I admit, it’s been a long time since I last wrote a post on this blog. One of the reasons has been a plethora of problems and distractions (as readers of this blog surely know, we are living in a troubled world). But I also have spent a lot of time delving into some old interests too.
As I may have mentioned in some “About” sections and other autobiographical materials, for a number of years before I started this blog, I was a part-time rock/pop music critic, writing tons of reviews for several small-to-medium-sized magazines specializing in lesser-known, independent or “alternative” kinds of pop music, rock music, electronica, and “world”/”global” music. I also have been fairly obsessed with rock music and the people who perform it ever since I became deeply involved in some punk and post-punk rock scenes during my mid-late teens and 20s. I suppose that most people are supposed to grow out of such interests, but I never really did. However, when I started falling in love with old Indian film music in the 2007 or so, I let that new obsession occupy the front of my mind while the older interest (and some others) receded a little toward the back for a while. But in the past several months, the old rock/pop obsession has reemerged in a big way.
And this time, I became very interested in exploring some of the historic rock/pop music that I might not have been as focused on before. At the beginning of the year, I became quite fascinated with a lot of the “girl group” music (which I have actually always loved to hear) and related music by female artists who emerged in the 1960s. After that, I let my mind wander into some of the psychedelia and other music of the later ‘60s, but rather than focusing on the big names with heavy production, I preferred the “garage rock” sounds as well as, simply, the relatively more modest and less bombastic pop singers of that day (some of whom also performed quite well in the areas of folk and jazz).
But I still do love old Indian film music, too, and that was why I was ripe to fall for a singer who could easily cross into both worlds; that is, someone who could do really good performances of these classic Western pop songs of the ’60s and ’70s and maybe even became known for that but who also was in demand as a performer or playback singer in at least few Indian films, fitting into those films nicely too.
In other words, I was ready to fall for Usha Uthup (formerly known as Iyer).
Usha Uthup has a very special voice as far as Indian film singers go, especially for the years that she has been active, starting in the late 1960s. When I (and most people, I gather) think of the Indian film singers of that time, I (we) think of higher voices, including some voices might also even be called “thin.” I suspect some people who just saw that word “thin” know exactly what I’m talking about, because that was one of the criticisms that was leveled at Lata Mangeshkar when she started out. And then by the 1960s, the “Mangeshkar sisters” came to dominate the world of film singing in India. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, especially, ended up defining female singing in Indian films.
So I had no idea until the past few years that the Indian film world of the ’60s and early ’70s could have made even a little room for a voice like Usha Uthup/Iyer’s. Usha’s voice can be a bit lower and thicker even than many western female singers’, and it often has a certain unusually appealing hoarseness too. (And by the way, I did not come up with that word “hoarse” all on my own to describe her. I recall an interview with her in which she talked about how she was kicked out of a choir because the teachers, etc., could not find a way that she might fit in, in part, because – as she was told – her voice was too “hoarse”! But that’s part of what gave her such special appeal later on.)
There certainly was a huge contrast between Usha Uthup – or Usha Iyer – when she started out and the voices of Lata and her sisters – and that’s why it was doubly fascinating when Asha Bhosle and Usha Iyer were brought together to do a duet in the film Hare Rama Hare Krishna, in the song of that same name (sometimes referred to as “I Love You”). When I saw that film sequence, I thought to myself, wow, who is the lady singing the English part? And while it was not difficult to find answer to that question, for some reason, I took a few more years to get a good picture in my mind regarding who she was.
It is commonly known (as explained in Wikipedia, etc.) that Usha Iyer started out not as an aspiring playback singer but an increasingly popular singer in nightclubs. And while she was performing in those nightclubs, a number of interesting things happened to her. As a nightclub singer, she got to perform in a few cities, including Chennai, Calcutta, and Delhi. In Calcutta, she met her future husband, a man from Kerala whose last name was Uthup. (And that’s how the name change happened, in case anyone was wondering – in 1971.) Then when she sang at a club in Delhi, she was seen by a Navketan film crew (including Dev Anand), and that’s how she ended up singing in films.
Actually, before she sang in Hare Rama Hare Krishna for R.D. Burman, she got a role singing as part of a Shankar-Jaikishan soundtrack in Bombay Talkie, the 1970 English-language film directed by James Ivory (and produced by Ismail Merchant). She did not do playback singing in this film but, instead, her role was split between playing herself in a nightclub performance and singing as part of the background soundtrack. The night club scene in this film was the first of a couple of film scenes in which I have seen Usha Iyer simply play the role of nightclub singer, as she did in real life. I have to admit that this one is not my favorite (which I will get to soon), but it’s certainly noteworthy as the first.
As an aside, I will say that I wish Usha Iyer’s nightclub performance had been given a more prominent – and less tainted – spotlight in this film. The performance is basically provided as a background for a pretty unpleasant dialogue involving the main characters, who are fairly despicable characters too, if you ask me. (But that’s another matter – maybe I will get more into it if/when I write a review of this film some day). I have not been able to find a separate clip of her performing in that scene, but maybe it is just as well. I have found an audio clip of her performing the full song, which is kind of nice. The song is “Hari Om Tat Sat” The lyrics of the song are in English, and it is apparently a praise of truth – a theme that is also contained in the Sanskrit mantra that comprises the title of the song and the main verse. By the way, it could be that the message of the song was meant to connect to the characters and/or a general theme of the film in some way, but all I could think when I saw the scene in the film was that I would have liked to hear her sing the whole song without rude distractions. Anyway, this clip also shows a very nice picture of Usha, which is from Usha Sings Love Story and Other Hits, a compilation that came out in 1972. (This song is not actually on that album, but l will get to something that is a little later on.)
(Incidentally, I have noticed, just from a quick glance at YouTube, that she has done a number of other versions of this song through the years, sometimes in a very disco vein. But I think I would rather stick with this one, thanks.)
The other song that she is given in Bombay Talkie is “God Times and Bad Times,” which is used for opening and closing credits. This is a really soothing and sweet-sounding number, but, unfortunately (and I hope I am not spoiling anything by saying this), the second time that it is used, it directly follows a pretty horrific scene. So, in this case, Merchant and Ivory chose to distract us from a nice Usha song by tainting it with some terrible irony. But once again, still worthwhile… Here is another nice audio clip:
There was a film made a little later, in 1972 – Bombay to Goa – which also featured Usha Uthup playing herself as one of the singers in a nightclub, and as far as I am concerned, this is a place where she is much more given her due. (By the way, this was the second film in which she worked with R.D. Burman – a pretty good combination, apparently.) She never gets to complete any of the songs that she sings here, but she is given a chance to sing a piece of each song in the spotlight, and she is provided with a diverse batch of pop and rock’n’roll standards that allows us to see a good range in the type of singing that she can do. It starts out with Jose Feliciano’s “Listen to the Pouring Rain,” but it quickly moves on to other numbers, such as a jazzed-up version of the song “Temptation” (which has been performed by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and others), the song “Fever” (made famous by Peggy Lee, among others), and even Gene Vincent’s rockabilly classic, “Be Bop-a-Lula.” The scene also offers a nice challenge for her in another way, as the two characters – played by Amitabh Bachchan and Aruna Irani – each keep throwing new requests at her as a result of some kind of rivalry between them. At the end, she is forced to go back to one song and then the next faster and faster, and it gets pretty funny. But we also know at this point that she would be perfectly capable of doing a great full version of any of these songs too. (And I believe there might be clips of her doing full versions of these songs. I have not looked for all of them, but I know, for instance, that you can find a full clip of “Fever” somewhere. But the bit of that song that she does here is also good enough for me.)
