(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 19, Number 6, 2000)
Bollywood: The name given to the Bombay-based Indian film industry, a massive business that over its long and illustrious history has churned out hundreds and hundreds of films (out-producing Hollywood at one point). For these many hundreds of films a year, thousands of songs and millions of minutes of soundtrack music were needed. And of course there was a well-oiled music machine to provide whatever was required, quickly and at a good price. Consummate and expert panel-beaters, or blenders, and the various musicians who made up the top session pools provided the musical assembly lines for Bollywood. They were able to fashion everything out of anything musical. Creatively they fused Western influences with traditional Indian song forms and music, and the singers were often able to perform in any style or range.
Using a large amount of linguistic and imaginative poetic license here, I can imagine the arrangers laying out the structure of the music and how it is to be shaped to the nuances of the particular film's story line, telling the musicians what they should play and where to emphasize, underscore, undermine or create a sub-text to the action on screen.
"We want a bit of Twist guitar here."
"A pinch of James Bond there."
"We start with a splash of reggae, heavy on the Augustus Pablo please."
"Some James Brown bump."
"A funky Isaac Hayes' Shaft wah-wah guitar sound which the violins, this is for you fades to North by Northwest Bernard Herrman."
The reality, I'm sure, was much more prosaic. But the range and depth of musical diversity that was on tap from which to draw for construction of the music was immense, despite the factory-like musical assembly line. But I suppose the other way of looking at such a system is that actually it gives you the freedom to experiment, to do whatever sounds right, as long as you just bang the music out, next, next, next.
Bollywood Funk (Outcaste) is a beautiful compilation with 15 classic tracks culled from a selection of the great hit songs, theme tunes and superfine soundtrack moments from some of the great filmi masterpieces of Bollywood, a sort of Bollywood greatest bits. The Outcaste label was set up about five or six years ago to release and promote the work of the current young generation of Indian musicians in England, spinning off from the success of the English bhangra scene, and particularly the London bhangra club world. Outcaste concentrated on putting out music that sometimes was modern/trad-ish, like percussionist Nitin Sawhney, while in other areas, artists like Mo Magic and Ges E + Usman explored various kind of fusions and funky beats and excursions into the drum-and-bass world.
But to digress here a little about d&b: Ahhh well, fare thee well d&b, rest in your unsettled peace half between this and halfway between that, now you are certainly yesterday's fashion. You were son of jungle and uncle of the dance craze that is obsessing the children of our nations this particular week: U.K. garage, AKA underground garage, AKA two step, previously AKA speed garage. My apologies for the diversion there.
Bollywood Funk is Outcaste's first venture into the retro end of things. I don't know why I call it retro, call me old fashioned [Hucker, you are an old codger trying desperately to relive your childhood. Ed.] , but to my ears this sounds very modern, very hip, very groovy, very sampled, very crispy, way ahead of its time and with very lovely tunes. Some of the tracks are Cinemascope epics in their own right. For example "Pyar Zindaghi Hai" starts off in English with the question, "Hey man, you dig this sorta music, eh? You like it? Then come and join in lovers' paradise." The wah-wah guitar leads the breakneck pace, the horns charge forward repeatedly, until the female vocals start and things trip back to Hindi. The sleevenotes comment on this track: "Love is life and who are we to argue, especially when it's played and sung as funky as this. Shades of '70s Euro discotypes Boney M and studio trickery a go-go."
"Chura Liya" is one of those stone classic tunes that you just cannot get away from. You hear it when you visit the Indian-run grocery shop; it seems to be permanently on the stereos of Indian taxi drivers. It even became a huge crossover hit again when redone by young Brummy bhangramuffin star Bally Sagoo. On the sublime "Baby Let's Dance Together," a jazzy funk groove is explained away as "Imagine New York circa Carlito's Way well this Bombay the hard way." What I find quite amazing in all the Indian film music is that it is outrageously wild and experimental. You get tabla and fuzz sitar, you get what is described as "Shaft goes to India." Indian film music is an acquired taste but quite addictive. (It is not worth playing this music through expensive hi-fi speakers. I suggest you set up some cheap thrift-shop speakers to listen to this on the ones with duct tape holding the cones in are best.) [www.outcaste.com]
I approached A Lo Cubano (Cooltempo) from Orishas rather tentatively, not sure what to expect from this French-based Cuban rap outfit. My antipathy to American rap music is only equalled by my dislike of hip-hop music. But I was pleasantly surprised. Thankfully I would say Orishas are nearer to the French rap tradition of MC Solaar and his tribe of followers than to the "hood." Orishas have created a very potent and fluent mix and steer clear of slavish Stateside copies. The "real" Cuban elements are all there and up front, while the extra beats and the lyrical chatting are well integrated. "Represent" is one of the star tracks on this impressive release, as is "Chan Chan," known here as "537 C.u.b.a," a moody workout while "126.96.36.199" is a solid-gold groove. Top notch.
