Thursday, February 23, 2006

Indiavision: The Weird and Wonderful Sound of Bollywood

I'm well aware that Bollywood (India's extremely proficient counterpart to Hollywood) was in vogue among hipsters (or the people who think they are those) already a couple of years ago, but I only got really into Bollywood's amazing soundtrack music, when I found from local library Metso this 16-track compilation of Indian film music from the period of 1966-1984.

Indiavision (2005) is a French-compiled selection of those weird and wonderful Bollywood film composers and singers. What fascinates me in these songs is how they take influences from Western film and popular music (rock, pop, psychedelia, disco...), mix them with their own musical heritage and instrumentation, and turn them into something that is simultaneously innovative, strange (at least to our Western ears), funny and beautiful.

Among sitars, tablas and Western-type of film orchestras with strings and brass you can hear spiky 60s and early 70s type of wah-wah pedal guitars and even some analogue synthesizer sounds. The songs are in Hindi but every now and then include some suitable catch phrases in English. Most bizarre this is in 'I Love You' by Usha Iyer and Asha Bhosle, where the lyrics "I really love you / I really do" are combined together with a cheery "Hare rama, hare Krishna" mantra; then at the end of the song one of the singers asks in hipster English: "Can we go a little faster, man?", receives an affirmative "Yeah!", and the tempo of the track duly speeds up.

Strange tempo changes are not the only things making this not too similar to Western pop; the songs often consist of various parts of different styles which follow each other in a surreal, even dream-like logic (just like the plots of most Bollywood films). These songs in their style, making one think of late-60s psychedelia, go somewhere beyond cheap exotica or "world music" styles. Like Brazilian Tropicália, this is truly a sound of international fusion of taking Western styles and mutating them with home-grown influences into something new and amazing. Since this compilation stops already to the year 1984, I can't tell how Indian film music today is, but if they keep following the tradition at display here, it really must be something to check out.

See also:

Indian Psych

Bollywood clips @ YouTube