Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Kuldeep Manak Passes Away

Kuldeep Manak, the bhangra singer who worked with Jazzy B on his album Maharajas, died today aged 62. He was suffering from kidney problems and was admitted to hospital in Ludhiana with pneumonia. The singer was renowned for his traditional vocals and had hits throughout a career that spanned the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Why This Kolaveri Di? The Remixes

The sincerest form of flattery is imitation. In the music world, this translates to remixes. Why This Kolaveri Di is India's biggest hit right now and the remixes and cover versions are already appearing. In this post I present some of the wierd and wonderful versions of Why This Kolaveri Di in one handy list.

The Carnatic Fusion Kolaveri Di

The Psychedelic Trance Kolaveri Di

The Calvin Harris Mash Up Kolaveri Di

The Heavy Metal Kolaveri Di

 The Violin Instrumental Kolaveri Di

The Highpitched Dance Kolaveri Di
  The Crazy Hip Hop Kolaveri Di
The Anti Corruption Kolaveri Di

There are probably more Why This Kolaveri Di remixes out there and probably a few more to come. If there are any more good ones, there will be an updated list! 

Why This Kolaveri Di, Why?

Sometimes something unexpected happens and there is absolutely no reason behind it. The viral of Why This Kolaveri Di from the film 3, is one of them. This "soup song" about a boy's feelings after he has broken up with his girlfriend is a huge hit and has even been endorsed by Amitabh Bachan, Karen Johar and other stars of music and screen. The song is so popular that it even has its own T shirt!

But unlike the rest of India, I hate it! Unlike the usual hit songs I blog about, the lyrics are silly, the video is boring, the are no beautiful people dancing and I think that is part of its appeal. The film and music industries bombard us with flashy videos and catchy beats which can start to look and hear the same after a while. This song is so different that it was either going to be a massive flop or a massive hit.

There are a few other reasons why it has become such a hit. The lyrics are simple to remember and easy to sing along to. The lyrics are also easy to quote on twitter or facebook. The subject of the song, problems in love,  is something that many have experienced. The language of the song is also important. By singing in a mix of Tamil and broken English, Dhanush has ensured that the song appeals to a range of different backgrounds

It's interesting that this song was leaked like Chammak Challo from Ra.One. But instead of moaning about it, the directors of 3 went ahead and released the final version complete with a specially made video. They are now reaping the benefits of this quick thinking and have created a massive international buzz around a regional film that will not hit the screens until January. It is a marketing executive's dream.

According to the director, "kolaveri di" translates as "a murderous rage" and there are reports that husbands are singing this song to their wives. It takes a lot to write a hit song, but this song was apparently written in just 20 minutes and does have a slightly improvised feel to it which just adds to the appeal.

The success of this song must be making music directors think. Why This Kolaveri Di has broken the rules of what makes a hit song. I predict numerous songs in the style releasing soon to try and recreate the success that this song has had. Only music listeners can decide whether they will succeed in being as successful as Why This Kolaveri Di.

Check out the list of Why This Kolaveri Di remixes!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Bilal Khan - Khabi Gham Na Aey

Bilal Khan, the guitarist who started his musical career under a tree in a University in Lahore, has made a video for the song Khabi Gham Na Aey. This is his second professional video after Bachana.

The song in this version is a different version to the acoustic version from the Bilal’s album Umeed. I like this video version more than the album version. The production is better and the extra instruments add interest. I like the option to turn on captions and sing along. Translated captions, like those on Bilal’s performance on Coke Studio, would have been nice for those who can’t understand what he is singing.

The video is set in a clothes shop and stars a shop assistant and Bilal as a mannequin. Nothing much happens in the first half. There are some arty shots of rain against the window and footage from the security cameras as well as close ups of the characters. In the second half it’s all action as the sales assistant accidentally knocks off Bilal’s head and puts it back on. There is an earthquake and lightening strikes. Bilal comes to life and makes his way over to his girl. But when he gets there and reaches out to her he finds that she herself doesn’t move.

Music videos starring shop mannequins are not new, but these are the first mannequins I have seen who suffer an existential crisis. I like it when a music video tells a story, but I’m not sure I want to spend time trying to figure out what that story is.  I like Bilal’s music because it is simple and beautiful. This video detracts from the music and the view spends too much time thinking about the video and not about how beautiful the song is.