I must admit that I have never seen the full film Bombay to Goa, but I will get to it one of these days. I know that I should have watched it a long time ago!
Although the Bombay to Goa scene shows that Usha could cover a pretty wide range, it doesn’t really show the entire range that she could cover, even just during the short time between the late ’60s and early ’70s. For something quite different, let’s go back a few years, to 1969. After I saw some of her film songs, I was very pleased to discover some real ’60s rock’n’roll numbers – including some classic psychedelic/garage kinds of stuff – that she recorded with a band called the Flintstones. I was actually pretty blown away (as the hip saying goes) by her performance of these songs, and I was very curious to find out who the band was that she collaborated with at this time. It took a little searching, but eventually I did find a very good entry in a blog called Seven 45rpm. I strongly recommend this post, as the writing – the description of the music, etc. – is very good, as are the details that this blogger managed to find. But I’m just going to give a very abbreviated version of the information I found there: The Flintstones were a psychedelic/garage rock group who performed regularly at Trincas, the club in Calcutta where Usha sang in 1969. (By the way, per Wikipedia, this is also the place where Usha met her husband.) These Flintstones seem to have had a very strong cult following. Usha Iyer did not join the band, but she collaborated with them on a couple of great records. The record called “The Trip” is a roaring work of psychedelic garage rock. Usha’s vocals on this are really strong; she has no problem rocking as hard as the band. Plus, as the blogger at Seven 45rpm pointed out, there are some very interesting lyrics in this song, and we can pretty safely conclude that Usha, herself, wrote them.
Just as Usha Iyer was no stranger to psychedelic rock, she certainly was no stranger to folk rock and and other music that came out of the 1960s folk revival. The 1972 album Usha Sings Love Story and Other Hits is a testament to that fact. “Where Do I Begin (Love Story)” is actually the least interesting song on the album, but I can only suppose that it was made the title track because the film Love Story was popular at the time. Some much more interesting songs on the album include her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” (which is very good – as I expected it would be) and the spiritual number “Sinner Man,” which had been performed previously by Nina Simone, the Seekers, and the Weavers. The one song from this album that really fascinated me was “White Winged Dove,” which is a pure anti-war song originally done by the American folk singer Mark Spoelstra, who, per Wikipedia, had sung right beside Bob Dylan when Dylan first came to New York City. This artist is a little before my time, so when I heard Usha’s version, I had to go to Spoelstra’s version just to hear what the original sounded like (because I was not quite sure if I ever had before). And after I did that, I realized that I don’t like the original nearly as much as I like Usha’s version. Curiously, when I went back to find Usha’s version of this song again, I happened upon a performance that she did of it in 2014. That was surprising, but I don’t see why she wouldn’t do it in 2014, since it was just as relevant then and it is just as relevant now – in the U.S., where Spoelstra wrote it, in the UK, in India, and everywhere else.
Also in the general area of folk-rock and mellow ballads that you might find most easily in the ’60s and ’70s, I wanted to close with this other film song, “Love Is Just Around.” There’s some orchestration in this song, but it is also quite simple and laid back, and very catchy. Out of all the Usha songs that I considered for this post, this song was the one that got stuck in my mind the most. It’s in a different category from the other film songs, because it’s from a Malayalam film, “Chattakari,” from 1974. The music for this film is composed by G. Devarajan, who I understand to be one of the great music composers of Malayalam cinema. The film won a bunch of awards in its day and also was remade in 2012. I definitely like the look of this clip, too, and I’m going to make sure to see this movie some day.
I think that 1974 is the latest point where I want to go with Usha Uthup/Iyer right now. I know that a short time later, she started working with Bappi Lahiri, so there must be plenty of Disco Usha that I will need to catch up with sometime. And I know that there is plenty more that she’s done over the years, and I suspect that she is singing somewhere right now, at the age of 73. But if I wanted to do an adequate summary of Usha Uthup’s incredibly diverse repertoire, I’d probably end up writing a book. So I guess that for now, I’m just going to stick to the part that would be the first chapter – a few of her performances from this early, five-year period that have splendidly and perfectly matched my musical mood of the moment.
What a fantastic post. I knew about her early film performances but not her solo work. I love her a lot, and actually have a huge soft spot for her stuff with Bhappi Lahri ( because of course I do). This is all stuff I was going to find out one day, but now thanks to you, I don’t have to!
Thank you – comment much appreciated! Speaking for myself, I am going to have to look more into the Bappi Lahiri numbers and other things she sang with that great voice. It is nice to see that you love her too!
Always a treat when she shows up on the soundtrack in a movie! And I do love that Bombay Talkie song, actually.
@Popka Superstar: And Bappi Lahiri again! :-)
@Richard: Loved this post. The first thing I thought of as soon as I saw the title was Bombay to Goa. Odd that I had forgotten Bombay Talkie, given that I have seen that film. It was good to listen to Usha Uthup again – I have loved her voice ever since I was little (that was around the time she was pretty popular too). So distinctive a voice.
Popka Superstar, yes, her voice is a treat. Regarding Bombay Talkie, it’s nice to see that you love “that” song. I don’t know which one you meant of the two that I posted and talked about – but they’re both good! :)
And hello, Madhu. Thank you for the nice words! I am very pleased to see that you loved this post – and that you have enjoyed her voice since your childhood!
By the way, I can certainly understand remembering her presence in Bombay to Goa first, for the reasons that I was talking about – it seems that she was given much more of a spotlight there (vs. Bombay Talkie). She got to do a nice stretch of nightclub singing there – even though those characters would not let her finish a single song. :)
” even though those characters would not let her finish a single song. :). True! But as you point out in the post, it does let her show glimpses of the songs she’s so good at. I need to go and watch that entire clip again!
I missed this post! It’s my husband who directed me here, and he says he’d never heard her rendition of Suzanne before, so you just about made his day. :) He’ll probably stroll around and comment sometime, so I’ll leave him to it.
Like Madhu, I grew up listening to Usha Uthup, née Iyer’s voice, and the first thing that comes to mind when I think of her is the song from Bombay to Goa. In the two degrees of separation that seems to follow me around, she was my father’s colleague’s (or friend’s – now I don’t remember) daughter. But no, I have never met her. :)
I’ve always loved her voice and now my son does, too. He’s been reading your blog because he likes reading about the background dancers and about dance in general, and his father told him about this post, so he’ll be around as well. :)
Strangely enough, a lot of what you wrote about Usha is news to me; which is a shame, really. No?
