Some years ago it seemed like hybridity of this kind was a diasporic invention. DJs in England and North America were imposing their need for western dance beats upon their interest in Indian songs. Also, early practitioners in this genre were generally invisible in India. People like Bally Sagoo so dominated the “imported diaspora” market that he owned the brand: any Hindi song with a hip hop beat would be called a “Bally Sagoo type” song.
Now the Indian producers themselves are using hip hop and house beats in their original film songs. Audiences are becoming younger, and better sound-systems in cars and homes in India means a demand for higher production values in the music. (That's one possible explanation... there may be others.) In the case of movies like Dhoom and Musafir, the studios are releasing official remixes (Musafir apparently comes with two versions of each song, on two CDs).
This would seem to be paradise for a DJ. No more crude DSNY-type remixes – which often ruined great music in the interest of 'adapting' it. (I mean 'ruin' in a technical rather than a conservative ideological sense. Since remixers rarely have access to studio masters which would enable them to isolate the vocal tracks in the Hindi/Punjabi songs they remix, they have to achieve that isolation manually, using software like ProTools. Even if it's done well, the remixed vocals are usually a little thin or tinny. And they are lower in the mix – the beat dominates.)
But the embrace of western beats and western production styles has actually produced some new problems. For one thing, the old formula of the familiar Hindi song and the cool (but also familiar) hip hop beat doesn't work if the beat is new and the song is new. And a lot of people here in the U.S. -– especially people who are a little older, or not living in an area densely populated with South Asians -– generally don't keep up with the latest music as much as they might. Last night, for instance, I sensed that the crowd didn't recognize the latest rap/reggae songs (no response to N.O.R.E. and Nina Skye's “Oye Mi Canto”!) or the latest happening Hindi songs. Nothing much on Dhoom, Musafir, Naach, Yuva, Humraaz, etc. etc.
With such problems, the best thing to do is to take refuge in Bhangra, which very few people – even amongst Punjabi speakers -- 'know' in any conventional sense. The range of variation in the beat in Bhangra is fairly limited (or more cynically, the songs all sound a little bit the same). So people –- even folks who don't have any direct connection to India -- are likely to dance to Bhangra beats even if they don't recognize the song. Last night, my best bets (after the predictable success of “Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe” and “It's the Time to Disco”) were Punjabi songs. I've written a bit about the power of Punjabi music in a club before. Here I would only add: it's worth noting that Punjabi music is the only desi pop music that has its own recognizable -– and unique –- beat. Part of its power comes from its distinctive branding (sorry to use marketing speak), even when remixed or grafted onto hip hop. In contrast, Hindi film music sounds, musically, not so different from pop music anywhere in the world. One exception to this rule is A.R. Rahman, who is unique except perhaps when he copies himself. (Which, lately, he is prone to do.)
Below are some further notes on individual hits and misses from last night. It's ordered not by sequence but (loosely) by genre. I went back and forth between Hindi and Punjabi throughout the evening. And I had so many requests that the ordering of my songs was a bit random. Also: I had to repeat a few big tracks (when you're on for 3 hours or more, it's kind of inevitable).
Bally Sagoo, “Jugni” with the “Billie Jean” beat
Worked. This one always works, even though the remix is crude and Malkit Singh's voice is a little tinny (see above).
DJ Rani, Daler Mehndi, “Jalwa” with the “Everyone falls in love some time” beat
I often suffer with this one. Maybe “Jalwa” isn't as popular as I thought.
A.S. Kang “Aish Karo”
This Punjabi song is great. Can't go wrong. “Eat, drink, have fun, my friends...” Also a nice message. A.S. Kang, I think, has a great voice -- too bad he often gets stuck with second-rate producers.
Panjabi MC, “Dhol Jageero Da”
This is slower, traditional Bhangra from Panjabi MC. It's one of the best Bhangra tracks in years. Can't go wrong.
