Rhythms of the Indian Ocean

The chief language of Madagascar, Malagasy, belongs to the Malay family of languages spoken on the islands on the other side of the island. On the Konkan coast, from Karnataka all the way up to Gujarat, there are people who owe their origins to Abyssinia and beyond. In Maldives, they speak Divehi, a word which borrows from the Indian root Div meaning island. In Mauritius, Hindi (specifically Bhojpuri), French, Swahili and English have got mashed up into a lilting creole which Amitav Ghosh plays with in River of Smoke, his second book in the Ibis trilogy. Every piece of land on the shores of or sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean share languages, religions, cuisine, customs, trades and even disasters.

These are just a few examples which give evidence of the intense traffic in the Indian Ocean over millennia. Cargo including spices, rubber, teak, opium, coffee, horses, gold, frankincense, myrrh and slaves were exchanged between the lands. All this togetherness is also embedded in the music of this part of the world.

The rhythmic movement of waves and tides serve as the basic tempo of boatmen and fishermen songs from Indonesia to Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka to Maldives to Madagascar. Islam has contributed to a Sufi like structure to song writing where the Almighty is personified as the beloved. Africa and South India have sent out varieties of drums and percussion instruments to the far lands to lend the beats.

To start exploring the music of the Indian Ocean, we can follow the spice trail – starting with Indonesia and Burma in the east through Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the islands of Lakshadweep, Minicoy and Maldives in the middle on to Arabia in the north.

We can also follow the people trail – slaves transported from Africa to India and the East Indies; indentured labourers from Bihar and Bengal transported to Mauritius, East Africa and Southern Africa; Arab traders settling down in Zanzibar, Somalia, Kutch, Malabar and the Malay; pirates setting up free cities in Madagascar and Mozambique; peoples of one land crossing the seas to another land escaping persecution and war and of course the Europeans of all shades and tongues conquering everything in sight.

In this post I go east and explore the music of a contemporary band in Aceh.

Aceh, in the northern tip of Sumatra, has a history of its own. Being closest to India and West Asia, it was a port of call for ships sailing east. Islam came to this part of the world in the 13th century with graves of Sultans dating to the period found here. There may have been some influence from Hindu kingdoms of India as there are a number of places with Sanskrit names. But for the last 800 years, Islam has been the guiding force here and remains so. The Sultanate of Aceh was one of the wealthiest in the region because of the strategic location and was much coveted as an ally by the Portuguese, Dutch and of course the Arabs. It is still has a status of an autonomous region within Indonesia, the outcome of the peace accord that ended over 30 years of internal conflict, triggered by the tsunami.

This move towards peace, some people say, started with the huge destruction caused by the tsunami in December 2004 that wiped out 120,000 people from the town of Aceh and destroying 60% of the city. There was thus a two levels of rebuilding – one physical from the calamity and one more psychological from the horrors of conflict.

I found this band called Kande (meaning candle). Built around frontman Rafli, considered a rockstar in his country, the vocals and the strong bass lines of the band generate a powerful force that makes you pay attention. His vocals remind me of the legendary Baaba Maal of Senegal.

Kande’s 2006 album Meukondroe (If Not Us) discusses the dual rebuilding process which requires peace and unity and this message comes through in this album. Rafli himself traveled from refugee camp to refugee camp in Aceh province, singing and providing solace to the internally displaced people there. Incidentally, most music shops in Aceh were washed away and it is very difficult to find music discs in Aceh itself.

The songs which I have put in this playlist are in Acehnese. I don’t understand the words. But some of the visuals in the video give their own message. The vocals themselves resemble the muezzin’s call. Aceh is one of the most conservative parts of Indonesia and the call to prayer is very much part of the ambient audioscape. Rafli’s voice travels through like those of the best qawwaals and classical singers. The band that plays around him accentuate the power of the vocals.