There has been confusion over the story and what the exact meaning of the concept is. The film’s director Abdullah Haris tried to explain his abstract concept on his facebook page, but I’m of the opinion that if you have to explain your concept so that people can understand it then it doesn’t work in the first place. I rather like the following story suggested by a youtube user: the girl is not a shop assistant, but a mannequin who comes to life at night and spends her time admiring Bilal. When she has finally willed him to come alive, he touches her and their time together runs out.

Overall, this video is different, creative and interesting. The concept might be too abstract for some people, but I like the ambiguity of the story. Both the song ad the video are good but it’s a shame that there has been more talk about the concept of the video than the music.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Take Five: Trains

Today's Take Five is all about songs with trains. Dancing on them, singing on them and even pretending to be one.

Dil Se - Chaiyya Chaiyya
Filmed on a train to Ooty in Tamil Nadu, this is song had nothing to do with the rest of the film but was still a hit. Farah Khan's choreography, which was inspired by a Tamil film from the 70s won her an award. Suprisingly there was only one person who was injured while dancing on the train. A modern classic.

Mangal Singh - Rail Guddi

The original 80s party track that had its own dance which only a drunken uncle could have choreographed. No wedding, party or other celebration is complete without a round of Rail Guddi even if it falls apart after the first verse. There have been a few versions of this over the years, but none of them are as good as this one.

Bunty Aur Babli - Dhadak Dhadak

Rani Mukherji and Abhishek Bachan dream of new lives and dance on a few trains. Often overlooked by Kajra re, which seemed to dominate the film even though Ashwariya was only starring in a cameo role, this is a great song and dance number. I don't know how Abhishek managed to stay on than moving train.   
Bilal Khan - Lamha  

Bilal Khan doing what he does best with a guitar whilst on a train. Simple and atmospheric, the music speaks for itself against the back beat of the rails. 
Pakheezah - Chalte Chalte

A classic from the tragedy queen Meena Kumari. As she dances she remembers the stranger who admired her feet whilst she lay sleeping on the train and left them a note. Due to her ill health at the time of filming, some of the full length shots and dance scenes were performed by a body double. This remix is also worth a listen.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Romay - Playing With Sound Review

I have never managed to win a game of chess. Remembering what piece moves where is the easy part, it is knowing how to use the different abilities of each piece to win the game. Like chess, music tracks are made up different pieces which have to work together. Romay is a producer who knows this and the cover from his album Playing With Sound is witty, clever and unique. Although it did leave me wondering how Sound would actually move the chess pieces and who would have won if a chess match between the two was possible.

The music on the album switches between East and West then mashes them together. Each track contains a bit of each, even if it is only a subtle hint of an Indian vocal. There is a good mix of tracks with vocals and tracks that are purely instrumental. The beats and basslines range from the incredibly dark and grimy to those that are light and sunny. Each track is different to the last yet they are all connected to each other through great production and awesome beats. Romay knows what he is doing and it shows in this album. Every track is incredibly well put together and I didn’t feel the need to skip any due to poor production.

Romay has used original vocals on Playing With Sound rather than Bollywood samples, which makes the tracks sound fresh and is something he should be given credit for. Saahvan is a great song. Indian vocals are set against a drum and bass background and the effect is stunning. Sapna is another Indian vocals English beat song, but the effect is lighter and sweeter and compared the other songs on the album and feels like a chill out track.

Nothing Without You is another song that uses Asian vocals, but this is heavier on the bass. Sajana Tere Bin is hauntingly beautiful. In Realisation, Romay again floats vocals over a strong beat, but these are sung in English. It’s a happy track and a great one to end the album.

Even though I usually prefer tracks with vocals, the instrumental tracks on this album are very good. There is a bit in The Time is Now that reminds me of the theme from the film Goldfinger. Despite this it is a great dark track. Moonshadow and Step To My Toe are two more dark grimy tracks worth listening to.

is my favourite track on the album. It’s an addictive funky sitar track with a slightly grimy edge. Retro yet modern, this is what it would sound like if Ananda Shankar had a studio in Berlin. The sitar is relatively simple, but the mix behind it is complex and the overall effect is unique.

Verdict: Romay mixes beats and genres like a barman mixes cocktails and he has a unique way of drawing the listener into his music. This is a solid album which is well put together and wants to be played again and again. On the cover, Romay might be struggling to play chess with Sound, but after listening to the album it is clear that he won the game.

Read the Sari-Clad Speakers interview with Romay here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Interview with Romay, the Man who Plays with Sound

Romay, the artist who set up his own record label, released an album yesterday called Playing with Sound. I distracted him from his work in the studio to talk about the album, why the UK produces the best dance music and his stash of Bollywood vinyl under the stairs.

