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V/A - The Bombay Connection / Bombshell Baby of Bombay

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Bombay Connection / Bombshell Baby of Bombay

Label: Bombay Connection

Review date: Mar. 8, 2007

Cast a long shadow, and the rest of the civilized world will get caught in at least part of it. Bombay Connection’s eight-volume series of music culled from Indian cinema follows a number of compilations that emphasized the exotic qualities of Bollywood filmi. The tack taken on these inaugural releases, however, hasn’t yet been fully realized by their predecessors, in that they glamorize those elements that descend directly from Western ephemera, in an examination of how they can be meshed with Indian musical traditions. These compilations seem to have been made by – and for – beat miners, record collectors, B-movie enthusiasts, dimestore novel devours, and all those who wish to get hip deep in the pulp. Incredible selections, and exhaustive, intriguing liner notes omit the last part of the story: you, and your involvement with the material therein. Here, the discs identify how Indian cinema found its own private grindhouse, peopled by jewel thieves, hippie burnouts, floozie starlets, grizzled flatfoots and lecherous scum, qualities that may have passed as a fad but still project the clarion call to margin dwellers all over the world. They shuttle us to a world too ridiculous for us to live in, and we soak it all up.

Emancipation from Great Britain in the late ‘40s allowed India to move on in the world theater as its own entity, in ways that are made examples of every day – witness the free remainders of the third world, white rappers like John Brown, etc. But the Western hold that demarcated their colonization shaped their popular media outlets in ways that play off like two sides of the same coin. Without it, the lives and society of Indian people would have likely progressed in more halted, sheltered ways, but at the same time would have imbued their culture with a traditionalism that makes it all its own. A long-standing Hindi love affair with cinema and the open market had forever married the medium to popular music, and though the plots behind said films may carry elements traditional to them throughout the whole of the cinematic experience, it’s what exactly is done with them that makes Indian cinema, and by relation the nature of the music that accompanies it, its own unique entity. Rashes of loud color, movement, and sound frame stories that can be looked at as simple by some, enjoyably familiar to others, but a bewildering, often shocking riot as some taboos are gingerly avoided, so that others can be plunged into with unfathomable determination. The liner notes highlight a selection from the film “Salaam Memsaab,” in which a mother descends into a world of prostitutes and street thugs to find her son, who rebuffs her efforts; moments later, she is stabbed to death for her troubles. Talk about a cultural difference.

Sift through these collections and you’ll see the same names sprout up: Sachin Dev Burman and his son Rahul, better known as S.D. and R.D.; vocalist Asha Bhosle; harmonium and sitar duo Sonik-Omi; Shankar-Jaikishan; string players Laxmikant-Pyarelal; Mohamed Rafi; synth-freak brothers Kalyanji-Anandji. And indescribably, their music comes from sessions 40 to 50 members strong, predating multi-track recording and all alleged to be recorded live. Technology seems to be a bit of a crutch in some of my musings on sounds of the past, but it’s impossible to hold this music to the same standards as what is available to performers today. Large orchestras, focused and well-rehearsed, were forced to concentrate on getting it right the first time, every time, and the vigor in which they attack this material is not to go without mention. And from an industry that makes more films than any other in the world, and a good six to eight times as many songs to compensate, the hustle depicted isn’t just ambition; it’s mandatory.

The inevitability that Indian films would gather the grit and filth of American action fare and TV series, British “lad” thrillers, garish German adaptations of Edgar Wallace tales and the like are reflected to a fine point in The Bombay Connection, which enters at the foot of the temple and climbs all around. Marketed as sensational trash of a piece with American-International drive-in trash or seamy, morally adrift Italian crime and horror films, the titles represented here saw little market in their fascination with the bottom of the Caucasian barrel, but are every bit as fascinating as the initial examples. Disco, funk, and a marked Afrobeat influence frame the thirteen tracks within, often overtaking them completely. “Giraffe Trapping Music,” from the nature preserve-meets-nature exploitation flick “Habari,” creates mystery and intrigue with wheezy, klaxon-esque drone, flute, and brilliant tuned percussion, all racing along as a poacher literally tries to snare a giraffe onscreen. R.D. Burman’s theme to disaster epic “The Burning Train” sounds one or two steps removed from something off a Basement Jaxx or Daft Punk record, with a deep, Edwin Birdsong-esque synth-bass groove, vocoded horror scatting, then inexplicably, Burman’s own throaty Satchmo impression. Combining the narrative and seductive, Kalyanji-Anandji’s “Na Na Na Yeh Kya Karne Lage Ho,” from spy thriller “Bombay 405 Miles,” slinks between vocal cooing by singer Hemlata and irresistibly tight, sharp funk breaks. Since many of these tracks were written as incidental music to underline the action within the film, it’s little surprise to hear one track covering as many as five or six different tropes within a single piece, a bewildering development that, nonetheless, works on levels that its source inspirations never had the chance to.

Bombshell Baby of Bombay gets off to a rousing start: the familiar, restless “Jan Pahechan Ho,” popularized in the American film “Ghost World,” is the second track here, framed by similarly-themed tracks. More focused than its counterpart, the selections on Bombshell fall back to earlier times, be they the brassy balls of “Perry Mason”-esque musical stings, the scores of ‘60s beach movies, and hotel orchestras, trading in exotica and dancefloor swing. Balkan hustle gets a workout in “1956, 1957, 1958,” penned by Shankar-Jaikishan for the film “Anari,” while slurring, borracha Freddie Fender-esque tex-mex stylings get the Bollywood ballroom treatment on R.D. Burman’s “Ek Bottle Hogal Mein.” Early rock a la Bill Haley and the Comets play a big role in Iqbal Singh’s title track, and twangy guitar and horny sax bust out all over songs from movies with titles like “Bluff Master,” about a compulsive liar’s comeuppance, and the endearing “Loafer.” Fitting, as the composers and musicians behind the tracks on both of these invaluable, dazzling collections do anything but lay around.

By Doug Mosurock

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