It was in May 2007, when British record producer and DJ, Paul Oakenfold, first met Kailash Kher. Oakenfold, who’s worked with the likes of Madonna, Nelly Furtado, Brittany Murphy, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and has contributed to the music of The Bourne Identity, Die Another Day and The Matrix Reloaded, was looking for an exotic Indian voice, who could contribute to a song on his upcoming studio album, Pop Killer.
Oakenfold happened to hear the song, Ya rabba(Salaam-e-Ishq), and was floored by Kher’s voice. He quickly got in touch with him, and requested a collaboration. The duo worked on several ideas, including remixes of Kher’s popular Sufi numbers. Ultimately, a fresh track, composed and sung by Kher, was finalised and both seemed upbeat about it in interviews.
Two years down the line, news that the collaboration is set to release Pop Killer in the next couple of months, has flooded the Internet. But Kher is shocked, since he says that the deal was called off last year.
Reveals a visibly upset Kher, “Last year, Paul had asked me to compose a fresh song for his album. I didn’t know much about him, but people knew of his work and convinced me to collaborate with him. I composed something for him, and he liked it. Creatively, we were both on board with the song.
“But commercially, and logistically, things weren’t working out,” says Kher. “We expressed that to Paul’s international management agency, and then called off the deal. But a couple of days ago, I received a Google news alert that he was launching his next album, and my track is on it. I am stunned by the dishonest and unethical way in which this has happened without my consent.”
Kher says that his international manager and Oakenfold’s management had exchanged a number of emails last year, but once negotiations were off, there was no hint from their side that they would use the song regardless. “We have evidence on email that we had said that we were not interested,” says Kher. “No contracts were drawn, and I am shocked at how lightly his management has taken our response. It’s my song, with my vocals. How can they release it unless I give them the go-ahead?”
It was Billboard.com that released the news of the collaboration on its website, on April 30. An interview with the British trance DJ on the website specifically states, “Indian singer Kailash Kher has also recorded a track for the album, says Oakenfold.”
Oakenfold’s management has changed since Kher’s manager last contacted them. Upon reading the news, Kher got in touch with them and they’re trying to resolve the issue. “His management said that they tried to get in touch with me, but there was no response,” Kher says. “But didn’t that make it clear that I’m not interested in dealing with them? It didn’t give them the right to use it anyway. Everyone says that Indians are dishonest and corrupt — look at what a renowned international musician did.
“Just because they were dealing with an Indian artiste, they didn’t even bother to set things right. When we do something wrong, they magnify it and look down upon us. Maybe they should first learn about ethics.”
Kher has still not been given his due fee for the track, but isn’t planning to sue them just yet. “We can sue them if we want, but ultimately, that won’t end on a good note,” he says. “Goli to chal chuki hai (The bullet has been fired), so it won’t be of any use. We are discussing the issue with them, let’s hope they resolve it more professionally this time.”
Repeated attempts to get in touch with Oakenfold’s management through email were met with no response. Oakenfold didn’t respond to direct text messages or calls either. If the issue between Kher and the British DJ gets resolved, Kher’s composition will feature alongside songs by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Ryan Tedder (One Republic) and Cee-Lo.
Indian songs, foreign hits
Many Indian songs have been sampled in Western music, and only a few were used after legally acquiring the rights of the song.
Black Eyed Peas sampled Kalyanji-Anandji’s Yeh mera dil (Don) and Ae naujawan (Apradh) in ‘Don’t phunk with my heart’.
Truth Hurts used chunks of Bappi Lahiri’s Kaliyon ka chaman (Jyoti) in Addictive.
MIA’s song, ‘Jimmy’ was a remix of Bappi Lahiri’s Jimmy, jimmy(Disco Dancer)
Britney Spears sampled Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Tere mere beech mein (Ek Duje Ke Liye) in Toxic.
Daddy Yankee used Anu Malik’s Eli re eli (Yaadein) in Mirame..
Nelly Furtado’s Grammy-winning single, ’m like a bird had a ‘Nelly vs Asha Bhosle’ remix, using Bhosle’s Hindi songs.
Punjabi MC’s Mundian to bach ke’ (Boom) was remixed by Jay Z as Beware of the boys.
Sarah Brightman sampled Khayyam’s Dil cheez kya hai (Umrao Jaan) on her track, You take my breath away.
Ciara’s song Turntables features A R Rahman's Kehna hi kya (Bombay).
Jem sampled Shankar-Jaikishen’s Baharon phool barsao (Suraj) for his track, Come on closer.
This truth really hurts
This is not the first time that a Western musician has illegally used an Indian song on his/her album. In 2002, American R&B singer, Truth Hurts, used portions of Bappi Lahiri’s song, Thoda resham lagta hai on her single, Addictive, from the album, Truthfully Speaking.
Lahiri had composed the song for the film, Jhoothi, in 1987, and on finding out about the unauthorized use of the song, he, and copyright holders of the song, Saregama India Ltd, sued Interscope Records, and its parent company, Universal Music Group, for US $ 500 million.
Lahiri called the sampling of the song ‘cultural imperialism’, and asked for all copies of the album still in stores, to be called back, or stickers with his credit to be affixed on them. A Los Angeles federal judge ruled in favour of Lahiri, and the composer was given due credit.