Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Drift Bollywood Music Entertainers of 2008

The quality of Indian films can be debated through the years, but if there is one things fans of Bollywood are sure about, it is that the music has always been great. Indian musicians have been exploring and learning all kinds of music across the diaspora. They've bought a lot of it to bear on Bollywood's traditional music scene. And in doing so, they are tearing up the rule book and charting new territory.

2008 was a great year for music. But there were some that entertained me more than others. Those CDs stayed either in or around my changer. Here are the Drift Entertainers of the Year (Bollywood Music Edition).

A. R. Rahman (Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Ada, Yuvvraaj, Ghajini, Slumdog Millionaire)

By any standards, Rahman has had a prolific year. Judged by his own, its been a veritable deluge of music. This year two Rahman's seem to take shape before our very ears. One was an old-school Bollywood stylist - a sophisticated throwback to the music directors of yesteryear. His music here was dreamy, massive, almost epic. Sometimes it collapsed under its own weight (Yuvvraaj). Often it soared to great heights (Jodhaa Akbar).

But there was another Rahman - a composer of compact FM-ready confections - genuine melodies with smart production. And by tuning in to the needs of the commercial market, Rahman surprised us and scored at the cash registers.

First Rahman found the pulse of a nation with a jangly mid-tempo call to good cheer - Kabhi Kabhi Aditi and a beat-heavy farce Pappu Can't Dance from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Both songs played a large part in making JTYJN one of the first genuine hits of the year.

Later, the same Rahman delivered a curious mix of songs for Ghajini - his collaboration with Aamir Khan. Ghajini has six tracks - they are wildly different compositions. Yet Rahman has integrated them into one single soundtrack that sounds coherent. On display again was his tendency to create a bellwether single (Javed Ali's buttery smooth Guzarish). Rahman mixed it up with a swirling dance anthem with a muted tribal feel (Shreya Ghoshal's Latoo), a power pop song (Suzanne's Aye Bachchu) and a Brat Pack composition (Behka).

Rahman also docked major international points by scoring the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire. If Slumdog can match its critical acclaim with box office success, Rahman will finally get the serious international attention he deserves.

Listen to the music of Jodhaa Akbar
Listen to the music of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Listen to the music of Ada
Listen to the music of Ghajini
Listen to the music of Slumdog Millionaire

Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendosa and Farhan Akhtar (The Music Team of Rock On!!)

Tasked with creating a hit soundtrack for a genre fast running out of steam in India (rock), music directors Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendosa started by recruiting someone who had never recorded commercially before. Heck, Farhan Akhtar wasn't even known as a singer. To top it, they gave six of the nine tracks to him.

Four days in a studio yielded a soundtrack full of hook heavy, tightly composed tracks that captured a lost sense of fun by staying true to old fashioned rock structure. Against all odds, Farhan delivered focussed and raw vocal intensity. Most importantly, others also joined the party with their A-game: Suraj Jagan, Caralisa Monteiro and Dominque Cerejo recorded some of their best work on the CD.

The music of Rock On was a runaway hit - instantly igniting the rock scene in India. Scores of rock musicians dusted off their guitars. Clubs suddenly couldn't book enough rock gigs. The movie fed off that energy and met with box office success - pleasing mainstream audiences, converting skeptics and evoking (somewhat) envious eyerolls from the guardians of counter culture.

SEL had only one major release this year. But boy, did they make it count!

Listen to Rock On!!

Vishal & Shekhar (Tashan, De Taali, Bachna Ae Haseeno, Dostana and The Unforgettables Tour)

Epitomizing the new breed of music directors in India - fully aligned with the director's vision, armed with a rolodex of high quality musicians, willing to tear up old Bollywood mores - V-S delivered more hits this year than anyone else, save AR Rahman. In 2008, they fine tuned their style - a cleanly produced, melody driven sound with neatly constructed percussion. Yet they were able to span quite a range.