  1. Meukondroe, the title song from the 2006 album. There are two versions – the original and a concert version with a string orchestra
  2. Hoom
  3. Bumoe, the opening screen of the video suggests that the song is about the tsunami and the destruction it caused
  4. Asai Nanggroe
  5. Meukuta Alam, which has old archival pictures of Aceh and has a touch of the saudade in its tune.

Kya Item Hai!

The Munni v Sheila debate has caused much intellectual oil to be burnt including a bar brawl, couple of PILs and a socio-cultural rural-urban analysis.

I am an old schooler and prefer Monica / Kitty Kelly / Miss Chin chin choo aka Helen.

A Helen classic (one of those rare occasions when Lata sings for the greatest item girl in Hindi films)

Folk and Anti-Folk

Just felt like listening to this. And blogging it.

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row


Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Contrast this with this:

Shysters live from scheme to scheme but my 4th quarter pipe dreams
Are seeming more and more worth fighting for
So I’ll curate some situations, make my job a big vacation
And I’ll say fuck Bush and fuck this war
My war paint is sharpie ink and I’ll show you how much my shit stinks
And ask you what you think because your thoughts and words are powerful
They think we’re disposable, well both my thumbs opposable
Are spelled out on a double word and triple letter score and

We won’t stop until somebody calls the cops
and even then we’ll start again
and just pretend that nothing ever happened

Nice way to end a weekend with this.

Today’s Web Discovery : 17th November 2009

Today was a lazy day overall. That gave me much time to browse and discover new knowledge.

India the Jugaad Country: This blog post written by Mohanjit Jolly gives a delightful insight into the resilience of Indians. In A Wednesday, Naseeruddin Shah comments, “we are resilient by force, not by choice”. But that is the paradox, jugaad happens only when there are constraints.

The concept called Jugaad. For many Indians, especially from the north, this is a commonly-used term. Jugaad is the summation of what makes India tick – enterprising, resourceful, and making things work to address what needs to be done within the constrained resources.


In a developing country, one simply “does” because “not doing it or waiting” is simply not an option. That’s probably why the “ho jaiga (it will be done)” attitude is so prevalent in India, because one knows that whatever the issue, one will figure out a way to address it, although the exact mechanism and timeline may be very unorthodox and unpredictable.

Jugaad is survival.

Torture Songs: In military parlance, they are called Long Range Acoustic Devices. Like rocket launchers, these LRADs are used to propel anything from heavy metal to girl power pop on the Al-Qaeda. Off the list, this one seemed the most interesting

Barney The Dinosaur’s I Love You : The Guardian newspaper in London called this sugary lump of fear inducing madness the most “overused” song in the U.S. interrogator’s arsenal. Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, however, used the sappy kids’ show theme song as “futility music” to convince detainees of the futility of maintaining their silence. One United Kingdom human rights group protested President George W. Bush’s visit to England by blasting the song in his general direction. Now that’s a second strike.

Futility music, I dare say. I wonder what Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC must be wondering.

Phrases from the sea: Feeling “Under the weather”? Or are you in “the doldrums”? Try “chewing some fat”. “By and large” you will be okay. The seas connect the world and how can language be immune to its influence. After sailors have contributed to the growth of trade and culture by taking stuff from one part of the world to the other. And so to with language.

Periodic Table for Marketers: (Blinds.com) This is probably the best discovery of the day. What is brilliant is the simplicity of representation and easy assimilation possibilities. It also gives the marketer a range of tools to build his marketing strategy. Thus building confidence.

Uber-cool Shillong: DNA reports an annual rock concert celebrating music icons like Elvis and The Beatles in Shillong. Local bands and artists take the stage in the rock capital of the country.

Nazi Witch Hunt: (NYT ) The Nazi witch hunt continues with octogenarians and nonagenarians on the dock for massacres and murders during the Holocaust.

Paper Art: (myinterestingfiles.com) Peter Callesen, a Dane, makes these beautiful sculptures with A4 plain paper.

