Southern Spice in Hindi Music

Our wonderful world of Hindi film music absorbs, adapts and accommodates influences and styles from all over India and the world. In this post, I will highlight key aspects of South Indian music that have been absorbed in Hindi film songs, that have added what I would call as a dash of Southern spice in Hindi film music. I do not mean vocal styles from South India, but instruments from South India.


Mridang or Mridangam

Three instruments play a key part in Southern music, especially classical music – Mridang, Ghatam and Morsing. These 3 are percussion instruments played with the hand. Morsing is considered side percussion. All three share a common ‘twangy’ sound that can be considered spicy! The Mridang is called Mridangam in South India.

While these 3 instruments are used predominantly in Southern classical music (also called Carnatic music), other regions of India also have instruments that are similar or closely resemble these 3 instruments. Interestingly, Morsing is played with the hands but the instrument is placed in the mouth.

Southern Spice in Hindi Film Music

Check out the sounds of these instruments in the short audio samples below (less than 6 seconds each). Here is the Mridangam.

Here is the sound of Ghatam.

And enjoy the sound of Morsing below:

A number of Hindi film songs have used these three instruments and as you can observe, the songs that I highlighted are very popular.

Enjoy 12 of these songs from the playlist below. All the songs are from 1940s to 1960s (with one exception). In some of the songs, the instruments can be heard clearly. In others, they are a part of a wider range of instruments and you have to listen very carefully to hear them.


(This link will take you to where you have standard features of Play all, Shuffle and Skip song available. Sometimes, you may have to skip Ads to enjoy the music! Unlike my earlier posts, this player opens in a new window/tab. Since the music player opens in a new window/tab, you can browse through this site or others and enjoy the music playing in the background while you browse!)

Naushad’s spicy touch


Among the music directors of the golden era (1950s and 60s), Naushad was a perfectionist. He worked very hard to get the vocal melody right. In addition, he also paid a lot of attention to the accompanying instrument arrangements and introduced a number of innovative arrangements and combinations. (You can check out Lively songs from Naushad for some of his innovations). It is not surprising therefore, to find that Naushad used the 3 instruments in a number of his songs.

Tu kahe agar (Andaz) features Ghatam that captures the rhythm of the song beautifully to accompany the graceful dance on the screen. And observe, how he starts with Ghatam with a folksy rhythm in the hugely popular Door koi gaaye (Baiju Bawra).

Tere sadke balam (Amar) is a song that I love very much. I can hear it a thousand times without getting tired of the song. I enjoy the beautiful waves in the song that take you up and down for a sweet and melodious ride. You may not observe the Ghatam, but it is playing throughout and lends a beautiful twangy background to the song. Incidentally, this song is not easy to sing – once you try it, you can appreciate Lata’s ability to move smoothly from one note to another in waves.

Naushad made innovative use of Mridang along with bongos in Mera pyaar bhi tu hai (Saathi).(See Enjoyable western beats)

Naushad also used Morsing in a number of songs. Check out the sound of the Morsing in Na toofan se khelo (Udan Khatola) from 00:30 to 00:40 in the song below.

The twang of the Ghatam


Many stalwarts from the golden era used Ghatam to great effect.

Shanker-Jaikishen used Ghatam beautifully in Yeh shaam ki tanhaaiyan (Aah). Ramlal used Ghatam to create an impact in Tere khayalon mein hum (Geet gaaya patharon ne) and add to the haunting effect.

Nashad (not to be confused with Naushad) was actually Shaukat Ali who composed several popular songs. Apparently, a director Nakshab Jarachavi approached Naushad to compose music for his film. And when Naushad did not agree, he was angry and got Shaukat Ali to compose music after changing Shaukat Ali’s name to Nashad. Baradari has a lovely Talat Mahmood song Tasveer banataa hoon that features Ghatam prominently.

Madan Mohan, the master of soulful songs used Ghatam in Mere piyaa se koi jaake (Ashiana). As always, he stretched Lata’s voice in this song as well to add a delectable touch.

Spice in the Golden Era


SD Burman made heavy use of Mridang in Tere naina talaash (Talaash). You can hear the tabla and other instruments  in the first few minutes. After those few minutes, the mridangam takes over and can be heard clearly, and in several places, as the sole percussion instrument to accompany the dance on the screen.

The Mridang becomes a natural accompaniment to the dance teacher from the south, Mehmood in the comic Ek chatur naar karke (Padosan) by RD Burman.

Pakeezah is actually a golden era movie even though it was released in the early 70s. The Morsing is actually playing throughout the song Mausam hai aashiqana. However, you may not observe it except between 3:08 and 3:11 in the song below where it is played as the lead instrument.

AR Rahman masterpieces

A R Rahman

AR Rahman raised the bar in instrument arrangements, even in the days of computerized arrangements. He introduced new sounds and rhythm patterns in percussion, among many other outstanding features in arrangements. In many of his songs, you can hear each instrument distinctly even when the percussion and rhythm appear to be heavy and all encompassing.

Jiya jale (Dil se) is a masterpiece that is a beautiful fusion of folksy vocals from Kerala with the vocal melody of Lata Mangeshkar. You can hear the Morsing and Mridangam in this song clearly. The Morsing accompanies Lata’s voice from 0:05 onwards and can be heard through most of the song. The Mridangam starts with a short roll at 1:05 and is used primarily to create the percussion roll through the rest of the song.

Another of his masterpieces is Taal se Taal mila (Taal). He used many percussion instruments to emphasise the Taal, but the Ghatam can be heard clearly from 1:23 to 1:37 and later whenever the line Taal se Taal mila is repeated.

Thus far, I discussed songs that had one or two of the 3 instruments being discussed. Is there a song that has all 3 of them? Yes, but it is a regional song that truly embodies the Southern Spice. Check out the section below.

Authentic Southern Spice


There are of course innumerable songs from South Indian films that feature the 3 instruments. However, I would like to draw your attention to two special songs.

Madhura madhura tara Meenakshi (Telugu movie – Arjun) is one such special song. If you listen to the song carefully, you will observe that there are many percussion instruments used in the song. Apart from this, the combination of percussion instruments and the pattern they play in the song changes frequently – it varies between female and male singers, between chorus and interludes, between high and low pitch and in every possible combination you can think of. These variations really call for perfect arrangements and orchestration. Mani Sarma composed this song and you can hear all 3 instruments in the song (though not all of them at the same time). From 1:41 you can hear the Mridangam joined shortly by Ghatam and other instruments till 1:51 and shortly thereafter you can also hear the Morsing join the percussion from 1:53 to 2:17.

