What Connects Karz’s ‘Om Shanti Om’ To A Song By Lord Shorty, Inventor Of Soca Music?

In the series Carbon Copy, we give you trivia on the connecting dots between many countries’ music. This week, we look at how the Trinidadian singer complained that his song was lifted for Subhash Ghai's film after Kishore Kumar heard it at a party
What Connects Karz’s ‘Om Shanti Om’ To A Song By Lord Shorty, Inventor Of Soca Music?

The trailer of Indra Kumar's 3rd variant of the 1963 American film, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is out. It's, helpfully, called Total Dhamaal (after Dhamaal and Double Dhamaal). What caught my eye, beyond all the inspired lunacy on display is the song they had recreated – "Paisa Yeh Paisa", from Karz (1980). And Karz reminded me of something else!

So, let's start with some Soca!

He was born Garfield Blackman, in Trinidad, but was better known as Lord Shorty, despite his imposing height of 6-ft 4-in! Shorty began his career with sexual themes in music, but in the early 70s, Shorty was concerned that calypso was dying, and reggae was the new thing. Shorty then wanted to find something to help relaunch calypso to make it more attractive to the younger generation.

After trying experimental tracks like "Indrani" and "Love Man" that contained a rhythmic fusion of the Calypso beat with East Indian rhythms and instruments, he was faced with anger from the East Indian community in Trinidad & Tobago that accused Shorty of trying to desecrate their traditional music, while the African community also criticized him for spoiling his Calypsos with unwanted East Indians musical influences! As a result Shorty's 'Love Man' album generally got bad reviews and so flopped in record sales.

In 1974, Shorty decided that he had to something rhythmically new and also unifying for the nation of Trinidad & Tobago. To appease the African community regards their charge of him spoiling calypso music, he removed all the East Indian instruments but would transfer the rhythmic pattern of the dholak to the drum set, the rhythmic pattern of the dhantal to the triangle and the lead notes of the mandolin/sitar to the lead guitar.

Shorty came up with the track "Endless Vibrations" which he deliberately sprinkled with catchy American phrases and funky horn lines to attract the interest of the younger generation who were at the time more tuned into American funk and soul music. The 1974 track, "Endless Vibrations" immediately took off and traditional soca music as we know it today was born.

In 1975, while recording the title track for his album, "Sweet Music" Lord Shorty coined the word Soca, which he originally spelt Sokah. When Shorty came up with the name Sokah he defined it as being an abbreviation for Soul Of KAiso/CAlypso (Kaiso is a short way of pronouncing Calypso). The "H" was added at the end of the word Sokah by Shorty to reflect the Hindu/East Indian influence that had inspired him in his musical experiments between 1958 and 1974 to move from the traditional calypso beat to his then new Calypso and East Indian rhythmic fusion or Sokah/Soca beat. Shorty also explained that the "kah" part in the word Sokah is also the pronunciation of the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet that also symbolizes the power of movement and that Sokah in addition to representing the Soul of Calypso also represents the power of movement in sound.

So Shorty defined SOCA as being the Soul Of CAlypso rather than being a fusion of American Soul & Calypso as was misinterpreted by some. The "SO" in Soca is meant to be an abbreviation for the words "Soul Of" rather than an abbreviation for American Soul as some folks misinterpret "SO" in Soca/Sokah as meaning. So, in reality, Soca and the soca beat is a fusion of African/Calypso rhythms and East Indian rhythms even though other musical influences and beats are regularly overlaid and added to the mix. However, Calypso in itself is not purely African even though its main roots are African; it also has French, Spanish and American Jazz style musical influences.

It was journalist Ivor Ferreira who misspelled the word Sokah as Soca in his article and that was the spelling that most of the public first saw in writing in the newspaper for the new style of calypso music that they were hearing and this is the spelling that quickly became popular and stuck.

Shorty's 1978 album, consequently, was called 'Soca Explosion'. One song from the album, in particular, stoked controversy because of its use of a Hindu chant in the chorus line. The song, 'Om Shanti Om' has the lyrics,

Om Shanti Om
Shanti Shanti Om
Poornamadah poornamidam
Poornaat poornamudachyate
Om Shanti Om
Shanti Shanti Om
Poornasya poornamaadaaya
Om Shanti Om
Shanti Shanti Om

La la la la
La la la la

The song you hear
Is an Indian prayer
From Ancient times
Created to soothe your mind
In danger, in anger
Sing this Mantra
The golden Mantra
From the Master

Listen to the song, and hold on to that!

Here is Karz's director, Subhash Ghai, in an interview about the film, for Tinsel Town magazine, from 1991! He says, "There have been allegations that certain Boney M numbers were copied. It's just not so."

Now, listen to "Om Shanti Om", from Karz!

Now, having listened to both songs, listen to Lord Shorty himself, in an interview with Sookram Ali for Caribbean Tempo 105FM. At the 2-hour and 5-minute mark, as Shorty's Om Shanti Om plays in the background, here's what is being spoken:

Sookram Ali: (announcing) Kishore and chorus' "Om Shanti Om"…

Lord Shorty: It's the same song. It's what you call an infringement of copyright. Kishore Kumar came to Trinidad along that time. I was invited to a farewell party and I went and presented one of my albums. And the next thing is this song comes out as 'Om Shanti Om', but his name and two people's name is up on it, and they are not mine, who is the composer of this song. I complained to the PRS about it and they wrote back and said that India is a law unto itself and it is impossible for them to go into India to collect my royalty because this thing has sold millions.

Sookram Ali: Shanti Om is an Indian mantra, from Hinduism?

Lord Shorty: But the melody is definitely mine. The melody is not anything that came out of the (mantra/Hinduism)… I just had the lyrics and I put music to it.

PS 1: Not just "Om Shanti Om", even "Ek Haseena Thi" from Karz was lifted off George Benson's "We As Love", from his 1977 album, 'Weekend in LA'.

PS 2: Not just those 2 songs, even the plot of Karz was 'inspired' from the 1975 Hollywood film, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.

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