Theirs is an unshakeable nostalgia of the present. Sachal Studios of Lahore, the world’s only Pathan-suited orchestra to record jazz standards, usually plays old tunes with an old-worldly orchestration of sitar, tabla and violins. But they manage to make them sound like something not heard before, as if they are plucking afresh some old evergreens. Theirs is a retro chic, served unapologetically up for today’s listeners.
So it’s with an odd relish that one approaches their new collection, Jaidev Unheard. What would a team that made its name playing Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take five’ make of melodies scored by a Nairobi-born Indian composer who passed away a quarter century ago?
Jaidev will be known to Hindi music lovers as the composer of classics such as ‘Allah tero naam’ and ‘Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya’ in Hum Dono, of ‘Ek akela is sheher mein’ in Gharonda, and of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s epic poem Madhushala.
Connoisseurs say one of his songs for the 1963 film Kinare Kinare, ‘Har saans’, is among the sweetest that Lata Mangeshkar has ever sung. To me, Jaidev will also be the rare music director who got a voice as squawky as Asrani’s to sing ‘Rama dar laage’ in the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Alaap.
We are not told how musicians of such seemingly diverse persuasions came together for Jaidev Unheard. But we have a clue: the lyrics of two of the eight songs on the album, ‘Ranjhan’ and ‘Woh aya’, are credited to Izzat Majeed, the Oxford-educated, London-based entrepreneur who co-founded the studio in Lahore and named it after the Sindhi Sufi poet Sachal Sarmast. It’s difficult to go beyond this dot-joining to their cross-border collaboration without explicit acknowledgement.
All the melodies are bathed in an olden golden hue. The intro to the first one, ‘Tum agar rooth na jao’, is stretched memorably by a harmonica. Then the orchestra jumps in with its bank of strings and everything starts swimming in their enthusiastic output. It’s like a 1970s’ Bollywood sound machine. What shines through is the voice of Bina Khan, whose timbre reminds us at times of Nayyara Noor’s.
‘Dheere dheere’ skips along at first along a daf-lined beat before merging into Ballu Khan’s majestic tabla. ‘Ranjhan’, sung by Ali Raza, is sprinkled liberally with the stardust of an acoustic guitar. ‘Woh aya’ takes off from one of the traditional tunes for Radha-Krishna frolics. Bina Khan’s clear taankari is worth a mention here.
You can get a start hearing the solo harmonica opening to ‘Sar mein sauda’ and in a flash be transported to the familiar dusk of Sholay’s Ramgarh. Singer Ali Abbas handles Firaq Gorakhpuri’s words thankfully with the laidbackness of a Jai, and not the violence of a Veeru.
‘Zindagi hum tere har pal’ is a preparatory sketch or a derivative of one of Jaidev’s compositions for Dooriyan, the 1979 Uttam Kumar-Sharmila Tagore film: ‘Zindagi mere paas aana’.
‘Kabhi kabhi yaad mein’, a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is rendered haltingly and lovingly by Hamid Ali Khan.
It’s an album of immense archival value. And of melodies that will never grow old. This is retro chic for all ages.
Shanghaied by formula?
Dibakar Banerjee must be on to something new, by which I mean ‘old’. After formula-bending work in his first three features, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Love, Sex aur Dhokha, the filmmaker seems to have gone all-out for formula in Shanghai. I say all this about his choice of music, of course.
Vishal-Shekhar’s score for ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘Imported kamariya’ seem destined to be played at idol immersions as much as in discos. The best the album gets is when Neelesh Misra’s words combine with Shekhar Ravjiani’s voice in ‘Khudaaya’.
Is this the same Dibakar who sent out Sneha Khanwalkar into the boondocks of Haryana to get ‘authentic’ music for Oye Lucky? Well, next time we will be listening to the exciting new work by the protégé, not the master.