They matched Tashan's hyper-violent needs with a jagged pill of a soundtrack. They lightened the mood and deepened their beats on De Taali. On Bachna Ae Haseeno, they delivered a more rote soundtrack, but adorned with some killer songs (Khuda Jaane, Jog Mahi). They hobnobbed with the Bachchans on their Unforgettables tour. But V-S still had time to squeeze out a final soundtrack. On Dostana, they created a breezy set of catchy songs - delicate, soulful, energetic in short bursts.

Listen to the music of De Taali
Listen to the music of Tashan
Listen to the music of Bachna Ae Haseeno
Listen to the music of Dostana

Suzanne D'mello (Singh is Kinng, Kidnap, Drona, Golmaal Returns, Ghajini)

Forget Shreya Ghoshal's enroachment on Sunidhi Chauhan's territory - the new heir apparent of club tracks in Bollywood is Suzanne D'mello. And its happened so quietly, you could be forgiven for saying Suzanne who? (It probably doesn't help matters that Suzanne is often credited with or without her last name and sometimes under the pseudonym Suzie Q)

Regardless of the name she used, Suzanne's voice powered an impressive list of hits this year. She accompanied Labh Jhanjua on Singh Is Kingg's ubiquitous Jee Karda (nice rap, Suze). Singing for Pritam again, she delivered one of my favorite tracks of the year - Hey Ya (Kidnap), built on a ridiculously catchy R&B framework.

She Meow'd on Golmaal Returns, smoked her way through Na Dekho (Rubaru) and brought spunk and attitude to Rahman's Aye Bachchu (Ghajini). Suzanne has been singing in commercials for years and she's a veritable fixture in several studios. This was the year Bollywood was able to explore her fresh, sexy voice.

Listen to Jee Karda (Singh is Kinng) with Labh Jhanjua
Listen to Hey Ya (Kidnap)
Listen to  Khushi (Drona) with Shaan
Listen to Na Dekho (Rubaru)
Listen to Meeow (Golmaal Returns)
Listen to Aye Bachchu (Ghajini)

Nitz'N'Sony (Money Hai to Honey Hai)

Musically, a Govinda movie is to be laughed at - no, literally. The music is treated as a lark. But a pair of music directors who met while working in a hotel (Nitin was a Hotel Manager, Sony was a chef) came together to deliver such a wonderful sucker punch with the soundtrack to Money Hai to Honey Hai, that I still can't stop listening.

Full of seductive, inventive and alarmingly risky beats, MHTHH was irresistibly catchy. Nitin Arora and Sony Chandy (Nitz'N'Sony) used a delicious mix of talent that had never been brought together on a soundtrack (Harshdeep, Suraj Jagan, Kunal Ganjawala, Rekha Bhardwaj, Adnan Sami, Shruti Pathak, Daler Mehndi, Master Saleem, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shaan, Labh Jhanjua, Sivamani) and because they were willing to use voices instead of names, their tracks won big.

Listen to the music of Money Hai to Honey Hai

Sneha Khanwalker (Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!)

Given an assignment to compose a Punjabi CD is sure to elicit groans from any music director. How do you take an overplayed genre and reinvent it? Surely all the mundiyas and mahis have been done to death and can't be reinterpreted.

But Sneha Khanwalker took a deep tour of the land and sat in on numerous grassroots singing jashans. She came back armed with ideas and composed a soundtrack so innovative, lilting and fresh that it took everyone by surprise. (More on Sneha's work in this excellent interview with Anita Iyer)

There are plenty of pleasures worth checking out on Sneha's CD - but start with the seductive beat of Superchor and the brilliant pacing on Hooriyan, then listen to the Clinton Cerejo arranged Punjabi reggae of Tu Raja Ki.

Listen to the music of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!


Anonymous said...

This was a fantastic year for music. I mean we got such wide variety of stuff and even when the movie was not so hot, the music totally made up for it (i.e. Money hai to honey hai, Tashan, Yuvraaj).

Aspi, no love for Himesh?? I know he didn't have anything besides the music of Karzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, but still, I thought he would atleast get some recognition from you.

