It seems there is a lot about Middle India that we can learn from its matrimonial ads. One of the most popular characteristics it seems to crave for in partners — ‘traditional yet modern’ — is reflected in its choice of music. It partly explains the popularity of television shows such as Coke Studio and of the rash of re-recordings of old classics that seems to be breaking out in most large vernacular music industries.
At such a time, composer Sneha Khanwalkar is making her mark in a rather radical corner of the market. She was the one sent out by director Dibakar Banerjee to find out a song for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (‘Tu raja ki raj dulari’) from the gut of Haryana. She not only found it, but sampled enough sounds on her trips to lend an air of authenticity to the rest of the plain-speaking film’s score. In recent weeks, she has surprised us on MTV Sound Trippin’ by picking up local voices and sounds from regions as far-flung as Ludhiana and Majuli island, and mixing them into striking ‘modern’ compositions. In an era of DJ mixes, she has been able to keep her ear closer to the ground than have most of her peers.
Her latest work is for The Gangs of Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap’s film in two parts, for which she has shared the composing credits with Piyush Mishra, who has left his inimitable sarcastic kick in some of the songs’ lyrics, too.
Now even after a lot of vapourware clouding the film’s music release, the CDs were not available in Delhi music shops till the middle of the week. But that didn’t prove to be a barrier, as the songs — all 14 of them from the first part of the film — had been released on the internet more than a week ago. I shopped on Flyte, Flipkart’s mp3 store (bit.ly/wasseypur), though you can also go to gaana.com or other such websites.
The music, which has been fetched up from the bowels of Bihar and Jharkhand, is a testament to the incredible churn the Bhojpuri film and music industry has gone through. It is reflected in the rise of Manoj Tiwari, one of the most popular singers in the language who has sung the album’s first song, the rollicking, dholak-boosted, heavy-bass-lined ‘Jiya hai Bihar ka lala’.
On Twitter, writer Naresh Fernandes (@tajmahalfoxtrot) recently pointed to a remarkable paper — ‘Music mania in small-town Bihar’ — published in Economic and Political Weekly. In it, researcher Ratnakar Tripathy gives us a rare view the spread of the Bhojpuri/ Maithili/Magahi music industry. He puts down the moment Tiwari became a star as a Budhwa Mangal concert held in Varanasi in 1988. The year before, Anoop Jalota had offended the concert’s audience by inviting them to match an intricate taan. This year, he was booed off stage and there was a roar to bring back Tiwari, who had sung earlier. So the vernacular took over a stage that had been given to semi-classical fare.
In the decades since, Bhojpuri music has grown several folds. Estimates are difficult, but Tripathy’s research says the CD/VCD industry alone could be worth R500-1,000 crore today; and then there’s the larger live concerts market.
To their credit, Khanwalkar and Mishra have acknowledged the richness of such a thriving industry and not given them a Bollywood makeover. They have kept the earthiness and storytelling tease in the voices of singers such as Manish Tipu and Bhupesh Singh, and Gaya’s Ranjeet Baal Party. Even some of the typical drum-and-cymbal instrumentation has been maintained in places. The film’s team seems to have curated the songs and then provided a texture or highlighted some portions with western sounds and rhythms.
For example, the live version of ‘Womaniya’, with its playful language benders, comes off all raw in the voices of Khusboo Raaj and Rekha Jha. (As happens so often with tunes in the piracy-ridden Hindi heartland, the melody is mostly borrowed from the popular Laxmikant-Pyarelal song from Karz, ‘Mere umar ke naujawano’.) But in the regular version, there are layers of beats and sounds added to pace the song while keeping the voices intact.
Vedesh Sokoo and team’s ‘Hunter’, on the other hand, is a laid-back reggae beat that has, somehow, been doused in Bhojpuri sensibility with the lyrics and some of the instruments. It’s East going over to the west of West.
Not all the songs are by Bhojpur locals. Composers Khanwalkar, Mishra and Amit Trivedi have sung some other numbers. Usri Banerjee has provided a rare polished voice on ‘Manmauji’, which reminds us of flirtatious numbers from the early talkies. (Disclosure: Banerjee is a sister-in-law to me.)
But the overall feel is unmistakably Bihari. It’s as if the composers are standing in the middle of Bhojpur and shouting: “This, too, can be Bollywood.”