Why did you feel the need to start your own record label?

There was no label out there that I thought was ready to take on my kind of music. We had a look around at the other labels a couple of years ago when we releasing Indian stuff. A lot of other people had their own labels as well. Nasha Records were doing their own stuff and releasing on their own label and so were quite a few other artists. We thought the way to go was to start our own label so we have more control over the music that we release.

Do you think Asian musicans and producers risk being marginalised and given an ethnic label particularly when it comes to the elecetronica and dubstep?

Depends what they make I suppose and the direction they take their music in. We do both English and Indian kind of stuff which you can hear on the album itself. We distribute our music through different channels. It doesn’t come out on the Asian market, it comes out on the English market under dance. We don’t really enter the Asian market even though we do use Asian vocals and things like that in our music.
We try to pitch more for a wider audience.

I started off doing English drum and bass. I released 23 singles during my time doing that before I started doing any Asian influenced dub step. Radio1 are playing our stuff quite happily and even the English DJs are playing are stuff as well. We are thinking about reaching wider variety of people rather than using just the grime aspect of dubstep we are trying to use more melodies, so its more accessible for a wider audience.

What future plans do you have for Accoustic Science?

To take on more artists onto the label. To give other artists more exposure and to carry on releasing some really good music. At the moment everyone is really liking what we are doing. There are a couple of dance EPs planned for next year. I’m working with Asian Dub Foundation on their next album, Working with The Truth on his next single. Keeping quite busy for the actual label itself. Nice plans for next year especially on the musical releases. We are looking forward to expanding the label with more artists and getting more music out there for next year

How did you come up with the name “playing with sound” - which has to be one of the most awesome album titles ever!
Thank you very much! I don’t know, it was one of the thoughts I had. I had to explain the album itself in the way of using Indian stuff, English stuff, dubstep, drum and bass and all the different sounds I had  in there. I thought the title really just approved the sound I was trying to push.In our industry you do try and make the tracks a little bit unique so you do start playing with the sound of the bass line and things like that so there is some kind of truth in there.

On “Ek Oh Jayahn” from the album and the single “Hassoure” you used two well known samples from an equally well known sample CD. What made you pick these samples over samples from bollywood films? You said on Nihal’s show you have a load of vintage vinyl underneath your stairs!
Yeh I do! I normally chose what is very melodic to me and I think I can write a song to. I do get sent a lot of vocal and stuff as well and about 90% of it I reject because I’m not really feeling them. It’s just as a individual and as an artist if I hear something really melodic sung to me  or if I hear something off a record and I think that’s really nice. If I can develop any thought behind it musically then I would always see If I can take it forward a little bit.

The whole load of the vinyl that I have, well my Dad’s vinyl, it just gives you a kind of reference about what people used to do back in the old days with the melodies. You don’t really go round sampling that kind of stuff.You can’t really release those samples from old school records.But it’s a good reference point. To see where the whole musical culture of Hindi music originated from.

The song I heard promoted first from the album was Heritage and that has quite a different sound from some of the other tracks on the album. I honestly thought there would be a few more tracks like heritage. What made you limit your use of Indian instruments to this one track?
Heritage is exactly what it is - it is a call back to our heritage of tabla and sitar. It was just that one track I wanted to do. I think a couple of the other tracks they have Indian stuff in there. It is mainly English stuff but because this track is more sitar driven, you notice it a bit more. With the sitar stuff its hard to find stuff that I can use and haven’t used before. I didn’t want too much complicated sitar stuff so I went for a simple sitar rhythm which worked really well in the track.

The reason I haven’t done any more of those tracks at the moment is just time, what I was listening to  and what influences me at the time. There are not that many sitar players doing stuff at the moment. Anoushka Shankar is still doing her stuff, but to me sometimes it sounds very dated. Like what other big artists have been doing. We like to do stuff ourselves. We’ll see what happens in the future I’m planning on working with some violinists and sitar players next year as well.

What future projects do you have regarding your own music now that you have made this album?

I think because I’ve done this album I have got a lot of stuff that I wanted to do out of my system. To show to  people hey look this is a new kind of sound that I would like to introduce and people have taken it on board so I’m really happy with that.

For next year I am working with lots of vocalists, lots more rappers and live vocalists. I’m developing a live show which will hopefully be ready by the end of this month. There is lots of production to be done for the two EPs - one full vocal EP and one dance EP for the English market.