The music of Ilayaraja, the genius from South India defies description. He combines many different styles to create amazing effects. Listen carefully to Poongathave thal thiravai (Tamil movie – Nizhalgal) below. In his arrangements and Ilayarajaorchestration, there are sounds of western symphonies, ‘conversations’ between the keyboard and violin, beautiful use of humming, seamless transition from western to traditional instruments and as a final flourish in the song, the blending of the sounds of violin and the humming. And all of these superb combinations and blends are in addition to a wonderful vocal melody!

In the midst of all this wizardry, did you notice the use of Mridangam? The Mridangam adds a final twangy beat to complete the pattern played by bongos. This single beat on the mridangam is one more amazing combination among the many wonderful combinations in the song.

We are indeed fortunate to enjoy the wide variety of influences and styles that Hindi film music gives us. I hope you enjoyed the twangy sounds that added southern spice in Hindi film songs!

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Orthodox RD Burman

To me, RD Burman’s music has many more dimensions than mere ‘Hits of RD Burman’.

I see RD Burman’s music in 3 dimensions.

1) First, he was an extremely talented and creative composer with a solid foundation in the orthodox style of composition. When I say orthodox, I do not mean traditional or classical or old style. Orthodox also does not denote an Indian or Western style of composition.

In my view, orthodox style of composition is one where there is an emphasis on melody and melodic content in the vocals of the song. Accompanying instrument arrangements, orchestration, rhythm patterns are not a factor in an orthodox style of composition. The Hits of R D Burmanchoice of notes and pitch determine the melodic content to some extent. Also, the extent of wavy contours, graceful patterns in the vocals denote varying degrees of melodic content in an orthodox style of composition.

Orthodox style of composition was predominant in the golden era of 50s and 60s. Most composers of the 1950s and 60s composed in the orthodox style with remarkable and consistent success. In fact, most music composers worked to create the vocal melody and struggled to get it right and appealing. Once the composer got the vocal melody right, the task of composing accompanying instrumental preludes and interludes was often left to the assistants. There are endless possibilities in vocal melodies that appeal to connoisseurs as well as to popular taste. Innovations in style, vocals were therefore rare and more of an exception in the golden era.

2) The second dimension of RD Burman’s music is his trendsetting style, innovation and a certain distinctive appeal to youngsters with songs that had a youthful exuberance and lilt. This dimension took him beyond the orthodox style and made his music stand out. Some songs from Teesri Manzil, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Caravan and Jawani Diwani are of this type. The young generation was simply bowled over.

The orthodox style and the trendy, youthful styles stem primarily from his abundant natural talent, inspired creativity and of course, hard work in translatHits of R D Burmaning his talent and creativity into a well presented song. Though RD Burman made his debut in 1961 with Chote Nawab, the late 60s and early 70s saw RD Burman at his best in both these dimensions – he seemed to ascend the stairs to success at a rapid rate. And the songs simply seemed to gush out in full flow; full of creativity, inspiration and abundant talent.

3) The third dimension of RD Burman’s music came in the mid 70s and later. During this period, for some reason, he deliberately adopted a style that involved breaking up the tunes into short bits sometimes with staccato like sounds. Perhaps he wanted to appeal even more to the younger generation. The vocals lost the graceful and wavy contours and became flat, straighter. Some songs from Khel Khel Mein are an example of this style. There could have been quite a few popular songs and some people may like this style, but to me, this style is not appealing. High quality orthodox style songs were few in this dimension. He gradually descended into the ‘average’ zone in the 80s. Even when he tried to compose songs in his earlier orthodox style, they seemed to be laboured efforts and not the free flowing melodies of his earlier years. During this period, there were also many RD Burman songs that are labeled ‘classical’, but were no match in my view, to his songs from the late 60s and early 70s.

In this post, I will highlight many of his songs based on the ‘orthodox’ style, from the late 60s and early 70s. All of them can also be called ‘Hits of RD Burman’, but in my opinion, these songs are the embodiment of the orthodox style of compositions that are a delight to the ear and soul.

In a later post, I will cover his trendy and modern songs.

Enjoy 30 handpicked songs in his orthodox style from a playlist by clicking the link below.


(This link will take you to where you have standard features of Play all, Shuffle and Skip song available. Sometimes, you may have to skip Ads to enjoy the music! Unlike my earlier posts, this player opens in a new window/tab. Since the music player opens in a new window/tab, you can browse through this site or others and enjoy the music playing in the background while you browse!)

Classical and sublime

Hits of R D Burman

Apart from his abundant talent and skill, RD Burman was also versatile. As proof of his versatility, he composed several classical based songs that are a delight for any connoisseur.

While Padosan had several popular and delightfully crazy songs, Sharm aati hai magar is evidence of his strength in classical and light classical songs. Almost all Hindi film songs can be traced to some Indian classical raag or the other. But, in my view, mere identification with a classical raag does not make a song classical. Nor does the presence of the correct set of notes in accordance with a raag. Apart from graceful and wavy contours in the tune, you also need additional stretching and stress on specific notes and ‘gamaks’ in a song to give it a classical touch.

Hits of R D BurmanAmar Prem marked a high point in RD Burman’s classical based melodies. Raina beeti jaaye (Amar Prem) is a superb classical based number. Lata’s singing, the graceful undulations in the song and stress on key notes are truly sublime and make this an
outstanding classical. Though, Amar Prem had other popular songs, Raina beeti jaaye truly is on a high pedestal on its own.

Mere naina saawan bhadon (Mehbooba) was also a beautifully composed classical based song with Kishore touching high notes and emoting strongly in the song. Another light classical based song, Bite naa bitayee raina (Parichay) is also a joy to the ears.

In my view, these classical based songs were sublime and much better than some of his later ‘classical’ compositions.

Orthodox and delightful

Hits of R D Burman

Apart from his sublime classical songs for special situations, there were also a number of normal filmi situations for which RD Burman composed songs that were delightful.

His first major hit Teesri Manzil had two pleasant Rafi solos – Tum ne hamein dekhaa and Deewana mujhsa nahin. These two compositions with emphasis on vocal melody were mellifluous and a delightful complement to his trendsetting songs from the same film.

Apart from these two solos, there were also several memorable duets that captured expressions beautifully – some full of joy and abandon, others more muted and romantic. Among these duets, Kitna pyaara waada (Caravan), Dil tera hai (Bombay to Goa), Chahe raho door (Do chor), Kaahe ko bulaya (Humshakal) and Gum hai kisike pyaar mein (Raampur Kaa Lakshman) stand out for the orthodox style with pleasant vocal melodies.

The songs from Sholay were counted as ‘Hits of RD Burman’, after Gabbar Singh’s dialogues became popular! Among the songs from Sholay, Yeh dosti stands out as perhaps the best composition (Mehbooba, Mehbooba was an inspired song, not an original composition).