Tigerstyle, “Nachna Onda Nei”
This is a great song (“I don't know how to dance”), but the beat is sometimes a drawback. The extra-heavy bass sounds good on a nice stereo, but it wreaks havoc in a club. I had to turn the bass way down half-way through the song.
Essential Asian Flavas, DJ H & Punjabi Outlawz, “Yaar Dha” (track 3)
Tigerstyle, The Rising, “Put Jatt de Shakeen”
Great Punjabi tunes, and genius hip hop beats.
“Aaja ni Aaja (Tenu Nachna Sikadia)”
Another song about learning how to dance (“Come on, I'll teach you how to dance”). Seems to be a popular theme...
Stereo Nation “Apna Sangeet”
Fast Bhangra in the breakbeat style. This sounds great in the car or at home, but for some reason it didn't move the crowd as much as I'd hoped. Maybe a little too fast?
Hunterz, Phat Trax "Dil" (track 2)
Urban Bhangra Hype, Ama Ni Ama (track 6)
Hunterz, Phat Trax, Dil Karda eh (track 4)
DJ APS Return of the King, Punjabi Girl (track 3)
The Jump Off, “Nach Le” Daler Mehndi/A.R. Rahman remix
I was happy with all of these tracks, which came off of some new CDs I'd purchased in Queens. Especially good were the remix of “Nach Le” (from Lakeer) and the DJ APS track. Too bad I didn't think to play these until the evening was beginning to wind up. Next time they go in earlier.
Stereo Nation, Oh Laila, “Nachangeh Sari Raat” (track 3)
“We'll dance all night.” Playing this track was wishful thinking on my part! Ok, just kidding, actually it worked just fine.
Dhoom, “Dhoom Machale,” “Dhoom Dhoom,” “Shikdum (Bedroom Mix)”
Surprising – not as successful as I'd thought. This soundtrack has been in my head for the past two weeks. But maybe that's just me. If or when it catches on in the diaspora community, it might work better.
#1s Item Hitz! “Dekh Le” remix from Munabhai MBBS
Complete disaster. Had to abort after one minute. Why? Such a nice song, remixed from a popular movie. This sounded fine at home, but a little garbled coming through the sound system. Maybe I had the levels off? Or maybe I should listen again.
Baby Doll, Come Fall in Love! “Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar” remix
This was a hit in India this past summer, with a nice funky swing to it, and sort of a naughty tone. Seemed to work here too, though it's a little on the slow side for my tastes.
Kal Ho Na Ho, “It's the Time to Disco” -- anthem
Dil Chahta Hai, “Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe” -- anthem
Panjabi MC, “Mundian to Bach Ke” -- anthem
These never get old... yet. I will mourn when I have to retire these.
Instant Karma, “Dum a dum Mast Kalandar”
Euphoric house music. More people should listen to Instant Karma; they are good.
Special Appointment Club Hits, “Inhi Logon Ne” remix
Seemed to work.
Asha Bhosle, “Sharara”
Funky, upbeat. Still works.
DJ Karma “Chaiya Chaiya” remix from Dil Se
This song is a bit of a quandary. The original is actually a little slow for my tastes, but it's still a huge anthem for people nonetheless. Perhaps it's the recognition factor? The memory of the film, where Shah Rukh Khan is dancing on a moving train? Sukhwinder Singh's voice? I don't know. Can someone tell me what is so great about "Chaiya Chaiya"?
Monsoon Wedding, "Kawa Kawa/Aaj mera jee karda"
Same question about this song. It's slow, but you have to play it.
It's the Time to Disco Dance Dhamaka, “Jaa re jaa staying alive mix” (track 8)
I got this CD in India. It's kind of a party compilation, but it's produced by Sony. Anyway, the song sounded great. They are reproducing in studio (not sampling) The Bee Gees' "Stayin Alive." I should have played this earlier in the evening.
DJ Kucha, “Rang Barse” Amitabh remix with Rob Base, “Its takes two”
This remix takes one of the best hip-hop songs ever, and mixes it with one of the best Hindi songs ever. And it kicks butt.