You come across as a technical kind of guy. Your tracks have a certain structure and are well put together, yet listening to the album I feel like it was a labour of love. Do you ever have a conflict of heart and head musically speaking?
I always go with my heart if I am making something and I’m not feeling it. Even if it sounds good technically - I have made a few tracks like that which haven’t made the album. Really technically good. Sound fantastic, but not feeling the soul as much as I would expected to. So those tracks don’t make it to the album or don’t make it out anywhere. I always look for a definite piece of soul in the music I am trying to make.

Anything else you feel I should know about Playing with Sound that I haven’t asked you about?

It’s a representation of the last 10 years of my life in music and what I deem to be the best in UK dance. I like all genres of UK dance and I think we produce the best music in the entire world. To tell it honestly, all the best dance music comes from the UK and it is copied by everyone else. We are a really good source of independent music. We are just happy to be contributing good music to the scene. Hopefully people will appreciate us for it.

Each track I think took a month minimum to produce and mix. Sometimes I can make a track in about a week and half. But mixing and engineering it to make it sound even better. That’s where the additional part of the track comes through. When everything sounds really nice and not harsh to your ears - that’s when a you get the extra enjoyment of listening to the music. That’s what the extra week  that I spend working on the track- that’s the result of it. That’s what the big artists do. The produce something then send it off for post production. I don’t have the luxury or the funds to do that so I’ve spent most of my life learning how to do that, the professional techniques, and apply them to my music.

Stay tuned for the Sari-Clad Speakers review of Playing with Sound.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Take Five: Guitars

Today's Take Five is about songs making great use of guitars. Electronic, bass, acoustic, or even just as props, this Take Five has them all.

RDB- What

From the album Three, What is a great rock track from a trio usually better known for their Bhangra. Edgy and dark, this track did not get the airplay it deserved at the time. It's a great song from RDB and still sounds fresh six years later. 

Bilal Khan - Bachana
Bilal Khan's first guitar was a cricket bat which he used to strum along to Pakistani rock bands. Thankfully he picked up his first real guitar at 16 and gave the world Bachana. Simple and beautiful with a great video to match, this song earned Bilal followers all over the world. 

Kominas - Choli Ke Peeche
A cover version of the well known Madhuri dance number, the Kominas' version of Choli Ke Peeche is very different to the original. Packed with guitar riffs I can't imagine Madhuri dancing to this. This song is incredibly cool and credit has to go to the BBC for inviting the band to do a live session at Maida Vale studios.

 Yaadon Ki Baaraat - Chura liya
A classic here from Zeenat Aman, who looks incredibly fashionable in a white flared jumpsuit. She does not play the guitar for long and uses it more as a prop, but Asha and Mohd Rafi's vocals make this song great.

Apna Sapna Money - Dil Mein Baje Guitar
 This catchy dance number from Apna Sapna Money talks of hearing guitars playing in the heart. Why they had to shoot the song in a shopping center is beyond me.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Foji - Sajnaa

Foji, the singer who staged a bhangra flash mob in Birmingham, has released the video for his new single. Sajnaa is a love song from his album Daafa Ho Ja and was written and produced by Foji himself.

Thanks to the bhangra flash mob at the Bull Ring, Foji’s last video Pumbeeri won the award for best video at the Brit Asia TV awards. The pressure must have been on to create something great for his next video. But Sajnaa is slower and more mellow than Pumbeeri, so a fast paced video would not have worked.

The video for Sajnaa is simple. It shows Foji talking a long walk. First in a market, then in a park and then he strolls around London. His walk is intersected by shots of a woman also walking around. There are no glitzy effects, no back up dancers getting drunk in a club and no costume changes. The simplicity of the video could be mistaken for pretension, but I don’t think the bhangra industry has enough time and depth to be pretentious.

The mystery woman and Foji obviously don’t go for walks in the park very often. Foji wears bright white trainers, which cannot have stayed white for long after trampling down a muddy path. The woman must have been feeling cold without a jacket to cover up and I don’t think she could walk very far in skimpy flats.

I can’t work out if Foji is in love with, or has recently broken up with the woman as he takes his own life into his hands. Foji walks in the middle of a busy London road and crosses one traffic filled street like they do in India. You only walk down the middle of a London road if you want to get hit by a motorbike and have a death wish.

Overall this is a nice simple video and it makes a refreshing change to those set in a club. But the simplicity also means I will get bored of it after a few views and it will probably not win Foji any more awards.