Kishore and resurgence

Hits of R D Burman

Aradhana is a landmark film in Hindi film music. It marked the end of Mohd. Rafi as the dominant male singer, and catapulted Kishore Kumar to dizzying heights of dominance in the 70s. There are many theories and stories about this dramatic turn of events. Some say Rafi was away on a tour and hence Kishore was chosen as the playback singer. Other theories claim that RD Burman (who was assisting his father SD Burman in the movie) had a role in pushing Kishore into the forefront. RD Burman and Kishore had a strong bond from the 60s with Kishore singing for him in his second film, Bhoot Bangla. Whatever be the reason for Kishore’s resurgence with Aradhana, RD Burman and Kishore became a formidable combination in the 70s.

Perhaps the seeds of Kishore’s resurgence were sown earlier in Padosan; Kishore’s Mere saamne wale khidki mein became a super hit with his resonant and booming voice. And Kishore did ‘real’ playback singing for Sunil Dutt in Kehna hai kehna hai.

After Padosan, Pyar Ka Mausam also provided the base for Kishore’s resurgence with Kishore’s Tum bin jaaoon kahan proving to be more popular than Rafi’s version of the same song.

Kishore and RD Burman scored several hits for Rajesh Khanna including Yeh kya hua (Amar Prem), O mere dil ke chain (Mere Jeevan Saathi) and Ek ajnabee (Ajnabee). R D Burman was at the height of his creative powers in early 70s. Apparently, the tune for O mere dil ke chain was milling around in RD Burman’s head and he could not sleep. He got up and recorded the tune and Majrooh Sultanpuri came up with the lyrics the next day morning!

RD Burman and Kishore also came together for a number of hits for other heroes as well. Rafi was Jeetendra’s voice in a couple of chartbusters in Caravan, but it was Kishore who sang for Jeetendra in Parichay with Musaafir hoon yaaro becoming a big hit. RD Burman and Kishore were a strong combination for almost every hero, including struggling heroes like Navin Nischal who had an evergreen number with Raat kali ek khwab mein (Buddha mil gaya).

Lata, Asha and crossovers

Hits of R D Burman

During the 50s and 60s, Lata and Asha carried certain images – notably with Lata’s voice being branded as ‘voice with soul’ and Asha’s voice branded as ‘voice with body’. Perhaps this was unfair to Asha who had wonderful songs to her credit in the 50s and 60s and who later went on demonstrate her vocal range and versatility to carve a distinct place for herself. R D Burman was instrumental in giving Asha a number of challenging songs that tested her vocal range.

Surprisingly, Lata sounds Asha like in quite a few RD Burman songs. Listen to Bangle ke peeche (Samadhi) and Yaari ho gayi (Do chor). Perhaps Yaari ho gayi can be considered as Lata’s Dum Maro Dum!

And Asha crosses over to Lata’s side by singing a devotional song (normally Lata is the first preference for such songs) with her distinct vocal style in Kaahe apno ke (along with Kishore in Raampur ka Lakshman).

Of course, there were several other RD Burman songs where Lata sang like Lata and Asha sang like Asha. Kis liye maine pyaar kiya (The train) and Aaja piya tujhe pyaar doon (Baharon ke sapne) seemed to have been composed with a sweet sounding Lata in mind.

Asha was her usual self in songs like Chori Chori solah singar (Manoranjan) and Bechara dil kya kare (Khushboo). Chori Chori solah is a delightful number where Zeenat Aman’s crooning in the night has some vocal embellishments normally found in light classical songs!

Folksy and tipsy

Hits of R D Burman

At the other end of his versatile range, R D Burman composed memorable songs with a folksy touch. Chadti Jawani (Caravan) captures the joyful abandon of the gypsies. O Maajhi re (Khushboo) is another lovely folksy tune.

Even the tipsy song situations gave us some evergreen songs based on Orthodox style! Abhi to haath mein jam hai (Seeta aur Geeta) is a superb melody and so is Do ghoonth mujhe bhi (Jheel Ke us paar).

A solid grounding in the Orthodox style of composition was the foundation on which RD Burman showcased his versatility, spanning a wide range from classical to folksy and tipsy songs.

Hits of RD Burman

RD Burman was an extremely talented composer whose music is truly evergreen with some songs that are top of the range. There are many music composers of later years who swear by RD Burman and try to follow RD Burman’s style. I wish they would imbibe his orthodox, melodious style and save us from the high pitched, ‘assault on the ears’ numbers that pass for melody in these days. That will perhaps be the best tribute to RD Burman, the talented genius.

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Simple melodies of Ravi

Think of Ravi, the music director and you immediately associate his music with melodies dominated by Santoor and Flute. Many stalwarts of the golden era of film music (1950s and 60s), enjoyed tremendous popularity, huge visibility and an envious image. During these two decades, Ravi was ‘flying under the radar’ all along, alongside these stalwarts and popping up unexpectedly with superb scores that were simple, easy to sing and hugely popular. Ravi became an independent music director in the early 50s. A set of loyal producers backed him throughout his career.

imagesHis songs were predominantly simple melodies. His music may not appear extravagant or carry the ‘flourishes’ of the top music directors of the golden era. However, since his melodies were simple, they were appealing, easy to sing and extremely hummable. Ravi boasted that he could create a tune from almost any set of words, including newspaper headlines or columns! It would not have been very difficult for him. Give him santoor, flute, tabla players and a newspaper and I can imagine him creating simple tunes from the newspaper.


With Ravi, the lyrics came first and the tune later. A number of his songs captured the power and emotions of the lyrics and were impactful because they were very soulful.

Most films have a set of standard situations for songs for heroes and heroines like a peppy or romantic situation, a location or situation meant for duets and a solo sad song situation. Ravi was a master in unusual and special situations and created many unforgettable songs for such situations. His legacy also lives on with many evergreen songs that are hugely popular even today.

Sadly, like most of his peers from the golden era, he was unable to cope with the changes of the 1970s and lost his way in the 70s. After several years in near hibernation, Nikaah was his swansong in Hindi films in 1982, thanks to his faithful producer B R Chopra. Ravi also scored many popular songs in Malayalam.

Enjoy 24  of his lovely songs from the link below.


(This link will take you to where you have standard features of Play all, Shuffle and Skip song available. Sometimes, you may have to skip Ads to enjoy the music! Unlike my earlier posts, this player opens in a new window/tab. Since the music player opens in a new window/tab, you can browse through this site or others and enjoy the music playing in the background while you browse!)

Master of special situations

Ravi’s predominant style of simple music without any ornamentation or flourishes, was tailor made for songs by children. Chanda Mama door se (Vachan) and Dadi Amma Dadi Amma (Gharana) are extremely simple and very appealing. Also, in another special situation, Balraj Sahni’s adoration of his ‘son’ is captured beautifully in the song Tujhe suraj kahoon yaa chandaa (Ek phool do maali). Similarly, Garibon ki suno (Dus Laakh) is another song that stands out for the specific situation.