So I’m doubly glad you put this post up. This is one of her early numbers in Tamil – where she’s of course being a nightclub singer. Love is beautiful from Melnattu Marumakal.
Thanks once again for a very interesting post.
You are welcome, Anu. And thank you for the comments. I did not know that your husband and son were visiting this blog too – that’s great!
And I am glad that your husband checked out her version of “Suzanne.” I think that one’s great, too, even though I didn’t pick it as one of the video or audio clips to feature here.
Meanwhile, if what I wrote is news to you, that’s only because I zeroed in on some obscure things from the distant past. I am sure you could tell me a few things about Usha’s singing over the years!
And no, I am not surprised that you have a two degrees of separation story here. :) Though it’s not an association that I could have guessed in any way. I might have guessed that the association would have more to do with Usha’s husband, since he came from Kerala.
Thank you for the Tamil film clip, too. I did see that one before, but only while I was looking around for different things that she might have done after I had already started writing this post. :)
Of course, it’s not really a number in Tamil, because she’s singing in English… Unless there was an actual Tamil version too? There seems to be some sort of dubbing going on here, because her lip movements usually don’t match the audio. But that might have been the result of the way the YouTube video was put together too. Despite that, this is another very nice clip!
I visited Usha Uthup’s rendition of “Suzanne” when I read your article. I wanted to see how she would render Cohen’s song. So many people have done it, one of my favourites being Nick Cave’s version. Very good I thought barring the fade away at the end which is more of a production thing rather than her singing. I wish it had not faded away but just ended abruptly.
Incidentally you know that “Chattakari” was remade in Hindi as “Julie” soon after the orignal around 1974 I think and it had decent music too though Preeti Sagar’s singing (she sang the equivalent song in the Hindi film) or the tune , in my opinion, were as good as the Malayalam originals. I did not know it had been remade again in 2012. G Devarajan is a wonderful composer, and I discover something new everytime when I listen to his music. He and Vayalar were a great composer/lyricist duo in Malayalam and of course like others of that era die-hard communists.
I liked “The Trip”, though in my opinion of the lyrics were penned to fit the metre of the song rather than move out on their own . But then a 18 year old me might have found the lyrics great. I used to think Ian Anderson was a fabulous poet when I was much younger “bring me a wheel of oaken wood.. a rein of polished leather” but now things have changed.:-)
Undoubtedly the singing in “The Trip” is great as is the music and so is the Blues Train rendition that Seven 45 rpm talks about.
Thanks for introducing me to these songs.
SSW, thank you for your very interesting and informative comments! It’s good to see that you checked out Usha Uthup’s rendition of “Suzanne” and also thought it was very good. I really like the way she uses her voice. I thought there were some interesting lines in “The Trip” – actually, those lyrics are discussed more at Seven 45rpm. It’s OK with me if they were “penned to fit the meter.” The lyrics may not have “moved out on their own” as you interestingly put it (I’m going to have to think about that), but her voice did toward the end. I like the way she riffs with her voice at the end of these songs. There is more of that, actually, in another song she did with the Flintstones, their cover of “Dizzy.” She gets kind of wild at the end of that one; it’s a lot of fun.
That’s funny that you quoted that Jethro Tull line. I didn’t really recognize it, so I searched it. So, it’s from Heavy Horses. That’s right after I stopped buying Jethro Tull albums; the last one I bought was Songs from the Wood. I had most of the albums between This Was and that one. How did you know that as a young teenager, I was a big Jethro Tull fan? LOL But I also started to get into New York City punk rock pretty early, with Patti Smith. (Now you can’t say she didn’t concentrate on her lyrics – though in 1976, when I hadn’t even turned 15 yet, I really could not understand most of her lyrical references – but it all sounded very exciting to me.) So anyway, going off on a bit of a tangent here… By 1978, I was heavily involved in a punk scene (even though I was only 16 for most of that year). That didn’t mix so well with a Jethro Tull that was getting more soft and, sort of, prog-folk. But I never really stopped liking them.
Speaking of getting into punk rock, I had my biggest exposure to Nick Cave when I saw the Birthday Party at a club in the early ‘80s. I never got that into his later work, though people keep recommending it. I have actually gotten messages from a couple of different sources that I really should spend more time discovering the Nick Cave of more recent times.
I just checked out his version of “Suzanne.” It’s different… He’s got those female voices singing with him, but they’re deliberately not always singing at the same time as him. I am going to have to get back to that.
Anyway, wait, where am I? Oh, yes, this is the classic Indian film/music/dance blog. :) I did not know that Julie was a remake of Chattakari. I have wanted to see that (but still haven’t) because of the fantastic cast, stretching across generations. Sulochana/Ruby Myers and Sridevi in the same film? Wow. And I’ve heard that Nadira is really good in that too.
I will have to explore more of V. Devarajan and Vayalar. If they were communists, that’s good. Did you know that I have had an interest in Kerala’s communism for a long time? I discussed that a little in one of my early posts in this blog, from 13 1/2 years ago! See Item 1 in my post here: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2008/01/19/fascination-with-kerala/
Anyway, thank you for sending a comment that inspired me to go all over the place! :) Please feel free to send more comments soon.
SSW is my husband. :) (Two degrees of separation again?) Yes, Julie (1975)was the remake of Chattakkari. I hadn’t realized that Chattakkari had been remade in 2012. I wonder why they bothered. Looked it up and discovered that the director is the son of KS Sethumadhavan, who was the original director of both Chattakkari and Julie.
With regard to the clip, yes, it is from a Tamil film, and yes, she’s singing in English – most of her earlier numbers were in English irrespective of which language film she was singing in. You’re right about the lip sync, but that’s because the video and audio are not synced very well. It’s not dubbed over.
You must have heard her recent (-ish) number from Saat Khoon Maaf, right?
Anu, I thought that SSW was probably your husband because you had said in a comment above that your husband was especially interested in Usha’s rendition of “Suzanne” and that he would probably comment sometime. But I didn’t want to ask to confirm that; I thought it would be better to wait for the time when one of you might want to reveal it. :)
Regarding the clip of the Chattakari song “Love Is Just Around,” it’s too bad that the video and audio are so badly matched. Why should it be made to look like an English-dubbed song when it isn’t?
