Monday, January 21, 2013

How the first great CDs of 2013, Akaash Vani and David, foretell the future of Film Music

It's unusual for the year to be off to such a good musical start. The first CDs that will be on my year end list of musical notability are already here! They both couldn't be more different.

Released in late 2012 for this week's movie release, the songs for Akaash Vani were composed by Hitesh Sonik in close collaboration with the director Luv Ranjan who wrote the lyrics for the songs. Its an album that was made from scratch for the movie and has a playful, romantic vibe with skimming soulfulness. Bejoy Nambiar's David, on the other hand, has existing songs assembled for the movie and some original compositions done by a variety of artists. It gives you a terrific glimpse into the diversity of the young, throbbing Indian music scene and communicates grit, danger, love and yearning. They both represent different approaches to filmi music - and they are both enabled by the changing dynamics of movies at the box office.

Let's talk about Akaash Vani first - it has five original songs: 4 ballads and 1 uptempo club track. That should tell you where it's heart is although there is some variety which we'll get to later. Hitesh also collaborated on Luv Ranjan's first film - Pyaar Ka Punchnama, which became increasingly popular after its release. Hitesh uses a lot of piano, strummed guitar and fresh young voices which lend delicateness to his songs. Most of the singing is in vocal scales that aren't too far apart which gives the songs a relaxed vibe. The result is an integrated and fresh set of songs.

A good example of this is Rumani, which is a mid-tempo jazz-funk song with some minor rock stylings. Thomson Andrews and Shalmali Kolghade (newly minted Best New Singer Award Winner at the Screen and Filmfare Awards) sing this in vocals as light as whisk. It's worth noting that Luv Ranjan's lyrics have a straightforward but playful vibe. In Rumani, he compares a woman's beauty to a visual ghazal and her bindaasness to a kite that's been cut loose. Another good example: Bas Main Aur Tu a standard issue love song about waking to a new dawn (chai mein biscuit dooba / baarish se boondien chura) and leaving the world behind ( Aasmaan se phaink langar / taare kuch girayein). Hitesh composes this as a folk ballad using Nikhil D'Souza to sing in quiet notes.

There are a few songs with more famous singers - Shafqat Amanat Ali sings about bitter heartbreak in Tera Mera Naam - over a very raundu cello and piano melody (but I mean this in a good way).  On Tere Pyaar Mein, which calls for a crescendo at the chorus, Sunidhi Chauhan does some cool harmonizing with KK and sings in restrained notes to keep it mellow. (A really good example of making music sound big without necessarily getting all bombastic is Ajay-Atul's stellar work on Agneepath). The CD's only club track is Crazy Lover and both Vishal Dadlani and Sunidhi (Hitesh's long time friend and wife) are allowed the freedom to make the song playful and over the top.

David, on the other hand, is a smorgasboard of genres by a variety of artists - some of these songs were selected, some tweaked, others recorded for the movie.

Ghum Huye, a trance-y EDM song with a great shuffle beat, is about closure in life. It was composed by Bramfatura (Mike Delgado and Gaurav Godkhind) and sung by Siddharth Basrur. For the redo of the iconic Mast Kalandar, Mikey McCleary (who we interviewed for Break Ke Baad) adds a folksy reggae beat and invites Rekha Bhardwaj to sing. This is an inspired move because Rekha can pitch a rustic voice like none other and she takes the song to new heights. Mikey pulls out two more songs for David - a previous composition called Out of Control with English vocals by Nikhil D'Souza and Hindi vocals by Preeti Pillai and a reworking of the same with  longer notes (a "choir version") by Marianne and Tara Sitaria.

Director Bejoy Nambiar then reuses a delicious tune composed by Maati Baani called Tore Matware Naina. The song starts off with a blues-folk verse in French by JoyShanti before Nirali Karthik sings Hindustani classical and tweaks a bit of pop into it. There is freewheeling around vocals and instrumentation that makes Tore.. feel like a fusion jam.

There are a couple of explosive shots of punk rock on this CD. Modern Mafia contribute an adapted version of their song Arnie by way of Banday - about a man heading to his impending doom and fighting back. The Light Years Explode (Saurabh Roy, Aaron Carvalho) style their punk with high energy and a catchy tune on Three Kills. Remember early Green Day when they didn't have the weight of studio execs on their shoulders? Or Red Kross before they went nowhere? Yes, like that!