Ravi created many memorable songs for wedding situations with the tear jerking Babul ki duayen lethi jaa (Neelkamal) at one extreme and the peppy and joyful baaraat song Dil karta yaara dildaara (Aadmi aur Insaan) on the other extreme.

Though his music and popularity began to fade in the 1970s, Ravi created a wonderful song Sansaar kee har shay kaa (Dhund) for a situation that shows the obligatory titles and credits in the beginning of the film. Sahir Ludhianvi seems to capture the philosophy of life with his lyrics, reminding you of his other philosophical and timeless classic Aage bhi jaane na tu.

A bhajan is not unusual in Hindi films. However, this is not the standard hero, heroine, romance-sad song type of situation. Ravi created Tora man darpan (Kaajal) that appears to be a bhajan but has loads of philosophy as well.

Perhaps his most popular song for special situations is for the ‘not so young’ Balraj Sahni becoming a youngster for his wife and singing Ae mere zohra zabin (Waqt).

Simple and melodious

Music directors strive to create mukhdas that are catchy and appealing. Keeping the mukhdas simple came naturally to composers like Ravi.

Ravi is perhaps best remembered for his simple melodies – solos, duets and the like that are very easy to sing and hum.  Many of these simple melodies became huge hits. Sometimes, Ravi’s songs appeared to be very similar and repetitive. Perhaps his liking for santoor and flute was the reason. Santoor and flute dominated a number of his songs. A number of his simple melodies are also soothing to the ears, because of the limited number of instruments and his preference for the sweet sounds of flute and santoor.

Tumhin mere mandir (Khaandaan) is an example of his simple style. Also, Chalo ik baar phir se and Aaja aaja re tujhko meraa pyaar pukare from Gumrah are two simple melodies that are very appealing. Also, in a similar simple style, Tum agar saath dene ka (Humraaz) is easy on the ears and attractive as well.

Kisi pathar ki moorat se (Humraaz), Milti hain zindagi mein mohabbat (Ankhen) and Door rehkar na karo baat (Amaanat) are simple solo melodies in Ravi’s trademark style. His O neele parbaton ki dhara from Aadmi aur insaan and Aaj ki mulaqat bas itni (Bharosa) are two attractive duets.

My personal favourite is the happy version of Tumhari nazar kyon khafaa ho gayee (Do Kaliyan). And for a change, you get to hear lovely accordion pieces in the song along with the extremely melodious humming by Lata.

Soulful impact

Aage bhi jaane na tu

Ravi preferred to set his tune to lyrics. He believed that one has to capture the emotions in the lyrics. His special focus on the lyrics gave us some soulful and impactful songs. Who can forget the soulful Sau baar janam lenge (Ustadon ke Ustad) or the equally soulful Tujhko pukare mera pyaar (Neelkamal).

Ae mere dil-e-nadaan (Towerhouse) is also memorable for the impact of the lyrics and tune. Similarly, Is bhari duniya mein (Bharosa) makes an impact with soulful singing by Rafi.

Perhaps his best and most impactful song is Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt), thanks to Sahir Ludhianvi’s classic and timeless lyrics on Now. I consider this to be among Asha Bhonsle’s best songs.

Evergreen legacy

Chaundvin ka chandSome of Ravi’s songs can be considered among the best songs in their category and live on as evergreen songs. Chaundvin Ka Chand ho (Chaundvin Ka Chand) is one such top of the category evergreen songs for solo romantic songs. And who can forget Yeh Raaten Yeh Mausam (Dilli ka thug), the romantic evening duet set against moonlight, stars and water! Dilli ka thug also featured yet another evergreen song – CAT Cat, Cat mane billi, the song that puts life into anyone and any situation.

A number of Ravi’s songs were set among hills. He makes the hills, flowers, water and trees reverberate with the melodious He neele gagan ke tale (Hamraaz) and Aa bhi jaa from Gumrah with superb use of flute, santoor, Mahendra Kapoor’s voice and the echoes!.

Despite being ‘under the radar’, Ravi created a unique place for himself and had a clutch of loyal producers who swore by him.  Hats off to this creator of simple and appealing melodies.



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Bells and Whistles

“Bells and Whistles” is a popular English idiom. It means extra or fancy add-ons. For example, we often say “this phone or computer comes with many bells and whistles”; meaning a lot of extra features that may not be really needed and used by us.

However, when you hear bells or whistles in some Hindi film songs, they seem very much an integral part of the song and not something fancy or extra. In fact, the add-on we get in bells and whistles is their sweet sound which is extremely pleasant to hear. We also get to hear and enjoy a variety of bells and whistles in our songs.

In most cases, the visuals for the songs depict situations, events or things that make the sounds of bells or whistle a natural fit for the situation. For example, there are a number of songs on a bicycle where the sound of a bicycle bell is a perfect fit for the visuals. And when you have a cheerful situation, whistling in the song sounds natural.

Whistling permitted

There are literally hundreds of songs that feature bells and whistles. I have created a playlist of 15 lively and popular songs with bells and whistles. These songs have been picked from movies from the mid 1960s to the mid 2000s. Enjoy these 15 songs on the player below.

(The player stops playing when you click the back button or go to another link on this page or somewhere else. This happens because the player is embedded on this page. To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the player. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The player will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window).

There are of course, different types of bells and whistles. I have however not included the most commonly heard sound of bells – the ghungroo used in many dances and the manjeera used in most bhajans and temple songs. I am sure there will be hundreds and perhaps thousands of songs that feature the sounds of ghungroo and manjeera.


Bicycle bell

One of the most commonly heard bells in our movies is linked to the common man’s vehicle –the bicycle. S D Burman’s Hey maine kasam lee (Tere Mere Sapne) is a soothing melody that uses the sound of a bicycle bell in the prelude to the song. R D Burman’s Main chali main chali (Padosan) is a lively song that also features the sound of bicycle bells in the prelude. It is interesting to note the different styles adopted by the sisters Lata and Asha in this song. It is clear that Asha was trying something ‘extra’ to compete with Lata.

Salil Chaudary’s memorable song Kahin door jab din dhal jaye (Anand) has the lovely sound of cowbells in the prelude to accompany the visuals of a cart. Mere desh ki dharti (Upkar) is an iconic classic that is heard on all days that call for patriotic songs. It is also a song where Manoj Kumar and Kalyanji-Anandj put in gigantic efforts.
cowbellsKalyanji-Anandji spent more than 24 hours at a stretch to record this song and get everything right. Manoj Kumar also went to great lengths to synchronize the visuals with the song and sounds. You get to see birds flying, women filling water, a stream flowing, seeds being sown and lots more with the visuals perfectly synchronized to the sounds in the song. One of the interesting sights in the song is bullocks running with bells around their necks. You can hear these sounds in the first prelude.

Bells also can play a role in the orchestra to build up tempo, anticipation and sometimes a climax in the song.  Though electronics and computers became the standard ‘orchestra’ for songs in the 1990s, A R Rahman mastered the art of  arrangement and raised the standards to a new high.  Rahman used bells beautifully in the song Muqala Muqabla (Hum se hai muqabla). (As an aside, Rahman’s use of bells in this song reminds you of the  themes from popular western films. The theme music in the Dollar trilogy of For a fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are masterpieces in the use of bells, whistles and of course, guitar). Observe the brilliant use of bells by Rahman for building up  tempo and anticipation in the 45 second prelude to the Muqala Muqabla song below (the bells come in after 27 seconds).

Laxmikanth-Pyarelal blended the sounds of bells beautifully with guitar in the inspiring song Ruk jaana naheen (Imtihan). Bells can also be used in the orchestra to create a contrasting sound and bridge different scales of music. R D Burman used bells and chorus effectively in the orchestra in Ek din bik jayega (Dharam Karam).

A R Rahman created a wonderfully soft and dreamy melody in Nahin saamne (Taal). He also used the bells beautifully in his instrument arrangements to build up tempo in the song in the second prelude.
temple bell

Kalyanji-Anandji used temple bells in Mose mera shyam rootha (Johny mera naam). Laxmikanth-Pyarelal also used temple bells effectively in the classical raga based titled song in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

The song Aao tumhe chaand pe (Zakhmee) starts off with the Christmas carol – Jingle bells Jingle bells jingle all the way. But, sadly, one does not hear the sound of the bells in this song. I am not able to recall immediately songs with Church bells.


Boy whistling

Whistling by forcing breath through partly closed lips has been part of film songs at all times. Whistles symbolize joy, fun and a carefree attitude in the songs.

Songs from films prior to mid 1960s, of course, also featured whistles. Anari, New Delhi featured whistles in songs like Kisiki muskurahaton and Nakhrewali.

Among the songs after mid 1960s, popular songs with whistles include two Kishore numbers – R D Burman’s Yeh shaam mastaani (Kati patang) and Rajesh Roshan’s Dil kya kare (Julie). In later years, there were a number of songs that became extremely popular – perhaps the sweet sound of whistle had something to do with their popularity. Jatin-Lalit’s Chand sifarish (Fanaa) and the title song of Main hoon na by Anu Mallik have lengthy whistles. My favourite whistle song is the peppy dance number Arre re are ye kya hua (Dil to paagal hai) by Uttam Singh.

And while these whistles seem to sound dignified and proper, let us not forget what we do in movies when we thoroughly enjoy a scene or situation. ‘Seeti’ or whistling with two 2 fingers whistlefingers in the mouth is actually the ‘proper’ whistle in India. And Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Kajra re (Bunty aur Babli) captures this whistle effectively in the catchy rhythm for this super hit dance number.

Normally whistling is associated with a cheerful mood. However, the whistle after Tum Pukar lo (Khamoshi) leaves you with a haunting feeling. A number of Hemant Kumar songs have this haunting feeling (see The haunting music of Hemant Kumar)

Our songs also feature many different types of whistles. R D Burman’s Jab andhera hota hai (Raja Rani) is all about thieves and their work in the night. As you can expect, you will hear the sound of police whistles in the song. And what about the sound of a train whistle? The train had a key role to play in Meena Kumari’s life in her swansong Pakeezah. The song Chalte Chalte by Ghulam Mohammed ends to the sound of the train whistle. Kalyanji-Anandji also used the train whistle in the prelude of Haathon ki chand lakeeron ka (Vidhaata) though the sound of the whistle in this song is unusual for a train.

train whistle

Did you ever hear the hoot or sound of the horn of a road roller? I thought a road roller would have a horn that sounds like the loud horn of a truck. But, no! I learnt something from R D Burman’s music. R D Burman used the ‘whistle’ of the road roller imaginatively to create a rhythm in Ruk Ruk (Warrant). Listen to the song and decide for yourself whether the whistle of the road roller is an integral part of the song or whether it fits the true meaning of bells and whistles – as a fancy add on.

Bells AND Whistles


Thus far, I discussed songs that featured either bells or whistles – but not both in the same song. But what about songs that have both bells and whistles?

Bhupen Hazarika is a famous music personality from Assam. He was also a music composer in a few Hindi films. His Nainon mein darpan hai (Aarop) features the sound of a bicycle bell as well as Vinod Khanna’s whistle. R D Burman’s Koi haseena jab (Sholay) features the sound of a train whistle prominently as well as the sound of a bicycle bell.

Laxmikanth-Pyarelal’s Gaadi bula rahee hai seeti bajaa rahi hai (Dost) also features the sound of a train ‘seeti’ and the sound of bells.

Kalyanji-Anandji also included both the sounds in their lively duet – Tum ko mohabbat ho gayee (Haath ki safai). While this song starts with a whistle in the prelude, the sound of bells is not as prominent as the whistle. You really have to pay attention to hear the sound of bells in the interludes.

And finally, here is a lovely song in Telugu from the genius Ilayaraja. Maate mantramu (Seetakokachiluka) went on to become an iconic song that is played on most occasions to highlight the sacred nature of marriage and the commitment required for sustaining the marriage. The song includes temple bells as well as sounds that resemble church bells. Enjoy this iconic song below.

I am sure there will be countless other songs that have bells and whistles of various types. I hope you enjoyed this collection of songs on the player and hopefully whistled along with them!

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Memorable Guitar songs

air guitarA Guitar is perhaps the only instrument that almost everyone “plays”. Quite often, we see someone “playing” an ‘Air-Guitar’ (acting as though you are playing the Guitar with both hands, but without any real instrument!). I am sure you would have “played” air-guitar at least a few times and perhaps often. I guess most of the songs accompanied by the air-guitar were lively and energetic ones!

Why is a guitar so memorable? A guitar generates notes that are distinct, strong and clear. Also, some types of guitar create sounds that are sweet and enchanting to the ears. Guitars stand out among all other instruments because of these qualities of clarity and enchanting sounds.

In addition to these qualities, a guitar is perhaps the instrument more strongly associated with ‘western’ than anything else. Thus, a number of western songs that are usually full of energy and liveliness feature a guitar.

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I enjoy listening to songs on the radio or iPod. I only focus on what I hear in a song. So, when I use the term Guitar songs, I mean a film song where a guitar is heard in the song. To me, it does not matter whether someone in the visuals is actually playing the guitar. If someone is actually playing a guitar on screen, it is a coincidence!guitar

As an interesting ‘guess the song’ exercise for you, I created a medley of guitar pieces from 15 handpicked songs. If possible, listen to the medley and try and identify the associated song for each guitar piece. I hope you find this medley to be fun, interesting with quite a few ‘Aha….THAT song!’ moments for you. Enjoy the medley below and try and guess the songs. The medley runs for less than 5 minutes.