And answering your question about the recent-ish song “Darling,” maybe I’ve heard it or maybe not. I didn’t instantly recognize it. Unfortunately, my knowledge/familiarity with Hindi films and songs does not seem so impressive regarding things from current/recent times. I looked this song up for more information about it and saw that it won Usha Uthup a Filmfare award – shockingly, her first ever! Well, then, I certainly should store this in my memory. :)
While I watched the clip, I thought the Russian aspect was fun, and when I looked it up, I saw that it was based on an old Russian folk song. Maybe this song should be the source of a dance by the Mayuri Indian Dance Group from Petrozavodsk, Russia. (I was just recently, coincidentally, watching some of their recent dance videos.) I have done a few posts of them in the past, such as the one here: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/more-dances-from-indian-dance-group-mayuri-from-petrozavodsk-russia/
Richard, I did not know you were a Jethro Tull fan. They were a big thing in the Bombay crowd I ran around with in the late 70’s. First song I was atrracted to was “Wee sleekit cowrin timrous beastie, O what panic’s in they breastie…” . Growing up in Bombay my introduction to Western rock came in a cascade. Before I entered the first year of junior college my knowledge of contemporary western music was miniscule. The vast majority of Indian children did not grow up listening primarily to western rock and pop. You had to be with a particular set who had access to records or cassettes and that is the reason why I find English lyrics written by Indians of a particular era to be stilted. And I still feel it is so. They are not facile with the language. There are good musicians but their language does not speak of an Indian ethos because of their background. We can dig into that later.
I was introduced to Patti Smith in the 80s. Loved her singing and I liked her lyrics but could not relate to the imagery because by that time I was on my way to despising the good parts of every religion I was acquainted with and so did not want to dig deeper into her Christian questioning. I did not get too much into punk because somehow my flirtation with what you might call classic rock took me into jazz rock and then in pure jazz and I never quite got away from that. Rock seemed somehow less interesting musically and modern poetry took care of any appreciation of the lyrics. But there are too many musical styles around and there are only a few that one can digest. It depends on your seminal years, and for most Indians who are steeped in melody it is difficult to completely break into atonalities or even a chord based framework. Still from those years the American band I listen to over and over again is Steely Dan. Can’t get enough of them.
On Devarajan and his music , perhaps some other time. There is some great stuff there. As a young kid I thought that his music was simple, but time has changed my opinion… I will leave you with a clip ..
https://youtu.be/1mN22hpU-aI. It might be a bit long though.
Not film music, this is a different beast. If you need to understand what they are singing and about what write to Anu. She is steeped in this ethos.
Hello, SSW. Your quote after “first song I was attracted to” left me a bit confused. I was familiar with neither the Jethro Tull song nor the poem by Robert Burns that inspired it (I looked both of these up), but I gather that you quoted from the Burns poem and not the Jethro Tull song. :)
Jethro Tull went through an interesting progression from their roots. In their first album, This Was, they were very blues-based. Ian Anderson’s first inspiration for his flute playing was the jazz musician Rahssan Roland Kirk. Starting with their next album, Stand Up, they gradually brought in more traditional English folk music. They still did pretty hard rock through most of the ’70s, but with these other interesting influences. I think Songs from the Wood was their first album that had a much softer quality and became much more folk-based. Heavy Horses was an extension into that phase.
I like traditional English folk music in some rock songs, but for me, the greatest example to look to in that area is the band Fairport Convention, especially from the late ’60s, when the great Sandy Denny did lead vocals for them. I am not sure if you would know about them or not (they are not really that well known in general, though considered a great classic rock band by some).
I understand your thoughts about Patti Smith and her Christian references. Those don’t really affect me much one way or the other. She was very exciting to me when I was a young teenager because of the subversive quality of her music and poems – and maybe because I had interesting tastes when I was a kid. :) Regarding female-led bands from the CBGB scene, within a couple of years of discovering Patti Smith, I became a much bigger fan of Blondie, and I still am today. Their first four albums were great. Their attitude was punk and that was the scene that they came up in, but the music is more often just a slightly harder version of classic melodic pop influenced by ’60s girl groups, etc. (though later they also brought in disco and rap).
I liked a lot of ’60s music as a child, including some music that attempted to be more complicated, and my first exposure to Indian classical music was via George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, when I was still probably in my single digits, or barely out of them.
I became much more involved in discovering different forms of Indian music in the 1990s. For most of the ’90s, it was via somewhat electronic fusion rock music coming out of a scene in the UK known as the Asian Underground. I also picked up Indian influences from other, curious sources. For example, Jah Wobble was the first bass player for Public Image Limited. Maybe you know about them; they were the second band led by the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten. In the ’90s, Jah Wobble released a couple of solo albums that included singers from “world music.” One was Najma Akhtar. I got interested in Najma Akhtar, and so I looked into her earlier albums. Her first one (I think), from the late ’80s, consisted of jazz-influenced fusion versions of Ghazals. It was from the liner notes to that album that I first learned about the Ghazal. So that is how I went from punk rock to the Ghazal.
There was a lot of ’90s rock and electronic dance music that could be found (at least if one looked) that contained influences from different kinds of Indian music. I have to say that I got my first taste of Indian music(s) from western fusion music, but more from the ’90s than from the ’60s. (Everybody knows the mid-late ’60s as the time when Western youth was introduced to Indian music, but there was only so much I could listen to and learn from when I was 5 years old.)
But I can’t credit that source entirely for my education in Indian music, because for about half a year in the late ’90s, I ended up with a girlfriend who had been living in the U.S. for only two or so years after spending about 31 years in Pakistan. So, I guess you can say I found a way to get a little jump in my education on the matter – I cheated! :) But she really inspired me most to go for Indian classical music and dance; I didn’t learn that much about Golden Age Indian films and music until ten years later, and I did that completely on my own at first, from going into the DVD stores in Queens, NY (and then from doing my blog and “virtually” meeting people who would educate me in the subject much more).
I also learned about some Indian film music – especially Tamil film music – in 2007 by listening to the pop and hip-hop “singer” (well, mostly rapper) known as MIA. I discovered Ilaiyaraaja by tracing a sample in her song “Bamboo Banga” (the sampled song was in Thalapathi).
Anyway, so I am writing this long comment to give a little picture of the means by which I progressed from being a Western rock fan and teenage punk rocker to someone who loves many forms of Indian music, mainly via influences in the Western rock that I heard! Curiously, I am also not the only former punk rocker who became a big fan of classic Indian films and music. I met a couple living in the New York City area who have blogged about classic Indian films, one of whom (the wife) also gave lectures in a library about the history of Bollywood films and music, both of whom were once active in New York City’s “hardcore” punk scene of the early ’80s. I also learned a while back that Greta aka Memsaab, whose old blog was an influence on me and Anu and a few other bloggers we know, was once a fan of a crazy rockabilly-influenced band called The Cramps (whom I absolutely loved when I was 16 and 17).
At least in the West, you never know which people, with whatever musical backgrounds, might drift into a love of different kinds of Indian music (and films). It’s difficult to say what gives someone those kinds of affinities. I don’t know if you can speak more generally re. the other direction – about Indian people who might gravitate most to Western music or be familiar with it at first – but I suspect that there may be enough who defy generalizations. :)
In closing… Regarding that Devarjan clip, thank you – it is nice and interesting. I’ll have to return to it to say more. That singing is often very South Indian :) . . . but it’s choral, too. Didn’t choruses in Indian music – including a lot of film music – come from Western influences? (Kind of like the chord-based framework that you mentioned . . . and all harmony as we know it?) I love some Indian classical singing and, of course, it’s all solo.
OK, you really got me to go on a long comment this time! (Letting out the old pop/rock critic in me.) I hope you were able to read through all of that!
P.S. I can’t say that I was ever a big fan of Steely Dan, but I certainly have met people who are!
Richard , at the beginning of the song “One brown mouse” in the album Songs from the woods, the first lines from Burns poem is spoken before the song starts.
Yes I have heard the Fairport Convention, the bulk of my western popular music listening as a child was influenced by the BBC because I only had a radio at home and short wave was a godsend. I depended on the BBC for news, books, plays, music etc. I remember still rushing home from school to listen to a serialization of Jane Eyre every Wednesday at 4 pm Indian Standard Time, not so much for the story that I had already read but because it would start with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for strings in C major. Before the actual reading would start the second movement (the waltz) would be played and I loved that piece. I did not have a cassette player till 1979. These were not easily available in middle class Indian homes (at least not mine, my father believed a radio was good enough for entertainment and news. He wasn’t interested in music. He could quote Thomas Carlyle from memory and Sanskrit verses from the Bhagavad Gita).
I never knew of Najma Akhtar till around 1998 I think. I was browsing in Barnes and Noble and in the CD section I found something by her. This is true of many Asian music influences in England. In India we never knew of them and possibly weren’t really interested. I like Blondie by the way. “Heart of glass” in 1978 was the first song I heard of course on the BBC. May not be quite your cup of tea:-)
I included the Devarajan clip more from the point of what they were singing about rather than the music. Yes choral music was introduced from the West to India and particularly those regions that had a Christian influence as it came from the church choirs, though Christianity came to India earlier than it did to Western Europe. But in this case the choral singing is more of Communist influence, music was used to create songs of revolution, nationalism etc. Classical Indian music particularly South Indian was religious in tone and slowly by the beginning of the 20th century had a brahminical tinge.
All orchestral influences in Indian films come from western music, Indian music is monadic though you could argue that the tanpura’s drone provides some sort of harmony and Indian drums can actually play musical notes akin to solfa syllables. But you will notice that barring a few composers ,chordal harmony usually left to the arrangers was not of primary importance.
SSW, answering a few points:
Re. the Jethro Tull song… I double-checked this: “One Brown Mouse” is not on Songs from the Wood; it’s on Heavy Horses. That makes sense, because I probably would have remembered it if it were on Songs from the Wood, even though I haven’t listened to that album in a long time. Songs from the Wood was the last Jethro Tull album that I bought, at the age of 15, before I stopped purchasing Jethro Tull albums as I started to get into buying punk rock records. I never bought Heavy Horses. It seems you started with Jethro Tull just when I stopped. Anyway, I looked up “One Brown Mouse” on YouTube, and the version I got didn’t contain the lines from the Burns poem – unless I somehow skipped over them.
So you listened to a serialization of Jayne Eyre because it caused you to love a Tchaikovsky Serenade? That’s classy. The closest equivalent for me was getting to love a movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony after I watched the raunchy cult science fiction film Zardoz (in which Sean Connery wore a notoriously ridiculous future warrior’s outfit). Actually, I bought the whole symphony and a few others. When I was in my very early teens, I was influenced to like Western classical music and even buy a few symphonies, etc., by my uncle, who had once been a sort of child prodigy violinist who got to play in some event at New York’s famous Carnegie Hall. (He never earned a living from it, though. He became a high school biology teacher who moonlighted as an optometrist.) For some reason, I haven’t had that much of a love for Western classical music in my adulthood. I can tell people that I really enjoy classical music and listen to it fairly often, but what I mean is, say, raags and thumris. :)
And your father quoted Thomas Carlyle from memory? Interesting. My mother walked around doing that with Shakespeare.
It’s too bad that Asian music influences in England are not well known in India, because those influences are really a means for many Westerners to learn about Indian music. Although I think there are many Westerners who stop at the influenced music and don’t bother to trace it back to the Indian music. Maybe some fans did with the Beatles, but I don’t know if anyone but me discovered Ilaiyaraaja by tracing a sample in MIA’s “Bamboo Banga.” :)
If you included the Devarajan clip because you like it mostly because of what they were singing about, then I won’t know much about that unless Anu does translate some of that for me.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Malayalam films with communist themes and songs that were featured in them – only, of course, with English subtitles.
P.S. [remembered to comment on this the next day]: I don’t mind Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” – it’s a good song – but you’re right that that is not the Blondie music that drew me in – which was more their harder rock sound with the ’60s pop-rock/girl group influences. I got to like Blondie with their first album, which came out two years earlier (but was re-released a year later on a major label). Then my favorite Blondie album was “Plastic Letters,” which came out a number of months before they released “Heart of Glass” and the hit album Parallel Lines. It’s nice to see that you like them. I recently saw a friend from old punk days speak fondly of a Steely Dan album on Facebook. They are highly praised by many – I should give them another chance! But their sound just didn’t appeal to me back in the day.
RIchard, sorry that was my mistake. I forgot that One Brown Mouse was from Heavy Horses and the poem is quoted in the 2007 remastering of the song. Memory plays funny tricks.
The Asian(Indian) music influence in the UK you talk about is from the 90s. I doubt if the vast majority of the Indian public had any knowledge of it. MIA was somebody I heard of only in the late 2000s because of NPR. What was happening in Sri Lanka was close to us through the 1980s but it wasn’t associated with music.
Indians in the cities have always been exposed to western music though not necessarily contemporary western popular music. Out of the cities the influence is less. What might be a surprise to you is that Illayaraja was probably not known to most Indians barring the ones in the four main souther states. Rahman was probably the first composer from the South to become known from a pan Indian perspective.
The clip I included on Devarajan was to provide a different perspective of Devarajan. Not just composer of film songs but somebody who composed music for social causes. There were many revolutionary songs with social content sung in villages in drama troupes etc that were composed by him with lyrics poets like Vayalar and ONV Kurup. That clip had songs of that type .
For e.g. this song written by Vayalar and composed by Devarajan commemorates the 1857 war of Independence. It was written and composed at the time the first communist government in Kerala was elected in 1957. This was the second communist government to be elected anywhere in the world,
The title of the song means “The columns of martyrs”
SSW, thanks for posting the clip of “Balikudeerangale.” I am familiar with this song. Unfortunately, I never benefitted from a translation, but I knew it was a communist song and that it was a KPAC song. I also at one point knew the names of the composer and the lyricist, but it’s been a while since I looked into KPAC songs, so I didn’t make the connection in the present post, or when we started to converse about the song that you posted.