It sounds as if they have been listening to a lot of French rap music down in Mozambique. Karimbo by Mabulu (World Music Network) features elements of what is described as a "new Mozambican rap movement," which sounds to me a lot like the French movement. It also features musicians of previous generations: The oldest is Lisboa Matavel, known as the "Grand Old Man of Marrabenta," who started singing in the '60s, the youngest the 22-year-old Chiquito who heads the aforementioned Mozambique rap movement. Recorded in difficult conditions during the floods earlier this year, this group or "project" was intended as a catalyst to bring the people together. What's it like? Well, I must confess that apart from a few instances East African music has never really got my juices going. But there is some weird and interesting-sounding music in this release. I like the way it jumps from raggamuffin and merges into marrabenta and then back again. On "Yingisa" and "Mahanhela," there is some very nice vocal work from female singer Chonyl. It's worth checking out this release, but why did I have to use a magnifying glass to gather the information of who sings what and where? The type is so small it is unreadable.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.
Hunter S. Thompson
I have no idea where this particular gem of Mr. H.S.T's wit originally comes. But having it presented to me in black and white, laid up in front of my eyes by the ultra-cool hipsters of the CuBop label in their press mail-outs, I thought it was too good a quote to be kept circulating just among us hacks. The Latin music biz is no more immune to the avarice, stupidity, crass commercialism, greedy corruption, underhand dealings, career-enhancing agendas than any of the other musical businesses. In fact it sometimes has a reputation for far exceeding the industry standard of double dealings common in the rest of the biz. As always, we have to look to the margins for the interesting stuff.
From Puerto Rico come a couple of recent crackeroonie'n'three-quarter releases, in the shape of timbalero Valentin Valdez and oldster bassist Bobby Valentin. It is always a pleasure to discover these kinds of roots releases that pop up from time to time. Valentin Valdes is described as the "Prince of the Timbales" This youngster has to bow in deference to the master--the mantle of "King of the Timbales" belongs to the late Tito Puente. But on his current form it should not be long before Valentin can assume more regal status. El Principe del Timbal (Shangai Music) has contributions from singers Lalo Rodriguez and Tito Allen, while Roberto Rohena guests on bongo and campara. Half of the tracks are instrumentals including the first track which is Latin jazz. I mean you cannot get much more uncompromising than when you put a Latin jazz tune as the first track. Of course Valentin's timbales are featured way up front all the time, which is fine by me. "Rumba De Brovos" is a spirited stormer with vocals from Rodriguez and a wild bongo solo from Rohena, and Valdes lets it rip as well. On "El Principe del Timbal" his pyrotechnic drumming rides on a searing piano riff and blasts of alto sax. On "Ya Llegue/Hom a Louie Ramirez," Tito Allen steps forward to pay tribute to the late great Louie, after another rip-roarer of an instrumental in "Pensando En Vieques," where the piano comes over all jazzy. You then bound into a bouncy "Gracias Colombia" which is a popular mover on the floor. Then, bang bang, you are into a big-thump timbales workout called "Tocome Los Timbales." This slightly offbeat tune has great potential in the "popular" market. "Homenaje al 'Rey' Tito Puente" tops out this top-quality release.
Fellow Puerto Rican Bobby Valentin has been a stalwart of the Bronco label for many years. He usually puts out gutsy solid music, which is not surprising when you have a band made up of the cream of Puerto Rican musicians. His newie La Gran Reunion (Bronco) is no exception. A whole raft of guest vocalists add their distinctive voices and Johnny Pacheco contributes flute on one track. Virtually every number on this 13-track release is great; there are no fillers. I can play out at least five tunes off this, which shows just how good this release actually is. The horn section is enormous and even features heaven of heavens a baritone sax honking away. Class through and through.
An interesting release comes from Orquesta Sublime and their Sublime Havana (Bembe). It's a gentle but swinging foray into their old-style charanga sound. Originally formed in 1957 and still led by Melquiades Fundora, here they are joined by sax player Klaus Roehm who adds some very tasteful playing to their exquisite willowy flute and violin sound. Full marks to Roxana Peralta who gives us some soulful vocals. Definitely give this one your attention it stands out from the crowd.
400% Dynamite (Soul Jazz) is a worthy successor to the previous highly acclaimed 100%, 200% and 300% Dynamite compilations. Subtitled Ska, Soul, Rocksteady, Funk and Dub in Jamaica, this double vinyl release is ram-packed with monstrously wonderful tracks. Things get off to a rambunctious start with Bongo Herman's "Chairman of the Board," then Tenor Saw and Buju Banton call to "Ring the Alarm Quick," Prince Buster gives us "Girl, Why Don't You Answer." Then "Under Mi Sensi" gets another airing. Next up is the Cimmarons and "We Are Not the Same." "Cuss Cuss" pops up. It just goes on and on, the hits just keep on a-coming. But it's worth its weight in a fairly precious metal just for one of my all-time faves, Dennis Alcapone's classic "Cassius Clay."
And finally don't forget from the CuBop label their excellent sampler
CuBop 2 and the explosively excellent Ray Armando and
his Playground Quintet with Mallet Hands. A fire-breathing
percussive blast of 98 octane smokin' Latin jazz. Fill her up please. Vroom
Copyright 2000 Dave Hucker