Paper art by Peter Callesen, myinterestingfiles.com

Paying for online content: (Readwriteweb.com) With print editions of newspapers folding up, this is just adding to the bad news. Forrester reports that over 80% of internet users in the US and Canada will not pay to access newspaper and magazine websites. Essentially there is no market.

Google Wave demo, Pulp Fiction style: Great to end the day


In continuation of the exploration of the music of Kaminey (Dhan Ta Nan and Fatak) and specifically the lyrics written by Gulzar, here’s Gaurav Sabnis on the title track sung by Vishal Bharadwaj.

My favourite lines, which in true Gulzar style has as many interpretations as your imagination allows it, are as follows:

Jiska bhi chehra chheela (But whenever I peeled off anyone’s face))
Andar se aur nikla (Underneath it, there was more/something else (pun))
Masoom sa kabutar (What I thought was an innocent pigeon)
Naacha to mor nikla (When it danced, showed itself to be a peacock)
Kabhi hum kaminey nikley (Sometimes I was the crook)
Kabhi doosrey kaminey (And sometimes, the others were crooks)

(Note: Translations given by Gaurav)

Bob Dylan – Bootleg Series, Vol 1

Having recently acquired the complete songs of Bob Dylan, it has been some great musical journey all along. Every day I listen to a couple of songs, songs which one hears for the first time.

And unlike other songs, you can’t just listen to Bob Dylan as just another song. You stop / pause it, go back and play again. You listen to couple of lines three to four times. Over 30-45 minutes, you generally listen to two Bob Dylan songs at least 5 times each.

And then you sit back and ponder the song in your mind.

Here are two from the Bootleg Series, Vol 1

Ramblin’ Gamblin Willie:

So all you rovin’ gamblers, wherever you might be,
The moral of this story is very plain to see.
Make your money while you can, before you have to stop,
For when you pull that dead man’s hand, your gamblin’ days are up.
And it’s ride, Willie, ride,
Roll, Willie, roll,
Wherever you are a-gamblin’ now, nobody really knows.

And this one

Who Killed Davey Moore?

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not I,” says the referee,
“Don’t point your finger at me.
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure,
At not gettin’ their money’s worth.
It’s too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”

Go enjoy. More from the 20th century’s greatest poet (IMHO)

Bedtime Music – Led Zeppelin

Hangman hangman hold it a little while,
Think I see my friends coming,
Riding many a mile.
Friends did you get a some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me my dear friends,
To keep me from the gallows pole?
What did you bring me,
To keep me from the gallows pole?

Bedtime music is usually soothing, peaceful, soporific stuff. So Led Zeppelin for bedtime music? Well not quite bedtime. Working as a consultant, all day is spent doing mental exercises and brain work. Result – mental fatigue. Solution – something that flushes the mind and clears everything.

And so Led Zeppelin.

Past couple of hours, spent time listening to albums Volume 1, 2 and 3.

Couldn’t find video of Gallows Pole, but here’s Dazed and Confused from Volume 1.

Volume 1 is the introduction – the first album – to Led Zeppelin. A whole new sound of blues, folk, classic rock. Folksy vocals of Plant, wailing chords of Page. If you ever want to dig into Led Zep, start here.

Piyush Mishra and Swanand Kirkire

Three songs in the recent past that I have heard, I would like to write about. Given the current elections climate, some of these lyrics seem so eloquent and thought provoking.

