Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bollywood Whirls To Sufi Music

Lately, either Bollywood (India's equivalent of Hollywood) increasingly seems to be entranced by sufi music or I've been noticing it a lot more due my growing interest in the sufi music genre. When a friend recently asked me to come up with a list of sufi songs featured in Bollywood movies, I figured it was a perfect idea for a blog post. Of course, sufi music has been far too prevalent in Bollywood for me to attempt a comprehensive listing. What follows then is a representative list that also calls out some of my favorite songs, singers, and composers. But before we begin let's briefly describe what defines the sufi genre of music. Sufism is a mystical tradition within Islam wherein there is a heavy emphasis on having the practitioner sing and dance (whirl) with extreme soul and passion in order to express love for Allah or God. It is no wonder that sufi songs evoke such a positive response from the audience. Note that whereas the qawwali (group) form of sufi music has been present in Bollywood films since time immemorial, this blog post is in reference to the comparatively more recent influx of the solo strain of sufi performances. And, yes, Bollywood has indeed taken some artistic liberties with sufi music in that although the central facet -- insanely passionate love -- is present, it is often in the form of a traditional love song, i.e. directed not at Allah or God but at a human love interest. Here then is a roll call of what I might include on a box set meant to showcase the growth and present state of sufi music in Bollywood (complete with liner notes). Note that some of the songs listed below are non-sufi songs by sufi singers and vice-versa.

Are You A True Geek?

I highly recommend this fascinating list of 64 Things Every Geek Should Know by Blair Mathis. The article is an invaluable potpourri of the state-of-the-art in geekdom and a great reference to turn to in your moment of need.

  • Wish to recover data from a crashed disk drive?

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  • Need to digitize your old cassette tapes?

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

An Insatiable Appetite For Rahman

It is true. I suffer from Rahmania -- an insatiable appetite for the music of AR Rahman. However, analyzed closely, it's merely a hunger for good music. And this longing for transformative music has, of course, led me to explore not only anything and everything put out by Rahman but to also to acquaint myself with his predecessors and potential successors. My search culminated with the discovery of two excellent pieces on Rahman. The first article is AR Rahman: The Road to the Oscars by Baradwaj Rangan, written for a forthcoming issue of the Rolling Stone magazine's Indian edition (launched in February 2008). This is a golden piece that could only have been written someone who has been living and breathing Rahman for much of the past two decades or so since Rahman burst onto the scene with his revolutionary score for the movie Roja (1992). Rangan offers juicy, must-read vignettes of Rahman's major musical milestones. The very well informed comments that follow the long piece allude to potential successors including Vishal-Shekhar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal Bhardwaj, and the most recent arrival -- Amit Trivedi -- whom I wrote about just the other day. Steven A. Kennedy's An "Unknown" Indian Film Music Master takes a slightly different angle and educates us about Ilaiyaraaja, whom most regard as Rahman's predecessor insofar as he was, prior to Rahman, the most successful music composer in South India. Like Rahman, Ilaiyaraaja is heavily classically trained and experiments with Western genres. Unlike Rahman, however, Ilaiyaraaja did not manage to penetrate audiences beyond South India. Those unfamiliar with his work would most certainly have to be non-South Indians and for them Kennedy proposes a set of suitable entry points including two instrumental works of East-West fusion (How To Name It? and Nothing But Wind) as well as two movie soundtracks (Mumbai Express and Cheeni Kum).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Amit Trivedi Is Not Rahman

Comparisons are always unfair. Sachin Tendulkar isn't Sunil Gavaskar or Donald Bradman. Abhay Deol isn't Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan. And, you guessed it, Amit Trivedi, the up and coming music director who has given us memorable soundtracks for Aamir and Dev D, isn't Rahman. However, Trivedi is a rising star on the Bollywood music direction scene. He possesses an unusual talent for raw rhythm and excels at bass lines and percussion. For example, the opening of Chakkar Ghumyo (Aamir) is both inventive and raw. He also borrows creatively from Western influences. For instance, Phas Gaya (Never Mind) reminds me unmistakably of Jamiroquai. Here again, similarly to the opening for Chakkar, Trivedi employs verbal percussion very effectively. He experiments successfully with various genres, e.g. rock on Nayan Tarse (complete with guitar feedback) and Emosanal Attyachaar (Rock Version) and rap on Pardesi. Also worth noting is the use of sampling, e.g. on Nayan Tarse. To me, his rhythmic inventiveness is his core strength. I have, however, yet to see the nuanced compositional underpinning tying an entire soundtrack together thematically as the classically trained Rahman has done on the scores for Water, Kisna, or Bose. Perhaps that is still to come since Trivedi is just getting warmed up with only two movie soundtracks under his belt, both of which hit the listener like tsunamis. It's a clever idea to include 18 (mostly small) numbers on the Dev D soundtrack, thereby allowing Trivedi to showcase a wide variety of his skill set and giving most listeners something to hang their hat on. A great debut is one that keeps fans thirsting for the next offering and Amit Trivedi has more than achieved that. I define a good album based not on how many hits it produces but on how many times one is drawn to listening to it over and over again in order to completely internalize the richly textured music. And on that account again, Trivedi scores big.