I’ve done a couple of posts about KPAC. Here is one that I did eleven years ago; unfortunately, all the clips have disappeared. There is one song included that I didn’t identify outside of the song clip – for all I know, it may have been “Balikudeerangale.” (I don’t really remember): https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/may-day-special-songs-from-the-kerala-peoples-arts-club/
I’ve had an interest in Ningalenne Communistakki (mainly the film, but the play by extension too) since 2008 . This is the first post that I wrote about that – and about KPAC, from September 2008: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/ningalenne-communistakki-1970-malayalam/
And here I did a post about returning to Ningalenne Communistakki. Unfortunately, all the clips are gone from here too: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/returning-to-the-songs-of-ningalenne-communistakki-but-still-looking-for-subtitles/
Did you know that the blogger Cinematters set up a blog on “KPAC’s Old Malayalam Drama Songs” and dedicated it to me at the beginning? :) He also made me an admin of the blog (as a surprise), but I asked him at some point to remove me as an admin because I really didn’t think I could do anything for the blog – I had already exhausted my knowledge on the subject with the posts that I had done on my own blog. https://oldmalayalamcinema.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/kpacs-old-malayalam-drama-songs/
Re. Kerala having the second democratically elected communist government in the world – yes, you are right! (It’s also known as the first democratically elected communist government in the “Third World.”) I always forget what the first one was. I just looked that up to be reminded that it was San Marino: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Marino
I became interested Kerala’s communist history back in 1997, when I received a pamphlet about it at an annual New York City event that was then called the Socialist Scholars’ Conference. (It’s now the Left Forum – but it’s a little different and not really as good.) The pamphlet was written by Richard Franke and Barbara Chasin. I linked to their work in the post about my “Fascination with Kerala,” which I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation. I wrote that post in January 2008: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2008/01/19/fascination-with-kerala/
Close to eleven years later, I wrote a post about “Returning to My Fascination with Kerala.” I wrote that one right after the floods (so I amended the title with the phrase “After the Deluge” in parentheses). In part of that post, I referred to the posts that Madhu and Anu had written about getting caught in those floods (or almost getting caught, in Madhu’s case). And, amusingly enough, you received a mention too – when I referred to an old conversation that I’d had with Anu, when she invited me to go sometime to her parent’s home . . . or to your home. :) https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2018/10/29/returning-to-my-fascination-with-kerala-after-the-deluge/
P.S. Regarding MIA, she wasn’t known to anyone before 2004 or 2005. She wasn’t one of the artists from the ’90s whom I was referring to. I found out about her in 2006 when I saw a clip of a performance that she had done, on a Bronx-based “public access” television station. The song through which I discovered Ilaiyaraaja was from her second studio album, which came out in 2007. If hardly anyone in India knew about Ilaiyaraaja outside of the southern states – well, that is a shame!
Richard I have tried to provide a translation of Bali Kudeerangale. I had to pick Anu’s brains because while Malayalam is my mother tongue , literary Malayalam is very much a strange beast to me. Not that I am well versed in colloquial Malayalam either, having grown up in the old Bombay..
By the way I was tickled to hear of the first democratically elected communist government in the Third World. Such a condescending appellation from the so called first world.
I shall read the articles you have mentioned slowly.
As you know its difficult to translate poetry and keep much of its original thought form especially when the said poetry is in itself multi-layered and can be interpreted differently by different people.
It was written to commemorate the 1857 war of independence (or the Sepoy mutiny as the British called it) and the raising of the Martyrs Column in Thiruvanathapuram by India’s then President Rajendra Prasad on the eve of India’s Independance day. Plus being written by Marxists the colour red takes on more than one meaning..So this a rough translation.
O monoliths to martyrs
Monoliths from wars that evoke memories
here thousands adorn your memorials with
the red garlands of their inspiring struggles
O monoliths to martyrs
Snowcapped mountains raised flags,
the seas set up a roaring.
in the Ganga where yugas(epochs) swim
the lotuses bloomed.
On the face of the earth, a new India arose
new lives threw away their shackles
With heroic ballads upon their lips
their arms encompassing bouquets
A new citizenry was born.
O monoliths to martyrs
Within you beat hearts that wrote
centuries of history,
you lit a blaze that will never be
extinguished through generations.
Donning the armour you wore on your battlefields,
we the people of the hills
unfurl our red flag anew.
O monoliths to martyrs
SSW, thank you very much for the translation! I was not expecting it. Well, that certainly is vivid!
It’s unfortunate that I did not get to the translation – nor your correction – until three days later, but I am a bit slow with this blog.
Regarding your being tickled by the reference to Kerala being the first democratically elected communist government in the “Third World”… Actually, these days, they use the term “developing world.” I don’t know if either term should be applied. But I think the context of this classification is that countries which ended up with nominally communist governments as they shook off colonial rule tended to reach that point through some violent revolution followed by something set up mostly according to the model of the USSR (after its civil wars and counterrevolutions) or China – a dictator and forcibly installed ruling party would lead the new state. Kerala’s communism went against those tendencies.
I am always tempted to put the word “communist” in quotes since, of course, no state that has ever been set up has really achieved communism. That’s why I would say “nominally communist” – though certainly with Marxist influences. Things can start to become awfully complicated if we become overly conscious of the words we use. :)
Excellent post, Richard. What a tremendous range Usha had (still has). Like you I first heard her in “I Love You” but what made me fall in love with her voice was her rendition of “Malaika”. It was frequently played on the radio and I thought it was an original song sung by her. I cannot find this version anywhere.
Unfortunately she could not make it big in Bollywood in spite of her collaboration with RD. It was Bappi Lahiri who gave her the first big break with Shaan. By that time she was already big in Kolkata.
Thank you, Soumya! And I agree that Usha obviously has a tremendous range. By the way, I tried to find an old rendition by her of “Malaika” – that is, the one that you might have been thinking about – but, no, it hasn’t turned up so far. I found a later rendition by her, probably from the past year (that’s the one you will get if you search on YouTube), but I’d like to keep looking for the old one.
I find it remarkable that she did not make it big in Bollywood via her collaborations with RD. Not even in the late ’70s? I thought that her “One Two Cha Cha Cha” surely must have been a hit.
Anyway, I just treated myself to the opening credits to Shaan . . . Well, she certainly used her voice nicely there too!
Yeah “One Two Cha Cha Cha” was a very catchy number and I think it was a hit. The problem Usha faced in Bollywood was that her songs were picturized on either minor or no-name actresses. The songs for the heroines were sung by Lata/Asha. As you have pointed out, anyone who did not have the thin, sweet voice like the Mangeshkar sisters were pigeon-holed as niche singers and were only given certain types of songs. If Usha had started her career in the 21st century she would have made a mark.
We’ll leave the discussion on politics for some other time. Coming back a full circle this is a cover of of Bread’s “If” telecast sometime on Doordarshan in the 1970’s. I used to have a cassette labelled “The best of Bread”.
And because this one of my favourite Cajun Creole songs I love the saxophone at the back supporting the voice. I wish there was a pedal steel playing in tandem.
And the thing is that Jambalaya is not even a Cajun song but at least Grand Texas is.
