of the multitude of mughal-themed movies. Hence it would seem obvious that the composers of the time needed to bring out the “Mughal-ness” of the time. Naushad, who composed the former, did try to show the influence of the Mughals to some extent. But C Ramchandra, who composed Anarkali, seemed content giving outstanding music and not having to deal with the instruments and rhythms of the time. Both the movies did excellently and their music endures to this date. But the lilt of the compositions tended to be more of the “pure” Indian of the 50’s, rather than show the influence of the 17th century in the choice of instruments or lilt of the tune. This is an example, to me, of not using an influence, when it was possibly desirable to do so.

There were the slightly lesser known composers who did brilliantly with the Persian influence. My friend, Jayant Kulkarni, whose music collection of the 40’s and early 50’s is the most extensive, bar none, rates Sajjad as the best of that genre. If you listen to Ae Dilruba from Rustom Sohrab, you will see the beauty of the composition stemming from a superb blend of persian instruments, melody, and rhythm, with the underlying Indian-ness of the song. Simply magnificent! The same kind of richness was also found in Shyamsundar’s compositions. My favorite of his, is a song called Chhalak Raha Hai, sung by Sulochana Chavan (known then as Sulochana Kadam). The lilt of the song is what makes it unique.

I was recently in Japan, where the idea for this article was born. What struck me there, whenever some Japanese music would waft my way, was the fact that I always thought of Sayonara Sayonara, the song from Love in Tokyo. The reason, of course, is the pentatonic scale favored by the Japanese and Chinese. In our context, it is the use of five notes (or six, if you include the higher “Sa”) — Sa Re Ga Pa Dha Sa, which comprises Raag Bhoop. I have always liked the Sayonara song for this reason — keeping it palatable to the Indian ear AND staying true to the theme of the film was a difficult balance, and Shankar Jaikishan managed it.

C Ramchandra is also credited (usually, most vociferously by Maharashtrians) with bringing western influence to Indian music. And he did. He brought the Jazz and rock and roll into Hindi films. But it was RD Burman, who brought the influence of Latin American music to Hindi. And then again, I think the subtlety with which he “test drove” the acceptability with the hindi music listeners, is worth admiring. The Bossa Nova rhythm, which RD used effectively many times later, was first introduced simply as a rhythm, with very Indian instruments and a very Indian composition. Does anyone remember that song? Drop me a note and let me know.

RD Burman fascinates me the most. He used the influence of music so cleverly, that we never felt that we were being sold some “western trash”. In Great Gambler, he used a Venetian boatman’s song as a base for the song “Do labzo ki hai Dil ki Kahani”. In movies like Abdulla and Alibaba aur Chalis Chor (remember Khatuba Khatuba?), he blended western music along with mid-eastern to create a uniquely pleasing blend of music. His greatest influence seems to be from Latin American music. In numerous movies, one saw the that influence come through, but again, this was done so skillfully, that we continued to see the innate Indian-ness in the song. And nobody from the hills of Nepal, or Sikkim or Tripura must have composed better music from the hills than RD did. Kanchi re Kanchi re, with its unique rhythm pattern is the first song that comes to mind. I am sure each of my readers has his or her own favorite, and I’d love to hear from you about it. RD deserves a full separate article on himself.

AR Rahman brought the Reggae beat to Indian films in Roja — Dil Hai Chhota sa had the distinctly reggae beat, and it was skillfully weaved into the indian context. He later went on to use many other styles, but his later work sounds uniquely like “an AR Rehman composition” and does not overtly reflect the influence of any specific regional music.

Of the recent composers, my favorite have been Shankar Ehsaan Loy. They have used a number of regional folk music in their film songs — like the Celtic/Irish influence in the song “Woh Ladki hai kahan” from Dil Chahta Hai.

Can you think of any foreign folk music that has been skillfully woven into Indian music to give us a high quality “Indian” song?

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July 15th, 2016

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