My first encounter with Indian music started like many others with the Sitar of George Harrison in the song ‘Within Without You’ from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of The Beatles. It was at the age of 12, and I remember the first times I listened to the record I just lifted the tonearm and skipped to the next track – it was too hard for me to digest this kind of sound. Not much time went by, I decided to give the song another chance and after several playings of the record, something drew and hypnotized me to this musical mystery. In 2002 I went to India, headed directly to Varanasi, there I started to learn to play the sitar for a few months. One of the first things of the irritating routine there was the absolute flood of current hits from the contemporary blockbuster Indian films. At least in 2002 the pop music that was presented in a typical Indian street was taken from the cinematic musicals (that are famously known as Bollywood movies). Every place you pass, if it’s just on the open road or when you sit to eat in a restaurant; when you walk through shops or in the market – everybody listens to Bollywood songs. That way, as a foreign tourist, love music or not, you can’t get away from them.
Like every new thing you experience in a place like India, and particularly a place like Varanasi, it takes time until you absorb something outside of your Western ‘European’ layers such as I possess. And so, this kind of music trickled slowly to my veins, and in the minute I started to discover some interest in these songs, I realized what drew me so much – to differentiate from the traditional Indian music, the music of Bollywood is incredibly rich with music instruments and especially festive strings. These lush arrangements bring with it harmonies respectively, at least, this is how I recognized it as a western listener. And this is not just harmony, it is sometimes very bold harmony, depicted with very bold chord progressions. If I compare it to the current chord progressions or sequences in a typical western pop song – the Bollywood harmony style will challenge the average western ears. Only in a much later stage, I understood that this “harmony” that I’m addressing to derived because of the use of the traditional Indian music motives (the Indian Ragas). Ragas could be very asymmetric comparing to the ordinary western keys and scales. The arrangers that made the orchestrations for those Bollywood productions composed the orchestral accompaniment in a way that will thicken the melody and the singing in the songs which are usually based on Ragas. When we come and analyze the orchestrations and harmonies with the notion about Ragas, the perception is changing and we could easily see that this “bold harmony” is only a matter of combination between the traditional Indian motives, scales, and musical ornaments and only rarely real chords are played like in western music fashion.
The acknowledgment and the study about the behavior of the music and arrangement of Bollywood songs gave me huge inspiration for my own personal music creation, and if nature will, you could experience some of it too.
Meanwhile, you have here a colorful first sale for a holiday.
Click on the play button: