Surely you are familiar with the image of the NRI uncle who breaks into olden songs after a peg or three. It’s difficult to stop him once he gets going. The fawning aunts lament that had he taken up singing as a profession, the Adnan Samis of the world would have had to run for cover.
Shujaat Khan did — that is, he chose to be a singer more than a sitar player, his initial calling. But the image refuses to go away while listening to Khan’s drawing-room-winning voice singing “8 scintillating traditional north Indian folk tunes” in ‘Lajo Lajo’.
The gayaki style (mimicking the human voice) of sitar honed by Shujaat’s father, Ustaad Vilayat Khan, is well suited to playing folk songs. Vilayat himself also grew the rather distracting habit of breaking into singing in the middle of recitals; but the sitar came first. With the son, at least on this album, the priorities seem the other way round.
None of the ‘Lajo Lajo’ songs sends the drawing room curtains aflutter. Eager to ensure no one’s drink is spilled, they plod along easy beats and get going only after short alaaps that are more like hums with which the uncle ‘catches’ the tune. The sitar, however, often gets crafty — most memorably so at the beginning of ‘Lajo’ and ‘Nit de vicho’.
The most folksy it gets is with ‘Chait mas bole re koyeliya’, a song from the eastern Hindi heartland based on the same tune as Asha Bhosle’s ‘Badi der se megha barsa’ (Namkeen, 1982). In Khan’s case, the moody flute’s build-up is undone by faux koel chirps.
Trying his sliding hand at folk tunes is another strings player from the classical world, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. In ‘Desert Slide’, his eight-stringed Mohan veena (in effect, a 20-stringed guitar counting the sympathetic strings) pairs up with Anwar Khan’s Manganiyars.
Rather than laminating everything with a gloss fit for middle-class drawing rooms, Bhatt takes up the challenge of mixing his guitar with rough folk instruments such as the dholak and the khadtaal by keeping a respectful distance. And the arrangement works.
The album, first released five years ago in Britain, starts with an overdone ‘Kesariya baalam’ — 14 minutes of it sound a bit stretched. ‘Jhilmil barse meh’, a rousing song in Desh raag, is also stretched beyond 13 minutes.
Only when it gets to ‘Hichki’, another folk tune arranged in different styles over the years, the 17 minutes of it seem worth the perseverance. Bhatt’s slider, which stays more on the blue notes in the beginning, works up the frenzy of a jor three-fourths through. If anything, you miss the falsetto of a younger voice.
By the last song, ‘Avalu thari aave’, it’s early morning — mood-wise, that is. And it’s worth a steaming cup of chai.
On the road, again
When Kalyanji-Anandji set to music their 1980 hit ‘Laila o Laila’, they couldn’t possibly have foreseen that one day it would be served afresh with Punjabi tadka. In what seems to be the latest road movie, Gourov Dasgupta has done just that by flipping the beat.
The real Punjabi tunes — Sukhwinder Singh’s ‘Matargashtiya’ and Kamal Heer’s ‘Kaun si badi baat’ — sound a bit tame after the Laila reprisal.
The order of the songs is mixed up. The jacket doesn’t line them up and the machine reads the titles in a wonky order. (‘Desert Slide’ has a similar glitch.)
There’s another confusion in this one. Natalie Di Luccio’s ‘Moments in life’, set to music by Rohit Kulkarni, is an extended jingle for an ultra-luxe soap mistakenly copied into this album. Please don’t tell me it’s not so.