What is it about our folk arts that makes us keep them at a step-motherly distance? We do not celebrate, canonise or even dismiss them with the intensity we seem to be able to invoke for the rest. We do not know the name of the Madhubani painter or the Bastaar craftswoman whose works line our living rooms. But a cheap print of a horse may get the right tilt of the lamp shade because it has Husain’s name on it.
This old divide between the arts and the crafts is as clear in music as in the visual culture. It’s somewhat like the ‘folk’ treatment American blues musicians got at times in the 1930s and 40s. But most of them managed to get their names above the titles (for example, ‘Muddy Waters, Folk Artist’ on Chess Records). At home, even that is a rarity. From Rajasthan, one of the most recorded of our folk traditions, we have shelves of music by ‘the Langas and Manganiars’, but little more than the tribe names.
Unheard Rajasthan (Rs 295), one of a series of collections brought out by the De Kulture label, does not correct all those wrongs. But it at least names the artists and tells us a bit about their traditions. There are songs in the Shekhawati, Marwari and Dhundhari dialects. The communities represented in the eight open-throat tracks include the Jats, Rajputs, Meghwals, Meenas and, well, the Langas and Manganiars.
‘Dhomaldi’, the welcome song, has the voices of Multan Khan and his troupe converging on the broken beat like cats leaping and landing unfailingly on all fours all the time. In the second track, ‘Moomal’, Bachchu Khan Langa’s voice touches the notes as a snake slipping along a dune. The third — ‘Nabh Kamal Vich’, a short Meerasi bhajan — is the roughest-hewn gem of the album. Aamin Khan’s voice makes you believe that the ‘unheard’ in the album title perhaps isn’t all that much of a stretch.
At a length of more than 17 minutes, the sixth track, ‘Bagan ka bhawnra’, is the most ambitious. It also happens to be one in which the small dhol and the chimta cook up concentric storms that drown out the chorus. Clarity is restored with ‘Jeera’ by Jatiram Bhopa and his Bhopi, who tell us of the uses of the spice that sets apart much of Rajasthani cuisine. In all, the album is a spicy serving that will make you ask for seconds.
A tribute to Old kitsch
With Housefull, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have achieved that rare feat that had eluded them since Kal Ho Naa. It’s good not just for one or two songs — but all the five original numbers are likely hits for one set of listeners or another.
The Hinglish humour of Brand Akshay helps in ‘Volume kam kar, papa jaag jayega’ by Ritu Pathak, Neeraj Sridhar and Alyssa Mendonsa, and in Mika’s cheeky reprisal of Kishore’s ‘Apni toh jaise taise’ from Lawaaris (1981).
Rafi sound-alike Shabbir Kumar (of ‘Jab hum jawan honge’ in Betaab, 1983) comes back from the dead to parody his own style in ‘I don’t know what to say’. And Sunidhi Chauhan’s pre-1990 coyness presents a perfect foil for the song that reminds you of Kamal Hasan’s ‘We are made for each other, samjhe’ in Ek duje ke liye (1981).
This is not where the dot-joining game ends. The accordion at the beginning of ‘Oh girl, you’re mine’ is not far from that in Aks (‘Bandah yeh bindaas hai’). Also, the drawl of Vivienne Pocha in ‘Loser’ is oh-so-close to ‘Aaja gufaon mein aa’ from the same film. A nice way of doing an Anu Malik on Anu Malik.