Nerding Out On Bappi Lahiri, Film Companion

My earliest memory of Bappi Lahiri is seeing him at our Calcutta residence door at 4 in the morning. I had never seen someone so flamboyant, so humble and really honestly so uber-cool. Absolutely unapologetically, he walked with a swag in ten thousand tonnes of gold around his neck. “Bappi…tomar ghaar baetha korey na? Shona koto bhori? (Bapi, doesn’t your neck hurt with the weight of all the jewellery? How many karats worth of gold are you wearing?)” my father, the filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, had asked him, to which he had responded, “Ek ekta kuri bhori dada (Each necklace is about 20 karats)”. Thus started a conversation between two artists and unlikely collaborators.

I never thought my father would want to work with Bappi Lahiri as he tried to stay away from the commercial film industry, but he loved good music, and Bappi da made good music. I was too shy to say anything to him and my mother Kuntala Dasgupta (who passed away in 2009) tried to make up for it by telling him “Apnar Oye Oye gaanta kintu darun” (I loved your song “Oye Oye”). His response was the cutest and the humblest. He told her that he didn’t compose “Oye Oye” but he loved that song too, instantly putting my mother at ease with her embarrassment.

 

Bappi Lahiri was a fan of baba’s films and wanted to produce as well as score his Lal Darja (The Red Door, 1997). After a beautiful, somber score Bappi da left his signature style in the climax of the film when Shubhendu Chatterjee, who plays the main character, gets engulfed by a big cloud of smoke. What made my father most content is that he understood the extended realism of his films. Now, all of them are gone – my parents and Bappi da. Perhaps that’s why my brain associates his demise with the end of a beautiful era, the golden days that won’t be back. (And oh, that reminds me that I better go see Paul McCartney live in concert pretty soon).

Other than certain songs by RD Burman like “Dhanno ki ankho mein”, this avant-garde electronic dance music was unheard of until Bappi da burst into the scene. 

As I sink my claws deeper into the music industry, ironically I seem to be looking forward to the past, to those days when I used to feel the joy after discovering some rare, cool music. Even now, this esoteric habit of finding new music and retreating into my favourite world with those songs is what still excites me. Similarly, it equally excites me when other people too are nerdy about their discovery of new, rare music. It is true that Bappi da’s music was heavily ‘inspired’ by a lot of songs but what I found cool is that during 80s and 90s, when discovering niche international music was not the easiest (there was no internet), Bappi da’s repertoire ranged from early French pop music like Ottawan to the new wave synth pop electronic musicians The Buggles, to avant-garde electronic music by Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd. Other than certain songs by RD Burman like “Dhanno ki ankho mein”, this avant-garde electronic dance music was unheard of until Bappi da burst into the scene.

 

His interest in exploring new synth sounds and complex bass lines was akin to Kraftwerk-esque synth-pop-strange sound. I was studying in Toronto when I first started listening to Kraftwerk and loved “We are the robots“. I told a fellow class mate that I found it very similar to the style of this musician from India called Bappi Lahiri and hey presto, this guy knew exactly what I was talking about. In fact this Canadian cellist showed me his collection of Bappi Lahiri’s music. In the stack also was Charanjit Singh (contemporary of Bappi Lahiri) and Sundar Popo’s songs. He told me that Bappi Lahiri had a niche but strong cult following there. I showed him some of the spoofs made on him by Mir, the Bengali RJ and comedian, and they found it hilarious. What was strange is how they seem to connect to his personality with this music. They thought he was a sweet, talented, cool guy who could caricature himself better than anyone. He was beyond “spoof”, a genre in himself.

I am going to go nerdy on some of Bappi da’s songs that I cannot stop thinking about:

1. Mujhko Yeh Zindagi

I find it commendable how he drew his inspirations from these songs and created his own signature, larger-than-life songs while retaining his achingly beautiful melodies. He was a master of melody. “Chalte Chalte” was my father’s favourite while one of my favourites was a song from Sailaabh called “Mujhko Ye Zindagi”. It has such a poignant melody and such beautiful transitions. I cannot trace the inspiration for these complex and beautiful melodies…that must be the genes!

2. Yaar Bina

Bappi da took a Bangladeshi folk song and gave it a disco treatment. “Yaar bina chain kaha re” is actually “Je jon premer bhaabh jane na” which we first heard in one of Runa Laila’s albums.

3. Raat Baaki

I know this is cliched but I have to talk about the song because it’s just too beautiful. Right after the atonal noisy prelude, the atypical disco bass starts, but he does something else to the bass-line, I am not not sure what, that gives it the haunting quality and synthesised strings play the melody over it…it’s hair raising. I think he used a lot of modulations to the minor key especially in the whistle which is just the coolest, leading up to the beautiful beautiful verse.

4. Tamma Tamma

He used the quintessential elements of disco but he took those cliches and broke them by experimenting heavily with the synth, creating syncopated bass-lines and beautiful string lines that play the counter melodies. We see this yet again in “Tamma Tamma”. This song transcends all the controversial “copy of a copy of a copy” saga. It has the coolest interlude and coolest synth lines. The way he has used his inspiration in this track sort of makes it so much ahead of its time especially during the revival of the ‘analog scene’.

You can definitely tell that this man knew how to work with a T303 and heavily sequenced the bass lines that he created along with the drum machines. I might be wrong, but I think his music resulted in a huge demand for all the synth from the Roland and Juno series that were available at the time.

5. Jimmy Jimmy

I was elated when MIA reinterpreted “Jimmy Jimmy” in her own way keeping its integrity. Such was the global impact of his music. Bapi da was also a versatile singer – his child like, heavy Bengali accented voice could morph in and out of genres. In the last few years I listened to this song sung by him called “Speed Breaker” composed by Sneha Khanwalkar. It was an amazing track with this triplet catchy electronic groove with Bappi da crooning over it..Oh man that gave me a lot of joy. All of this is very emotional for me as it’s a separate league of nostalgia altogether. Yes…”Yaad a raha hain..tera pyaar”.

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