SSW, leaving the politics for another time is fine. In fact, I just deleted the detailed comment from June 26 going into mine – it really doesn’t belong there (in fact, it belongs there even less than our discussions about Jethro Tull and Patti Smith :) ). But I just wanted to give you an idea about where I am “coming from” – or came from a while back. Maybe it’s a discussion to be had more in e-mail sometime.
Thanks for posting the video of “Jambalaya.” I am familiar her version of that and was even thinking of adding it when I wrote the post. Glad to see it here!
I had to look up “Grand Texas”. . . I didn’t really know about the roots of the song. I am familiar with Hank Williams’ version; that’s about the limit regarding my knowledge about “Jambalaya” (or was – now I know a little more thanks to your reference).
It is really fun to see/hear Usha Uthup/Iyer doing a song like this – she didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem to have any regional/cultural boundaries in terms of the stuff that she likes to sing. :)
Regarding the Bread song . . . I like her voice in the song and also her expressions – she really got into it!
I had to look up Bread on YouTube to remind myself of what they did . . . OK, I recognized “Make it With You.” I don’t know much about them – they were never my thing. :) The clip that I found was from 1977. In 1977, when I was a teenage punk rocker, this was the last thing I would have wanted to hear. LOL But it’s certainly nice to be exposed to such a diverse range of things via the performances of Usha Uthup!
You have my email address we can converse on politics there though I am afraid any views I have today are very based on the the premise that “All men/women are evil some of the time”.. :-)
To be honest I had no idea of Usha Uthup’s forays into all these music forms. It is my younger son I have to thank for re-introducing me to her. I guess she sang anything that available from abroad at a time when it was difficult for the average Indian to get music from outside India. Most houses had a transistor radio or an old valve radio and that was it. So like her I listened Bread, and Deep Purple and Jim Reeves and the Beatles and Artie Shaw and Django Reinardt and Duke Ellington courtesy various radio stations. She probably had a record player. I got a cassette radio when I turned 18.
SSW, we can discuss politics in e-mail sometime, but let me answer your latest comment… :) I have no great argument with the idea that “all men/women are evil some of the time” – or at least, I would say, all show the potential or possibility to be evil – and that is why I would like to see movement toward a system in which no one can wield power over anyone else. That includes economic power as well as political power. If that can’t be fully achieved, then the closer we can get to that point (somehow), the better.
Sometimes it takes a great leader or motivator to get a lot of people on the right track to positive radical change, but I also would not want to indulge in the hero worship of any individual (at least in politics – artistic or musical hero worship is another matter :) ) or accept anyone’s word all the time without questioning. Everybody should have the right to question anyone.
And that pretty much sums up the things that my politics have been based on.
Now back to Usha Uthup…
It seems impressive that your younger son has reintroduced you to her. How old is your younger son?
It seems to me that quite a few Indian music directors have been able to hear and absorb different sounds from the West. It’s impressive that “Bollywood” – going way back – consists of so many snippets of music from different genres. Sometimes I hear people complain that Westerners – especially Americans or British – indulge in “cultural appropriation” because they steal sounds from different cultures. And I think to myself, ha, have you ever given a listen to what the music directors do in Indian films?
I can’t say I know much about what technologies made what sounds available to different people when. :) Speaking for myself, my knowledge of Indian film music and the people connected to it didn’t really develop in a full way until I had access to the Web and YouTube. That was in the 2000s, when I was well into my 30s or even in my 40s. Advancing technology results in a lot of things that I don’t care for (such as new kinds of surveillance and war) and it may have destroyed economic security for a lot of people (which is a long story not to be delved into here). But I have to admit that having certain relatively new technologies – such as the Internet and YouTube (and other video sources) – may have helped a lot of people expand their knowledge of music, films, etc., in ways that weren’t possible before. But, of course, people have to have sufficiently open minds and curiosity (and maybe some personal inspiration also) to take full advantage of these new(ish) things in that way.
Richard, our younger son is 16, he’s pretty good at music and has an excellent ear, much better than mine. I would say the same about our older one too. Both of them listen to some eclectic music because around the house we have Indian film songs (not just Hindi), Indian and Western art music, jazz, folk and art music from all across the globe and they got used to their parents listening to all sorts of things. I am all for borrowing influences from many cultures. If you want to call that cultural appropriation then I am all for it.
How poor would our cuisines, our music, our novels, plays etc be if we stuck to our own little wells. Imagine Indian food without, potatoes, chillies, paneer, groundnuts etc. Western music has been appropriated in India from the days of Thyagaraja and Tagore forget about 20th century Indian film music. Similarly Messiaen, Delibes, Holst , more recently Hovahness(I love his work) used Indian motifs. One of my favourite music directors in films fused a lot of western harmonic concepts with Indian folk melodies. I’m all for a hodgepodge though sometimes sadly the adoption of some things result in the extinction of others.
Now about technology I work in it, it’s my bread and butter and jam if you will and it has two sides like everything else. A blade cuts both ways. The Internet has allowed people from all over the world if curious enough to get to have some knowledge and experience cultures in their living rooms in a way they would probably have only through some curated books and radio. Its a great thing but there is always a dark side , as we say in Malayalam “In excess, nectar is poison”
SSW, although I have let a few days go in this conversation, I wanted to answer a couple of points that you made.
I totally agree with you in that I will completely support people’s freedom to borrow things that appeal to them or inspire them from any culture that they like, and I think that we all will ultimately benefit when people mix different influences from different places. I have been against most of these accusations of “cultural appropriation” or protests about the same.
As I’ve said, much of my knowledge about different kinds of Indian music – film music, classical music, Sufi music – is rooted in fusion music – that is, when these sources were freely borrowed from to create something within a modern Western genre, whether it was rock music or “global electronica.”
Regarding technology, well, yes, people have used technology to create a lot of good things. (As should be clear already, I have no problem with electronic music; I’m not one of those people who want to dismiss it with the complaint that we need to hear “real instruments.”)
But if you want to talk about how we get our “bread and butter and jam,” my story with regard to technology is not so positive. Technology has actually been used a lot to wipe out my main source of income for the past few decades. You see, I have mainly earned my living as a proofreader. I have done some more “advanced” editing too, but I have usually fallen back on getting most of my wages from a “proofreading circuit” in New York City, which mostly included law firms, with the occasional publishing place, government agency, or printer being sources as well. Unfortunately, this work has been increasingly wiped out, in great part due to the rise in use of computer programs that supposedly could accomplish the job just as well as human beings. Actually, they can’t (not yet, anyway), as is evidenced by an increase in errors that I have seen in so many things appearing in print or online. But I don’t think anyone in a management role would even dare to question whether it is better to automate a task when the technologies are available. Managers will always compete with other managers to push through the latest form of automation. So, while proofreading work is not exactly unavailable these days, it is much more scarce. And a lot of proofreaders also get stuck doing a lot of technical/computer work that has been inappropriately dumped on them.
Ideally, technology should allow people to be happier because it is supposed to enable everyone to have more fulfilling lives since they don’t have to do so much mundane work that the machines can do instead. I think that was an idea that was popular in our society at least into the 1960s. But the opposite has happened. When people’s work diminishes, so does their income. This does not have to be, but it is . . . because of capitalism.
Similarly, because of the way it facilitates corporate globalization, etc., technology has greatly contributed to stagnation or decline in wages and destruction of economic security.
But now I am getting back to the political discussion that we decided would be best had in another place. LOL
Usha Uthup’s best song (musically speaking) till date has to be “Vegam vegam” (Tamil song) from the Tamil movie “Anjali”, composed by none other than India’s most prolific composer, Maestro Ilayaraja. Sadly, due to language restrictions, this song never became popular in the so-called Bollywood / North India or even in other parts of the South barring Tamilnadu.
Charu, thank you for sending that along. (By the way, I reformatted your comment so that the video would be embedded here. For that to happen, there has to be a line break before the YouTube URL.)
This is good and I do like Ilaiyaraaja. But is it musically her best song? I think it would be pretty difficult to come to a conclusion regarding which song is her best!
For this post, I was particularly interested in focusing on her songs from the late ’60s and early ’70s – her early songs. It’s OK to get into her other songs in these comments (since the comments in general have gone pretty far afield anyway :) ), but I don’t think the early songs can be so easily compared to songs from, say, the ’80s or ’90s.
Of course, Usha Uthup can delve into so many different styles – almost any style, it seems. And that’s one of the great things about her!
This is my first time ever commenting on a blogpost (and I’m 2 years late!), but I just had to let you know I found this wonderful to read!
Both of my parents were born and raised in Bombay, though they never really exposed me to a great variety of genres besides the popular pop and classical sorts of Indian music.. so I never really took an interest in them.
Last year, however, I discovered some older Indian psychedelic artifacts through a small Spotify compilation and I’ve been hooked ever since! This could be me trying to get more in touch with my roots or just a fun hyperfixation, but in any case my new-found interest has sparked some late-night deep-dives of different aspects of the older Indian music scene in the last few months. After hearing “Until the Dawn” by The Fentones on the compilation, I just had to learn about the Simla Beat contests and participating bands, and I discovered so much more music doing so :-)
As a 16-year old, my most used music streaming service is Spotify.. and yes, the depths of Youtube have so much more to offer, but I’m a busy woman! I love finding compilations that match my interests, and today I happened to stumble across “Holy Long Hairs: Lost Psychedelic Rock Nuggets from India (1967-1972),” lucky me..!! I was immediately entranced by “The Trip” by Usha Iyer & The Flintstones, and now here I am! I’m listening to her Scotch And Soda album right now.. and ohh its heavenly. I love hearing older Indian artists sing in English.. which is why I absolutely adore Asha Puthli; “Say Yes” is a long-time favorite song of mine~
I’ll have to check out your recent post on Indian Electronica; while I’m not too familiar with Indian electronic artists, I do love listening to Western electronic music with Indian influence. Perhaps its because this music combines the two sides of me, I’m not too sure, but Western electronica with Indian instruments, samples, artists.. it’s delightful! Thievery Corporation, Ramasutra, Rhea’s Obsession… I also recently listened to “Vata” by Jam & Spoon and Shweta Shetty, which was something fun.
Apologies for my tangent about many things unrelated to Usha Iyer (whoops!), but I did really enjoy reading this post and I learned a lot, so thank you!!
Anushka, it is great to see that this blog post is the first one you ever commented on – really, I feel flattered! And thank you very much for the nice comments. Yes, Usha Iyer’s Scotch and Soda album is heavenly… You know more about the other old Indian psychedelia than I do. I am not that familiar with the Simla Beat or the Fentones (whom I am listening to as I type this), so thank you for the suggestions!
I have watched some videos of Asha Puthli and they are a lot of fun. I don’t always take to her music instantly – most of what I have seen was a range from R’n’B that she did in the earlier ‘70s to straightforward disco later on – but I it is interesting to see an Indian artist performing this material, and I know that she was a pioneer of sorts. I don’t know if you are on Facebook, but she is a member of a Facebook group that I joined called India Rocks, and her videos are regularly featured there.
Regarding the “Indian Electronica” post, well, what I mean by the term is, exactly, electronica as the genre developed in, say, the UK, the US and the West in general, mixed with traditional Indian influences. So, it could come from the West, or it could come from India. I don’t know how much of that post you have read at this point (since you said in your comment that you still have to check it out), but I referred to going “back to” Indian Electronica because I had been listening to a lot of that when I started this blog and it is featured somewhat during the blog’s first year – especially the first six months, before I took a turn and focused much more extensively on Golden Age Indian films and related music and dance… I had been listening to different kinds of Indian electronica since the early part of the 1990s, and some of it actually inspired me to dig deeper into older kinds of Indian music, film music, etc. (By the way, yes, most of the old Indian electronica that I used to listen to was from the West, especially the UK, but not all of the Indian electronica that I mentioned in the new post is from artists in India. Arooj Aftab lives in Brooklyn and was born in Pakistan. Her music is very eclectic, but she did some material – like the songs I included in that post – that could very well be described as Indian electronica, even if she should not be fully categorized that way.)
Among the Indian Electronica acts that you mentioned, yes, Thievery Corporation are very good, and they have been around for quite a while. I was not familiar with a couple of other names that you mentioned, but when I checked them out on YouTube, they reminded me a lot of other acts that I have listened to a lot since the 1990s and early 2000s. Ramasutra very much bring to mind some of my favorite songs by Loop Guru and Transglobal Underground. (I actually posted a couple of songs by Loop Guru to this blog during the early months – one in December 2007 and one in April 2008.) (By the way, wait a minute… I noticed that you said you were 16 years old? Did I read right? So you were one year old when I did these blog posts? No, that can’t be. :) ) Anyway, I also very briefly checked out a couple of selections from Reha’s Obsession, and they reminded me a lot of the Australian-originated “global Goth” group Dead Can Dance.
You could be right that your fondness for Indian Electronica and older Indian rock has to do with your searching for your roots or with the idea that you are part of both worlds and that sort of thing, but as someone with no Indian background, I really can’t claim the same thing. :) Having grown up in New York City (where I am still/again), I guess I was surrounded by many different cultures, and I also did experience rock music as a child exactly at a time when it was bringing in classical Indian influences. (Though my real attachment to different kinds of Indian music did not begin in the ‘60s-’70s but in the ‘90s and did not fully develop until the 2000s.) Later on, I could also claim certain experiences and at least one relationship (with a certain Pakistani woman back in the late ‘90s) as influences, but none of these things could fully explain my affinities. But maybe there isn’t really any need to explain them. I think that people can just naturally – even inexplicably – gravitate toward products of different cultures regardless of what their own cultural backgrounds might be, and I think that the more people feel the freedom to do that, the better it will be for everyone. :)
Anyway, I am glad that you went on those tangents in your comments on Usha Iyer, because it gave me an excuse to go on long tangents too! I hope that you will be able to send more comments in soon!