Let’s start with Piyush Mishra and two songs from Gulaal – Aarambh (sung by him) and Ranaji (sung by Rekha Bharadwaj)

Aarambh first:

In a strong war-cry like tone, Piyush Mishra sings:

Aarambh Hai Prachand,
Bol Mastako Ke Jhund
Aaj Jung Ki Ghadi Ki Tum Guhar Do

Straight and direct, a call for war. Further on, he advises:

Ishr Ki Pukaar Hai
Yeh Bhagwat Ka Saar Hai
Ki Yudh Hi To Veer Ka Pramaan Hai
Kauravo Ki Bheed Ho Ya Pandavo Ka Neer Ho
Jo Lad Saka Hai Wo Hi To Mahaan Hai

And further on

Jis Kavi Ki Kalpana Mein Zindagi Ho Prem Geet
Uss Kavi Ko Aaj Tum Nakaar Do
Bheegti Nasso Mein Aaj, Phoolti Rago Mein Aaj
Aaj Aag Ki Lapat Ka Tum Baghaar Do

There is no metaphorical thinking in this song. Very theatrical but without using crappy Bollywood junk words. Piyush Mishra goes into allegory with Ranaji

Haayeee Ranaji Maare Gusse Mein Aaye
Aiso Balkhaaye,
Agiya Barsaaye,
Ghabraaye Marro Chain

Sounds like typical chamiya village item numbers. Then comes the punch lines used to describe the proverbial Ranaji’s temperament (Translation provided for those who don’t understand Hindi – tried to get as much of the spirit as possible)

  1. Jaise door desh ke tower mein ghus jaaye aeroplane (Like how an aeroplane piled onto a tower of a far off country)
  2. Jaise sareaam eeraaq mein jam gaye Uncle Sam (Like how Uncle Sam made merry in Iraq in front of everyone)
  3. Jaise bisleri ki botal pee ke ban gaye Englishman (Like how drinking “mineral water” differentiates an English educated guy from a rustic bumpkin)
  4. Jaise har ek baat pe democracy me lag gayee band (Like how democracy gets f*** at the drop of a hint)
  5. Jaise bin baat ka Afghanistan ka baj gaya bhaiya band (Like how Afghanistan got f*** for no fault)

The movie of course has its merits. I recommend listening to the soundtrack independently.

Now to this song from Welcome to Sajjanpur. I watched the movie on cable the other day and I quite liked it. A light comedy from Shyam Benegal with all the usual sarcasm and jibes at life and society. The music by Shantanu Moitra was quite pleasant if not outstanding. I would like to point out to two songs – Aadmi Aazad Hai and Munni Ki Bari

Aadmi Aazad Hai first. Sung by Kailash Kher, it’s sounds like all feel-good patriotic numbers but for two things – the ektara twangs that give it a nice folk (esp eastern India) touch and these lines by Swanand Kirkire:

Khil Rahi Thi Kali Kali,
Mehke Thi Gali Gali
Aap Tabhi Saanp Huye,
Hum Ho Gaye Chhipkali
Satta Ki Yeh Bhuk Vikat,
Aadi Hai Na Ant Hai

Abb Toh Prajatantra Hai
Aadami Aazaad Hai

Arre Jiski Laathi Usaki Bhains,
Saanp Ne Bana Diya
Hey Note Ki Khan Khan Sunaake Vote Ko Gunga Kiya
Party Fund Yagya Kund Ghotaala Mantra Hai

Abb Toh Prajatantra Hai
Aadami Aazaad Hai

No longer is it a feel-good number but some really good lines telling many things within the mood of hope. The chorus line “Abb toh prajatantra hai, aadmi aazaad hai” are both a celebration as well as a plea, a prayer of hope.

Then there’s this eunuch song which may be a good dance number but do observe these few lines:

Are Mardo Ne Khub Kiya, Haan Ji
Are Aurat Ne Khub Kiya, Haan Ji
Are Dono Ne Khub Kiya Raaj,
Ki Aayi Abb Munni Ki Baari

Aa Gai Hai Munni Bai,
Dholak Pe Mohar Lagayyo
Munni Bai Kohi Jitayyo
Dham Dolak Baajegi,
Munni Bai Jitegi
Dukh Ki Ghadiya Bitengi,
Aur Munni Bai Jitegi

This is another post on Hindi lyrics. I had done on Gulzar’s Jai Ho and Piyush Mishra’s Kaala Bandar.