Anirudh (Why this Kolaveri Di?) composes and sings with Shweta Mohan on the gorgeous Yun Hin Re. Anirudh's way of breaking up lines to fit into the tune and his sense of sweeping orchestration reminded me of A R Rahman. There is a lot more music to explore on David which I'll let you do yourself. Remo Fernandes adds a couple of songs and Prashant Pillai contributes three wonderful tunes.

So why are both these collection of songs so interesting? They represent different approaches to composing. Akaash Vani has a more traditional structure where a single music composer creates a set of songs specifically tuned for the different situations in the movie and hand crafts them in collaboration with the movie's director (or producer).

Lately movies in Bollywood have moved away from the ghisa pita song-for-entertainment trapping. Songs often play in the background (no actor miming) to intensity an emotion of supercharge a key moment. Because different situations in movies are best expressed musically via different styles, film composers have steadily been developing their diversity in musical genres. It's not unusual for composers to produce songs that have elements of Rock, EDM, Folk, Dubstep, Jazz, or Hindustani classical. If a lot of different types of songs are required in a movie, why not then hire a variety of composers and build a collection? This approach has been around in Hindi movies for a few years now (its been around in Hollywood for years). It requires directors and producers to have a very high music IQ otherwise they risk the songs being all over the place and not serving the movie at all. Happily of late, there have been some really good CDs that have successfully sourced from multiple artistes.

David takes this approach to the extreme, pulling very diverse compositions (there is even Goan and Punjabi folk on the CD). This approach wouldn't be possible if there wasn't enough talent to pull from. But there has been such an infusion of talented musicians in Mumbai lately that there is no dearth of composers, bands and readily available songs. In the songs of Akaash Vani, the instrumentation is composed around the vocals. In David, which has several songs pulled from purer Western genres, the instrumentation shares center stage with the vocals.

Will David be a template for movie songs as Indian films become less traditional? And will made to order songs become a boutique experience? A lot of this depends on how the landscape of movies change, which in turn depends on how audiences respond at the box office to different types of movies. While Akaash Vani reinforces the current model, David shows that you can put together an exciting soundtrack by culling from many sources. Let the wait-and-watch begin!


Sanch said...

I've heard the songs from David and I loved the variety. Haven't heard AkaashVani yet but will listen to it now. The concept behind David's music can be successful, why not?

Anonymous said...

David has amazing songs. I didn't much care for the hard rock songs though. Looking forward to the movie.

DavidRDB said...

Ghum Huye is amazing!! David is the album I expect from someone who knows the music scene really well. Outstanding.

Mind Rush said...

Major Like!

Sidekick said...

Thanks Aspi! Happy new year to you and the drift regulars. Will check out your reccos.

As a true blue Rahmaniac, my current ear worm is Kadal, AR Rahaman's newest tamil collaboration with Mani Ratnam. My fave is Adiye with its blues/soul/ gospel roots followed as a close second by Elay Keechan with its country western feel and the gorgeous melody of Nenjukulle.

Unknown said...

Hey Sidekick, yes I've been listening to Kadal quite a bit also. You should do a review of it for us since I have no clue how to interpret the lyrics.

Sidekick said...

Aspi, thanks. I can handle Tamil lyrics just fine, but I can't review music like you, so we'll spare your lovely readers! ;)

I caught both Aakash Vani and David today over Sunday chores. The former was pleasant but I loved the latter. Thanks for pointing me to it. I'd like to see how it plays out in the movie.

I've been enjoying Kadal, but a friend sent me a youtube link to Rahman's concert last month in Chennai where he featured many of his old hits in Tamil. Many of those were inspired by Indian classical and folk music. Now in Kadal he's mixing global music genres and the Indian influences are left in the dust.

As fantastic as the David tracks are, some of them could really be from anywhere in the world. I guess my larger question is whether this is a good or bad thing.

I remember playing DK Bose for some non-desi friends who were disappointed. They said it didn't sound like "Indian music". That it could have been a head banger's song anywhere in the world.

We've become more identifiable and accessible but have we lose some of our distinctiveness?