Of course, you can always listen to the songs on the player first or take a sneak peek at the commentary below. But, that would spoil the fun for you.

While all music directors in the 1940s, 50s and 60s used guitar extensively, it gained prominence with the catchy prelude in the chart buster song – Dum maro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) composed by the trendsetter R D Burman. Enjoy this lovely prelude here.

Several musicians were associated with Guitar in film songs. Prominent players include Dilip Naik, Boney D’Costa, D’Melo, Bhupinder (the singer), Bhanu Gupta, Sunil KaushikRamesh Iyer.

Enjoy the 15 handpicked songs on the player below. I restricted myself to songs from the 1950s to early 80s since my familiarity with film songs is mostly from this period.

(The player stops playing when you click the back button or go to another link on this page or somewhere else. This happens because the player is embedded on this page. To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the player. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The player will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window).


Lively Guitar

RD BurmanA Guitar is the obvious choice for lively club songs. Ravi, known for his simple melodies created songs that had lovely guitar pieces. Baar baar dekho (China Town) is one such lively number that was a big hit. Another unforgettable club song is O P Nayyar’s Mera naam Chin Chin Choo (Howrah Bridge) that features Geeta Dutt’s lively and energetic vocals and is perhaps a landmark song in her career.

Check out this link from Madhulika Liddle (Dustedoff) about her uncle Sammy Daula, who played the guitar in Baar Baar dekho.

Shanker-Jaikishen introduced new types of arrangements in Hindi film music. Several of their hugely popular songs were lively numbers with energetic guitar pieces. Yakeen karlo (Yakeen) features guitar extensively. Another lively number from Brahmachari, Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke also had delightful guitar in the prelude.

But the credit for the best lively guitar song goes to R D Burman. Dilip Naik played the guitar memorably in the unforgettable prelude in the trendsetter Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar teraa (Teesri Manzil). Music directors rely on computers today to help in music ‘composition’. But, nothing can beat the sheer creativity, talent, passion of the music directors and musicians of the 60s and 70s when songs were recorded ‘live’. Those were the days when composers and musicians relied and were inspired by creative forces, not computers. One can only bow in reverence to R D Burman and his team of musicians who created this song that will rank among the best guitar songs of all time and enjoyable even today in the days of computer programmed music. In fact, apart from the outstanding guitar, this song also features some of the best performances on other instruments including drums, the brass section, flute and almost every instrument used in this song.

Sad Guitar


Strange as it may seem, the Guitar also has a strong role in sad songs. Shanker-Jaikishen’s Ajeeb dastan hai yeh (Dil apna aur preet parai) appears lively but also has a hidden sadness. This is based on a western song, My lips are sealed by Jim Reeves. Karz featured a Guitar theme, by Laxmikanth-Pyarelal that can be heard throughout the film and leaves you with a haunting feeling. This tune too was inspired by a George Benson’s tune, We as love.

A Kalyanji-Anandji chart-buster, Mera jeevan kora kagaz (Kora Kagaz) features guitar that seems to blend with the rhythm and matches Kishore’s emphasis on the words.

Perhaps the best guitar song in the sad category is Kalyanji-Anandji’s O Saathi re (Muqaddar ka Sikandar). The guitar notes seem to blend seamlessly with Kishore’s humming in the prelude and you can hear the guitar as an undercurrent throughout the song without drowning the pathos filled vocals of Kishore. Kishore’s singing and the guitar blend to become one in this chartbuster. Ramesh Iyer played the guitar in this chartbuster.

Paul Mauriat, the world renowned French orchestra leader, selected songs from various countries to be played by his orchestra. He selected O Saathi re as his tribute to India. His arrangements for this song are different and can be heard in the following link.

Sweet & Romantic Guitar


Guitars like Acoustic or Spanish guitar creates sounds that are very sweet, romantic and enchanting. This is perhaps why you hear Guitar in the prelude in a number of memorable romantic songs.

Naushad used guitar to create an interesting ‘building up anticipation’ feeling with the opening strains of guitar in Mere jeevan saathi (Saathi). Though the guitar notes sound simple, the use of guitar in this song is certainly creative and different.

Shanker-Jaikishen’s masterpiece Yeh raat bheegi bheegi (Chori Chori) as well as the lovely evening song Raat ke humsafar (An Evening in Paris) feature sweet sounding guitars in the prelude. Another romantic classic by Kalyanji-Anandji, Pal pal dil ke paas (Blackmail) also starts off beautifully with guitar.

yaadon ki baraatR D Burman used guitar beautifully in Churaliya hai tumne (Yaadon ki baaraat) – guitar played by Bhupinder. However, this song is based on If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. Bappi Lahiri (before he became the Disco man) created a lovely title song in Chalte Chalte. This also features simple, yet attractive use of guitar in the interlude.

But the best use of guitar in a romantic song is Ravi’s Aage bhi jaane na tu (Waqt). Sahir Ludhianvi’s wonderful ‘timeless’ lyrics about the power of Now were beautifully captured in this song. Asha Bhonsle sang her heart out in this song that will perhaps rank as one of her best. The guitar and the entire music create a romantic effect, though the visuals try to convey multiple stories.

Innovative Guitar

Kalyanji-Anandji composed a very unusual lively song Chup Chup Chup kyon baithi ho in Hamrahi. The unusual feature in this song is almost 100% use of guitar in the song. The prelude and interludes have nothing but guitar (except for a few seconds of the train whistle). This is indeed very rare and innovative in Hindi film music.

Top 3 Guitar songs


Apart from the best songs in lively, sad and romantic categories, I have selected 3 songs as the Top 3 guitar songs. How did I choose the Top 3?  This choice is based on the place and domination of the guitar in the prelude and interludes. Apart from the almost 100% guitar song of Kalyanji-Anandji that I highlighted earlier, here are 3 songs where the guitar totally dominates the prelude and interludes. I have used only this criteria to filter the top 3 songs. In each of the top 3 songs, you can hear the dominant guitar at least 80% of the time.

O P Nayyar created a memorable song in Laakhon hai yahaan dilwale (Kismet). Mahendra Kapoor’s soft voice and the easy paced sweet sounds of the guitar make this one of the most memorable guitar songs. Technically speaking, there is a lovely counterpoint (where two or more instruments are played at the same time but in different melodies or patterns) between guitar and viola in the interludes.

The other two songs in the Top 3 category have a lot in common yet are poles apart. You may be wondering how this is possible. Kalyanji-Anandji composed lovely and fast paced guitar pieces in Neele neele ambar par (Kalaakar). These guitar pieces have become so popular that most guitar students in India aspire to play the fast guitar pieces as a sort of ‘benchmark’. If you can play the fast guitar pieces of the song, then you have reached a milestone in learning guitar! The guitar notes played by Sunil Kaushik are also considered the fastest in Indian film music!

The song Neele neele ambar par is based on a song composed by Ilayaraja, the genius from South India. Ilayaraja, an accomplished guitar player himself composed the delightful Ilaya nila (Payanangal mudivithilai) with acoustic guitar pieces that went on to Raja with guitarbecome an all-time classic in South Indian film music. S P Balasubrahmanyam, makes this an easy and soothing song to the ears with his mellifluous voice. S P Balasubrahmanyam also recounts an anecdote about the recording of this song. Apparently, this song was okayed after 16 takes because Ilayaraja, the perfectionist, wanted the right notes from the guitar and the guitarist Chandrasekhar. The delightful notes of the guitar that end this song are truly memorable. This song will rank as one of the best acoustic guitar songs in Indian film music. If anyone can share a better guitar song than this in any Indian language, I would be delighted to hear such a song.

Kalyanji-Anandji must be credited with retaining the base of the song, yet making it totally different with guitar pieces that are faster, delightfully composed and played.

You can hear the two songs below to appreciate the similarity and common base as well as the huge difference in the guitar pieces.

Some of the songs with guitar will remain etched in our memories forever because of the distinctive and sweet sounds of this wonderful instrument. We are fortunate that we had creative music composers and talented musicians who could bring out the best from the Guitar to give us such memorable songs.


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Double delight with Fusion

In music, Fusion is usually associated with a performance that blends instruments from India or East with western instruments. Normally you would expect to hear a sitar or similar instrument being played as a lead to the beats of a drum or similar western percussion instrument (or the other way around). This type of fusion is instrumental fusion and is used more in non-filmy contexts. In the context of Hindi film music, one of the best examples of instrumental fusion is the song Ae naujawan (Apradh). In the grammy awardsinterludes, there is a beautiful amalgam of sitar playing to the beats of tabla and drums. This song incidentally was the inspiration for a song that won a Grammy award! (Black Eyed peas used this song as the basis for their song Don’t phunk with my heart. Black Eyed Peas acknowledged the original creators Kalyanji-Anandji in this song.). However, I will use the term Fusion in this post to mean something totally different from a mere fusion of instrumental music.

FusionIn the context of Hindi film songs, I will use the term Fusion to mean a mix of two different singing styles in the vocals in the same song.

As an example – Indian orthodox film music combined with a rock and roll style in the vocals in the same song would be Fusion for me. It need not necessarily be singing styles from different countries or geographies. A folk song from India can also be mixed with another Indian style in the vocals to make it a Fusion of two different singing styles from India.

What constitutes a specific singing style (like Qawwali, folk, Pop, Rock and roll and so on)? Technical definitions of singing styles tend to be dry, boring and sometimes debatable. Also, the creativity of music directors blurs the boundaries of different styles of singing, making it difficult to define a style clearly. Just use your heart and feel the songs. Your instinct will help you recognise the styles when you hear different styles of singing in one song.


This type of fusion of two different singing styles in the same song, creates its own set of challenges for the composer. The integration or handoff from one style to the other has to be smooth, the singing styles should complement each other in pitch, tempo, length of tune and the associated instruments and rhythm have to change according to the singing style without missing a beat.

There are many examples of Golden era stalwarts excelling in fusing two different styles. C Ramchandra, S D Burman and surprisingly, Roshan have experimented with this type of Fusion. And there are many examples of later year composers like A R Rahman also using Fusion to great effect and producing melodious results. Of course, in most cases, the fusion was required because the situation and picturisation called for two different styles in the same song. I have not considered Anthakshari songs as Fusion songs.

Enjoy 12 of these ‘Fusion’ songs (from 1950s to 2010) in the player below.

(The player stops playing when you click the back button or go to another link on this page or somewhere else. This happens because the player is embedded on this page. To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the player. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The player will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window).

Early Fusion (1940s to 7os)chalti ka naam gaadi

Would you believe it, if I said Roshan used “rap” style of singing in 1951? Listen to Bogi Bogi (Humlog) and observe the lovely fusion of “rap” with Indian and western styles of singing. The pioneering composer C Ramchandra introduced a number of western style songs in the 40s and 50s. Aaja Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Sunday ke Sunday (Shehnai) is a fusion of western style of singing with orthodox style of Hindi film music. Chitragupt used a similar fusion of western and Indian styles in Jodi hamari jamega kaise jaani (Aulad), though it appears that the only change in the two styles is the accompanying instruments.


S D Burman composed the delightful Main sitaron ka taraana (Chalti ka naam gaadi) with Kishore Kumar singing in different styles. And not to be outdone, his son R D Burman came up with the all time classic – Ek chatur naar (Padosan) that mixed a ‘classical’ type of singing with Kishore’s style of singing that defies description and breaks all rules!

RaviAnother golden era stalwart, Ravi was known to compose simple and soothing songs. He challenged himself to come up with a lovely fusion that blends Asha Bhonsle’s fast paced party song style with Mahendra Kapoor’s slow style in Zindagi ittefaq hai (Aadmi aur Insaan). Ravi cleverly used the technique of making Asha utter words like “wah wah” during Mahendra Kapoor’s singing. These words and fillers by Asha ensure the transition from Mahendra Kapoor to Asha Bhonsle is smooth and not sudden or unexpected.

During the 1970s, Kalyanji – Anandji fused a traditional mujra song with Kishore Kumar’s alaap style of singing for a yearning feeling in Salaam-e-ishq (Muqaddar ka sikandar).

Later fusion (1980s onwards)

A R Rahman

There are excellent examples of fusion by later year composers. One of the best examples of outstanding fusion is the song O re chhori (Lagaan). A R Rahman not only mixed singing styles, he also varied the tempo in the accompanying orchestration as the visuals shifted from a village to the fort and ball-room settings. This is truly a superb piece of seamless fusion in vocals and orchestration. Of course, A R Rahman’s Jiya jale (Dil se) is also an outstanding example of fusion of a folk song into the main melody. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy did a wonderful job with the chartbuster Khaike paan banaraswala from the original Don. In the Don remake, they retained the joy and fervor of the original song and also added their own distinctive touch with Shah Rukh Khan’s singing that blends seamlessly into the original song. The resulting song bears the stamp of the original creators Kalyanji-Anandji and at the same time showcases the creative embellishments of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy as well.


Anu Mallik’s Tumse milke (Main hoon na) is also a good example of creativity. This is a lovely mix of different types of Sufi songs including a qawwali set to a fast beat. Jatin-Lalit perhaps had the easiest fusion song without any challenges in Jo haal dilka (Sarfarosh) that starts with the popular Eena meena deeka in rock and roll style and immediately transitions to the main song.