Prasoon Joshi – Hey Kaala Bandar

There were days when one didn’t know which way to turn – there was Shailendra, Majrooh, Shakeel Badayuni, Hasrat Jaipuri, Sahir, Gulshan Bawra, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Rajinder Krishan, Anand Bakshi – legendary poets writing for the masters of music – Salil Chowdhury, SJ, Naushad, SD Burman, RD Burman et al. From that age, today we have only Gulzar and Javed Akhtar holding the fort.

Personally, I prefer Gulzar’s metaphors “zariwale neele aasman” to Javed Akhtar’s verbosity “albele albele tan, lachchkile lachchkile tan”.

One person who seems to be proving to be a strong contender is Prasoon Joshi. His usage of the metaphor is quite impressive.  I am have been listening to the soundtrack of Delhi-6, especially Hey Kaala Bandar. I present my observations of the lyrics (the melody part, not the English rap lyrics).

Here’s one snip

Ghoonghat Ki Gehrai Mein
Tan Failaye Kaun Hai
Jab Safed LibaaS mein
Kaala Sa Sach Moll Hai

Another snip from the song

Kasme To Moongfali Hai
Jab Jee Chhahe Hum Khaate
Upar Se Na Na Na Karte
Par Thaali Aage Sarkate

“Moongfali” – peanuts, eh? In the Mumbai local trains and bus stops, the peanut fellow comes in small 1 rupee / 2 rupees rolled packets. They are sold as “timepass”. So in effect what Prasoon is saying that we make promises as timepass, whenever we want – it’s just another trivial part of our lives.

“Thaali Aage Sarkate” – holding up the plate while saying no. A typical trait in everyone – saying no, I have eaten and yet not resisting when more helpings are given.

Going down to the end of the song

Saare Reeti Rivaaz Hatakar
Dekho Apne Ghar Ke Andar
Shaayad Kahin Kissiko Kone Mein
Ghoom Raha Hai Kaala Bandar

It is my conjecture that “Kaala Bandar” refers to the monkey man scare in Delhi. I would like to be corrected. Assuming this conjecture, the above snip has some insightful words – “Saare Reeti Rivaaz Hatakar” meaning jettisoning rules and customs; by extension throwing away one’s dogma; and even more, opening up one’s eyes.

He is saying, you open up your eyes and you will see the monkey inside you – all the hoaxes, the fears, the inhibitions, the dread.

Nice stuff. And then Prasoon Joshi closes the piece with these two lines

Jaane Kaunse Rang Mein Range
Hamaam Mein Hum Saare Nange


Sukhwinder Singh – Chhaiya to Jai

Consider the following list, not exhaustive

  1. Kaava Kaava
  2. Chaiyya Chaiyya
  3. Ramta Jogi
  4. Chak De India
  5. Dard-e-Disco
  6. Fashion Ka Jalwa
  7. Jai Ho

They are all Sukhwinder songs, no doubt. And all hit numbers. But there is more – the phrases specifically are so well entrenched into our consciousness. No doubt the lyricist is to be complemented. But a major reason for these phrases to have such enduring resonance in our minds is the voice that sung them originally.

Sukhwinder Singh is one of those apecial singers who gets tunes made for him i.e. music directors do not call him for all and sundry songs. They call him when there is something significant, something challenging, something that only Sukhwinder can do.

Among the others in the current generation, there’s Sonu Nigam, Shaan and KK who invoke the best out of all music directors.

But back to Sukhwinder. (I am not linking you to the wikipedia page as it is very shoddily written. Instead I have linked to the imdb page.) Now, “Jai Ho“, the song from Slumdog which has been nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards has the full Sukhi (as he is called by his peers) energy and vitality required for the song. As I have written about Jai Ho in the previous post, the song opens up the undying spirit of the young street smart slum boy. And the singer had to bring it out and it was done.

So next time there is a phrase that becomes a war cry, it would most probably be a Sukhwinder song

Jai Ho!!