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For the love of brass

The praamps, dhishes and toots brought it all back. One evening of uproarious music by Jaipur's Kawa Brass Band at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival reminded everyone present of the magnetic pull such a sound can have on a crowd. Amitava Sanyal writes.

music Updated: Nov 12, 2011 00:06 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Band Baja
Music: Manohar Band, Shyam Band and Ramzan Band
De Kulture Music, Rs 90
Rating: ****

The praamps, dhishes and toots brought it all back. One evening of uproarious music by Jaipur's Kawa Brass Band at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival reminded everyone present of the magnetic pull such a sound can have on a crowd. When I later went up to congratulate band leader Hameed Khan Kawa, he replied modestly that he wished they had presented some of their more "artful pieces". But the crowd, gyrating wildly to ‘Mere dholna' from Bhool Bhulaiya, seemed not to mind.

Even so, a few people had tutted at the end of the evening that we Indians were yet to recognise the musical heritage of our popular, non-military brass bands. They were right. But I happened to have had a minor stroke of serendipity the week before. Looking for some non-formulaic collection from Rajasthan, I had stumbled upon an album of brass band music from the state, titled 'Band Baja'. It promised 'hungamedaar sangeet' (roof-raising music) from the Marwar and Sekhawati regions. Once back to my music system, I played the album so many times that it must have confused my neighbours.

The brass band sound may have undergone a sea change from its early days as a marching accompaniment to the Ottoman army. But one feature seems to have remained hard-wired in the music: it is still meant to put the rhythm into the feet of the listener. And as such, it's best enjoyed standing up — walking, dancing or, well, marching.

So please don't be surprised when you get an almost inaudible "Ek... ek-do" — the bark of a drill captain — at the beginning of each song. Then, just as anyone who has ever heard a brass band in India would remember, the instruments follow the lead like a loose-limbed alligator. They do not fall in place like in a super-tight studio production; rather, their allure comes from being able to make up an Impressionistic whole with a pyaank here, a pip-pirip there, and lots of dhish-dhish all over.

The three bands on the album play this up in their own distinct ways. Manohar Band, which is credited with five of the eight songs, is led by thin-timbre pipes followed by some larger horns. My favourite from their repertoire is 'Pallo latke', whose opening bars sound like Kishore Kumar's 'Shokhiyon mein ghola jaye phoolon ka shabaab'.

Ramzan Band's horns sound similar to Manohar's, but its drums are more rounded, like dholaks. The band's only song, 'Kalyo kud padiyo', is the peppiest and the shortest in the album.

One wishes one could hear more of Shyam Band, which has low-pitch leads and drums that are between snares and dholaks. Their 'Lehriyo' features harmonies as delicate as the most exquisite mille-feuille. It's the best that the dance of a loose-limbed alligator gets.

Getting the Picture
Dirty Picture
Music: Vishal and Shekhar; Lyrics: Rajat Aroraa
T Series, Rs 175
Rating: ****
Yes, it's flirty and, at times, downright dirty. But it's a bit surprising that the album of Dirty Picture is a bit cutesy, too.

Its dirty half-dozen is led by 'Ooh la la'. In the song, Bong bling king Bappi Lahiri (saying this phrase 108 times rapidly could be a good articulation exercise for singers) gets to say the album's raunchiest lines: "Chhedenge hum tujhko, ladki tu hai badi boombat." What a lovely musical irony: the song, when not reminding one of RD Burman's compositions in Kati Patang and Baharon ke Sapne, shadows Bappi-da's 1970s' disco sound, complete with its 'twee-twee' beats. Shreya Ghoshal pipes in with the Asha-esque hiccups — as does Bappi-da.

When you hear 'Ishq Sufiyana' in Kamal Khan's voice, you might wonder whether it was originally composed for Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's voice. But let's please not take anything away from Kamal's heart-warming, open-throated rendition. In her version, though, Sunidhi Chauhan sharpens the song's multi-track harmonies.

After the slushy qawwali, the lyrics get back to being dirty. 'Honeymoon ki raat' paints a portrait of Silk Smitha, the screen siren on whose life the film's story is based. It begins: "Honeymoon ki raat hoti hai, main uss raat hoon." Got the picture?

In 'Twinkle twinkle main little star ban gayi', Shreya puts on a drama as vivid as in some Geeta Dutt songs, while Rana Mazumdar does the RD grunt.

It makes you realise that the album is the sonic equivalent of fairy lights, rather than of greasy neons.