It is easy to dismiss modern day songs as more of “techno-noise” than melody. However, it appears that the challenge of a fusion song brings out the melodious talent in the currenshreya ghoshalt crop of composers. Pritam did a wonderful job with the melodious fusion of a western song with Atif’s singing in Tera hone lagaa (Ajab prem ki ghazab kahani). Shreya Ghoshal was delightfully sweet in Vishal-Shekar’s Bahara Bahara hua dil pehli baar ve (I hate luv stories). This song is a melodious fusion of folk and romantic styles and is very soothing to the ears. Among the many songs that have bits of folk songs mixed with the main melody, this song can perhaps be rated among the best.

Regional Fusion

morning raga

Apart from the 12 Hindi film songs in the player, here are two more great examples of Fusion in other Indian languages. Shabana Azmi starred in the offbeat film Morning Raaga that had the characters speaking mostly in English in addition to a few dialogues in Telugu. Shabana Azmi plays a classically trained singer in the movie. This movie had a lovely example of fusing a traditional Carnatic melody with a western style in the vocals. On top of this, there is a superb solo violin performance and the interplay of drums, piano and guitar supporting the Carnatic classical notes is also delightful. You can enjoy the fusion in the song Taaye Yashoda in the audio link below. I would strongly recommend this song as a ‘must listen’ song. Mani Sharma provided the music for this song.

Ilayaraja, the genius from South India, created a lovely fusion of light folk music with traditional Carnatic music. His Tamil song Paadariyen (Sindhu Bhairavi) starts off innocuously as a simple folk style song for the ‘masses’ and towards the end fuses the simple tune into a proper Carnatic classical song meant for the ‘classes’. Enjoy this wonderful fusion song in the audio link below.

A number of film songs are a delight to the ear. But when you mix different styles in the same song, your can enjoy the best from many worlds for a heady effect. Fusion songs truly enable you to double dip for double the delight.

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Rhythm of Castanets


You may have heard Castanets in several songs, but you may not have recognized them as Castanets. They were used extensively by almost all music directors in the golden era of Hindi film music (1950s and 60s).

Dholak, Tabla, Conga, Bongo are called the ‘primary’ rhythm or percussion instruments and Castanets are called ‘side percussion’. However, once you enjoy a song that has Castanets, it is hard to imagine the song without them. They add a distinctive lively touch to any song. Listen to the rhythm of the Castanets in the audio clip below.

Castanets are relatively tiny instruments that fit into the palms of the two hands and were originally used in European music. They can be played quickly in continuous notes to create a roll type of sound, or they can be played with each click on the castanet being a discrete note. The pioneering musician, Cawas Lord was instrumental in introducing them to Hindi film music. He and his son Kersi Lord played the instrument in several songs. Later, percussionists like Homi Mullan also played Castanets in a number of songs.

While there are a number of songs that use Castanets, I tried to select 10 songs where the Castanets are an integral part of the song. Four of these songs feature artists dancing on the screen with Castanets in their hands. Enjoy these songs from the golden era by clicking the play arrow below on the audio player. On repeated plays, the player automatically shuffles songs.

(The player stops playing when you click the back button or go to another link on this page or somewhere else. This happens because the player is embedded on this page. To listen to these songs without any break, open another window after clicking the play arrow on the player. If you want to browse further on this site or another site, use the newly opened window. The player will keep playing the songs as you browse in the new window).

Rhythm for Melody Makers


Castanets were primarily designed for rhythm. A composer like Naushad laid more emphasis on melody rather than rhythm in his songs. However, the talent in Naushad gave us some of most memorable songs with Castanets.  Lo pyaar ki ho gayi jeet and Jab nain mile nainon se from Jadoo are two of the finest examples in the use of Castanets. Naushad did not support blind copying or importing western styles of singing or instrumentation. These two songs were a strong statement about his belief that you can sound western even with Indian melodies, if you use western instruments with discretion. Both the songs are based on vocals that are essentially trademark Naushad Indian style melodies – long tunes with graceful undulations in the tune. Naushad blended these Indian style melodies beautifully with western interludes and outstanding use of Castanets to support the ‘western’ dances on the screen. If you listen carefully to these two songs, you will find that there is a lot of creative effort in the rhythm patterns and in playing the Castanets at various places in the song. Naushad also used Castanets in songs like Dhadke mera dil (Babul) and Tu kaun hai mera (Deedar). All these songs also show Naushad’s quest for excellence in all areas of his music. You can also enjoy other songs that showcase Naushad’s emphasis on excellence  and innovation in arrangements at Lively songs from Naushad.

S D Burman also laid more emphasis on melody in his songs. His tune Hai apna dil to awara (Solva Saal) has a lively touch aided by the rhythm of Castanets. And his superb melody Mora gora ang lai le (Bandini) uses Castanets extensively for a memorable effect.SD Burman Madan Mohan, the king of soulful melodies showed the ‘western ‘ side of his music in Thodi der ke liye mere ho jao (Akeli mat jaiyo) that makes extensive use of Castanets.

Other melody makers like Ravi also used Castanets in films like Dilli ka thug. Perhaps the beautiful use of Castanets by Naushad was an inspiration for his assistant Ghulam Mohammed. One of his popular melodies from Pakeezah, Chalo dildar chalo chaand ke paar chalo makes lovely use of Castanets.

Rhythm for Rhythm Masters


Any post on Castanets will be incomplete without the music of the ‘Original Rhythm King’ O P Nayyar. O P Nayyar was a trendsetter in rhythm based songs with his novel arrangements. Castanets were an integral part of his rhythm and percussion arrangements in a number of his hugely popular songs. Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan (CID) was one such number (based on a western tune ‘Oh my darling Clementine’) that made good use of Castanets. Aaiyee meherban (Howrah bridge) is a song in which Castanets play a lead role and can be heard clearly in the song. And the joyous Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra (Kashmir ki kali) makes use of Castanets to give a lively feel to the song.

R D Burman was renowned for having a superb rhythm section in his orchestra. Pancham’s emphasis on rhythm is evident from his early days. He used Castanets extensively in his debut movie Chote Nawab in the delightful Matwali ankhon wale. This song features Helen dancing with Castanets in hand. Lata glides through the song RD Burmaneffortlessly and Mohd Rafi sings with a twist in his vocals. R D Burman also contributed to this song with his claps in the prelude, which is a delightful mix of Arabian and Flamenco styles.

Though Castanets may be called ‘side percussion’, their rhythm in songs and creative use of Castanets by talented composers make these songs a lively and delightful treat for the ears.

PS: If you want to enjoy some songs featuring lead performances by primary rhythm instruments like Drums, Conga or Bongo see the previous post Enjoyable western beats.

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