Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bollywood's dark underbelly.

Or should that be overbelly? Hard to say for sure, when what we are talking about is the replacement of guitars and horns with strings, and the taking out of flashy percussion. The effect is dark indeed--haunting, insidious, even a little spooky. But the means is surprising. Even with the inclusion of tabla, finger cymbals,an Indian trap set--this is clearly westernized vision.

But the record transforms those western instruments into something that will not surprise listeners of the Kronos Quartet's earlier recordings. They do sound like they belong there in these songs of old Bollywood. Yes, they have replaced the crackles and red-zone sound distortion with a modern richness, but they've retained something of the spirit of oldness that is transporting about the music itself.

Which is to say, the songs on You've Stolen My heart: Songs from R. D. Burman's Bollywood build a vision of Bollywood that both is and isn't. It isn't the strange smiling that often accompanies the lip-synched performance of the musical numbers in the movies. And it isn't the oversaturated colors of saris and silk and sometimes cushions and sparkly shoes. But it is the imaginative space that the films create through their stories and even more through their music.

But just listen to the first number on the disc, Dum Maro Dum. It's altogether slower and smokier and more unsettling than the one from the movie, like if you looked at all those saris through sepia-tinted glasses. It's got a low bass insistence (synth and cello?) that comes straight from Peter Gunn or Link Wray and his Wraymen.

The sound grows more complicated with the inclusion of the liu qin and pipa on these tracks--in place of such Indian instruments as santoor and sarod. And in lieu of the more simple percussive elements on some of the originals, there is djembe, talking drum, batajon. The liner notes link these sounds to "Burman's musical polyglotism," and a musical form associated with a particular nation--or even nationalism, if you think of songs like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (not reimagined by the Kronos, alas)--is allowed to speak of its international appeal.

I was very excited to see that the album takes on the heavy-breathing numbers that I love about Bollywood--like Piya Tu Ab To Aaja. The whole song sounds like it is coming out of an old gramophone, if you could imagine not just your head but your whole body inside the horn. But the esteemed Kronos Quartet doesn't back away from the back-and-forth on that song--the breathing of the exotic dancer, the calling of her lover--even as they let their strings take on the gypsy quality that Burman's song goes after.

But how can it be that Asha Bhosle still sounds as fucking fantastic as she did back when those old classics were first recorded? How is it her voice sounds just as perfect with this reinterpretation as with the originals? I suppose I should not be surprised, when her career as a playback singer spans almost sixty years and more than 800 movies--so far (including 2 pix from 2005). It is the same way that the amazement of that sound could be embodied by so many beautiful women who mouthed her voice on screen.


mtnRoughneck said...


Howdy. I'm still among the living, just putting my writing efforts into skoolwerk.

Oh, and I got distracted by this event a couple of weeks ago.

I think you would have enjoyed it very much.

Isis said...

Hey mtnRoughneck,

You're alive! Great news. And man, that Epicurean Classic sounds amazing. I wish I could have gone to everything.

Can't wait to hear about Great Lakes life.