BTW, Mr. Rehman was awarded the "Best composer" at the LA Awards and he's been nominated for the Golden Globes for Slumdog Millionaire. I cannot wait to see that movie, I have heard really good things about it from people.

musical said...

A.R. Rahman truly ahd a packed year. Hmm, though, if the music of movies like Yuvraaj doesn't appeal much to many, may be Mr. Ghai has a hand in it as well?

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar, they are my all time favorites. Any CD, anytime, there is always something in it for me :).

And may i add a note: i love Rahman, Shankar, Vishal and Shekhar as singers too!

More power to Sneha Khanwalkar! You rock, girl!

Anonymous said...

For some reason I have not been a fan of Jodha Akbar music. Except for the sufiana song "Khwaja mere Khwaja" the other songs have a feeling of "being heard before". I did like JTYJN and do think ARR is brilliant.

This year was not a good year for Vishal-Shekhar though. There is one song in their albums that makes it, Dil Haara in Tashan and Khuda Jaane in Bachna but overall the albums they did this year are quite average.

Sneha K. sounds pretty impressive.

Unknown said...

gg - Well, I couldn't find any way to fit Himesh in this year :)

Joules, I think approach seems to be working for V-S. Dostana is huge over here in India.

musical, I think all of Ghai's recent productions have been pompous. And that does make its way into the music. Good point!

Anonymous said...

I haven't listened to Dostana yet. I will give it a try during Christmas. Frankly have had a hard time keeping up with hindi music. There is just so much being released these days.

Anonymous said...

aspi - how come you visit india so seems like every second week you're like "here in India"...??

biznizz? or playzurr?

Unknown said...

I don't go that many times yaar - just three times a year. All playzure. It amounts to just over a month spent in India out of 12. Wish I had more money to do it more often.

On the flip side, I haven't had a real vacation to an exotic location in years :(

Anonymous said...

Good post, Aspi! Good to see Suzanne getting a mention.

Joules said...

In this season of giving please check out this organization I have no stake in it except that the organization is building orphanages in India and I am sponsoring a child. Here is a write up I did on the founder:

Stone said...

Salim-Sulaiman are pretty decent and are also making their presence felt.

Don't know why but I feel Rahman was below his standard in Jaane Tu and Yuvraj and to some extent Ghajini.

Anonymous said...

oh gawd nothing good has come out of b/w in months. i didn't like dostana or yuvraaj music

aint heard ghazini, but when i saw aamir khan's man boobs on display i had to stop watching the promo

non b/w stuff - someone got me hooked to Morphine (not the drug) but this indie jazzy bluesy rock band from the 90's. so good..

Unknown said...

morphine used to be one of my favorite bands. Loved the trumpet. You might also like They Might Be Giants although they are quite different.

Anonymous said...

OMG GUYS.. paging Aspi, Mind Rush and other agony aunts!

I asked a guy out today i have been keen on for weeks!!!!!

and he said "really good offer but i am married" ewwww he so didn't look like he'd be into fascist relationships!! ARGH!!! and didn't know he was so old.. and since when "its complicated" meant you were married? FECK

wtf "really good offer"?? who says that? its not an effin job offer.. first time i ever ask a guy out and he happens to be married?? so much for 60% of marriages ending in divorces... *eyes roll*

i am way too embarassed to tell any of my friends.. grrr i was already thinking of having a family with him, he was perfect for me.. Arjan and Bahar didn't even get to come to this world URGH..

i even broke off this rishta that came for me a few months ago i was stringing that guy along for months.. not that i regret it but still..

argh!! how am i gonna face this guy again? where will i find another hot artistic guy with scruffy blonde hair and hardly any carbon footprint!!!!!!

*cries* i think i'll be single forever!!

Pitu said...

Hmm nice write up, Aspi. Rahman needs a break, seriously. The man's working too hard. And while JA and Jaane tu were nice, his work in Yuvraaj is so ornery. SEL were awesome. And I am enjoying the Oye Lucky OST. The film was a riot btw. I have to differ regarding V-S. Bachna Ae Haseeno was such an awfully predictable soundtrack!!!

Anonymous said...

No New Post after Dec 11 - This is Cruel but would forgive you because of Holiday Season !

dockaul said...

@ Aspi!!

Aapki Kalam Se Nikla Teer
To Bejuban Bolne Lag Jayega
Jo Bhi Banega Aapka Saathi
Laajmi Hai Woh Kuch To Itrayega..
"Shivani Kapoor"

Long delay!!Hope everything is alright with you & da family..
awaiting the next dose of aspiisms..

Unknown said...

All is well. I've just been busy getting the kids' Navjote done and of course, taking care of the various family members who are leaving one by one. I haven't had any time to watch TV so don't have any idea of what is going on. But I'm looking forward to catching up with SRGMP and II and I'm trying to catch a jhalak of Oye Friday (or something).

dockaul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dockaul said...

Congratulations to you and the little "behdins".
Sice you have expressed interest in following SRGMP a curtain riser to what to expect..

I was so appalled by the sickening sense of humor @ SaraDrama last Saturday that I wrote the following to zee network..a copy for stimulating the creative juices.. :-)

Buoyed by the exit of the Oodling Asma-née Apsara & her Odoriferous Oont ..Yours truly ,to my infinite regret, actually saw virtually the entire show in a single stupefied , appalled sitting..


O Zee Walon!! Meri Awaaz Suno!!!

I have been an ardent viewer of Saregamapa since its inception but the current season promises to be end of my long association with SRGMP.. Yeh Kya ho rahaa hai?? Have you guys taken total leave of your senses!! Is this direction..LOL!! You really have creative heads who actually create this tripe??..This putrid offal which was presented in the last episode, which has to the most atrocious episode ever in the history of Music Reality show..
I understand & endorse Product Placement..lekin ek Danda!!
What the phoonk is wrong with you guys??…
A whole episode dedicated to the search of the accursed Lathi..
Does somebody need it so badly for some innovative anatomical misadventure??..
Is The ZTV hierarchy full of Faltoo Fultoo Fans of Bodhitree the uber group who first gave the danda prominence in a song??
Will the tag line change from Sangeet ka vishwa yudh to Hum to Tamboo mein bamboo lagye baithe??
Does someone really script these antics ??
Are there really people with such as perverted sense of humor in your organization who actually laughed at the “Nada” show of the hapless Debo??
Monty & his cronies still obsessed with the Full Monty??
Does some ADULT actually design these dresses??
Was it the proverbial ardh-narishwar who imagined this chimera?? Is the new scoring pattern be derived from the latest garbage spouting forth from the Him-Purush??
Mimicry & Music?? V.I.P.??
Ever heard the name Sudesh Bhonsale??
Don’t you guys have anyone guiding you in your misadventures??

Tum logon ko Dhanda karna haiya Danda??

Fie upon you for defiling this previously hallowed stage with such atrocious absurdities, debauched dilettantes .

Rust in piece

A former fan

Anonymous said...

Man Aspi yaar.

I thought you were a big Shahrukh fan.Tune to abhi tak Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi ka zikar bhi nahi kiya.

Have you seen it yet?:)

Unknown said...

SRK fan I am. I don't dislike any of the other big guns either. But whenever I'm in the desh I try my best to watch movies with friends. And try getting a bunch of guys together to see RNBJ.

On the other hand, I'm trying to see if I can pull off Ghajini with a bunch.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

No mention of OSO music???

Unknown said...

Mind Rush, OSO was November 2007. Time flies, no?

The Chasing Iamb said...


I am trying to get in touch with you about some work. Jabberwock will vouch for my good intentions. :)

Is there an email id or number I can reach you at?

mail me at


Unknown said...

Yeh Jabberwock kaun hai?

Just kidding. Anyone Jai vouches for, I will trust my life with.

Sent you an email.

Anonymous said...

bang on...
what music...oye lucky..was awesome in da music lyrics and da vocal part..
the songs were just so different..and music was foot thumping..kick ass music..!!
loved da album..

be it jugni superchor or..els oye lucky..
da movie rocked...abhay deol rocked..and so did da music ..!!!