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India-born, Kenya-raised Punjabi singer Sukhbir used to be a popular Indipop artist back in the mid-late 90s. One of his early albums was called ‘Oi Triesto’, branded as the ‘essential beach party album’. The album was a veritable world-music collection, though whether they are official covers or not is something that is not verifiable now. One clue towards the assumption that they may not be official covers is the fact that the album is not available anywhere on any streaming platforms, while almost every other album and songs of Sukhbir are easily available.

The album had Indianized versions of Alabina’s first song (called ‘Alabina’; and called ‘Yalla Yalla’ in Sukhbir’s version), Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Bailamos’, the Swahili song ‘Kirie Kirio’ and the Kenyan song ‘Karibuni Kenya’, among others. The title song, ‘Oi Triesto’, is the subject of this week’s update.

The source of the song goes back to South America. Peruvian singer Walter León Aguilar composed and released the song ‘La Colegiala’ (The Schoolgirl) in 1977.

But the song became a major commercial success a few years later, due to the cover version by Rodolfo Aicardi, for his Colombian band, Rodolfo y su Tipica, in the early 80s.

Advertising agency Publicis chose Rodolfo’s version of La Colegiala as the music for a Nescafe TV commercial for many countries in 1981. This led to the song’s massive international popularity.

Nescafe, The Train:

Nescafe, Alta Rica:

The original’s lyrics actually go,

“Hoy te he visto
con tus libros caminando…”

Sukhbir’s version is oddly titled ‘Oi Triesto’, and the lyrics even start like that, completely removed from the original, even though he is actually singing the original lyrics! The tune is the same, but it is layered into Enigma-style flute and a far more subdued rhythm. The music video, featuring actress Neelam, shot in Seychelles, was hugely popular back in the mid-90s in India, when it received a lot of airplay on Channel V and MTV.

The original Peruvian song has a Tamil connection as well! In 1997, Ilayaraja’s son Karthik Raja made a splash with the music for the Tamil film Ullasam, produced by Amitabh Bachchan Corporation. One particular song in the soundtrack, ‘Cho Larey’ was nothing but a clever rehash of ‘La Colegiala’. The prominent instrumental music in the Tamil song that starts right after the deceptively incongruous European chants-style prelude is straight out of La Colegiala’s interlude. Even the hook in the Tamil song, ‘Megha Megha…’ is nothing but a spruced up, racier version of ‘La Colegiala’ hook!

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