Earlier this week, a music video was floating about the Internet. It was an extended Television Commercial (TVC) of the Turkish arm of a Cola major. Exquisitely shot on a beach in the golden sun, and featuring a mix of hunky men and gorgeous women, it was a video that would’ve grabbed attention, even on mute. But, my laptop wasn’t muted, and the melody caught my ear within a split second. It was a familiar tune- Southern superstar Rajinikanth’s superstar son-in-law Dhanush’s monstrous 2011 hit Kolaveri Di! It had been sung with the peculiar Mediterranean lilt and in slightly quivering voices but, it was terribly catchy, nonetheless. Clearly, music knows no boundary!
A few days later, a friend in the States sent me a song, produced by Will.i.am, to listen to. She wrote in her message along with the song, and I quote her, “Girl, check this out! What a killer track. You should be out here making such music”.
The song’s called It’s My Birthday. Those of you who’re familiar with the workings of the virtual world, please do check it out. It’s a note-by-note, <g data-gr-id="82">beat-by-beat</g> replica of AR Rahman’s 1994 superhit <g data-gr-id="83">Urvasi</g> Urvasi. I felt it was my moral responsibility to share this, as well as a whole lot of ARR’s music with my friend. Needless to say, even a day hadn’t passed and ARR had a new devotee in her! And, that made me <g data-gr-id="80">realise</g> how musically rich we are as a country, and yet, we don’t seem to take as much interest and pride in it as we ought to. No, this isn’t going to be a preachy piece about how our interest in indigenous music can be revived. I mean, who am I to preach, really?
I prefer listening to blues-rock over Hindustani classical! But, it is time we realized how blessed we are to be part of a country, a society, a culture whose music has spread far and wide and touched more lives than we can ever imagine! Today, I’m going to share with you a few anecdotes about Indian music that will, hopefully, intrigue you, and you will let yourself get drenched in the rich, magical ocean of our country’s music on this lazy Sunday afternoon.
Any of you knows who the first professional woman shehnai player of the country was? I didn’t, till last evening. <g data-gr-id="69">Bageshwari</g> Qamar. She’s a disciple of Ustad Bismillah Khan. She made her debut in the year 1983 and was hailed by listeners as the Shehnai Queen of the nation. She has accompanied her guru at many recitals, and in 1988 she represented India at The Bharat Mahotsav in Russia.
AR Rahman’s Bollywood hit Chamma Chamma from the movie China Gate was one of the first mainstream Indian songs to feature on an international film’s soundtrack. You might want to rent a DVD and watch Nicole Kidman shimmy to it in the hit musical Moulin Rouge. Makes for great Sunday viewing!
The frontman of iconic Britsh rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, is, *hold your breath*, Indian! Yes, the singer, born Farrokh Bulsara, of hits like We Will Rock You and I Want To Break Free is of Zoroastrian <g data-gr-id="76">descent,</g> and spent most of his childhood in India. In 1954, at the age of 8, Mercury was sent to study at St. Peter’s School, a British-style boarding school for boys, in Panchgani near Bombay. One of his formative musical influences at the time was Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar! So, all of you wannabe rockstars who scoff at Indian film music, now you know Freddie’s secret!
A lot has been written about the Beatles and their brush with Rishikesh and the associated paraphernalia. But, how many of you know that George Harrison was in India to seek sitar lessons from Pandit Ravi Shankar? Yes, this happened. The story begins in July 1966 when the Beatles first arrive in India. Already in love with Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music, George Harrison heads straight to Rikki Ram’s, a music shop in Delhi’s Connaught Place to buy himself a <g data-gr-id="74">sitar</g>. Later that year, Harrison returns to India with his wife to learn the sitar under Panditji’s tutelage.
Mobbed by fans in Delhi and Bombay, Harrison and Pandit Ravi Shankar fly to Srinagar and find the peace and anonymity they are looking for in a houseboat on the tranquil waters of the Dal. In the months after, Harrison would often speak of his sitar lessons in Srinagar, sending hundreds of die-hard Beatles fans backpacking to Kashmir, in search of the houseboat that he had stayed in!
Long before the advent of the Internet (and music sharing platforms like YouTube) and artistic collaborations became commonplace, our very own Asha Bhosle recorded a track, Bow Down Mister, with Boy George which became a big hit! Since then there have been records with Nelly Furtado, and even with UK <g data-gr-id="72">boyband</g> Code Red! Who needs to look westward when we have swinging stars in the midst of us?
And, these are just a few examples of how cool we really are. To discover what really lies beneath, you’ll have to give the music a chance!
The author is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy