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Bollywood and all that Jazz

Sound Plunge

Bollywood and all that Jazz

soundplunge_test asks Botown and Peter Cat Recording Co what it is about Bollywood that does it for them even as they stand for independent music.

“Within India, Bollywood is like football in England, or country music in America. It’s all pervasive. Like it or not, it’s part of the DNA, Ajay Shrivastav, the founder member, frontman and guitarist of Botown does not hesitate to go all guns blazing when it comes to the influence Bollywood has played in shaping their music.

Botown –The Soul Band of Bollywood is all about the tributes, whether it is their neo-avatar-ized classic Bollywood numbers or a double whammy of a tribute in their name – short for Bollywood town, it draws inspiration from Motown, a renowned record label for Soul music. The London based band had already performed at reputed gig venues like Trafalgar Square and The Jazz Cafe when they came up with the ultimate Bollywood tribute in 2012 –  The Big B Shuffle (of course it had to be about Amitabh Bachchan.) “The Big B Shuffle” is all about Bombay noir- Night falls over Mumbai and the stars are shining bright/Girls are singin’ out and boys are looking for a fight, the city’s shape-shifting character right out of  Eliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. We catch up with Ajay Shrivastav to find out why Bollywood remains an eternal reference point in this song among others, “As well as being informed by the music, Botown is also informed by the attitude and story behind the music. The best example is our song ‘the Big B Shuffle’. The song is a celebration of Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic dance step which combines influences from retro Bollywood and the Stax Soul sound. Apart from the fact that it is a constant source of inspiration, I think it’s important to identify Bollywood as a global genre of music and also to give credit to what I call ‘The Great Indian Songbook.’”

Botown can never have enough of Bollywood music, and Ajay Shrivastav thinks it is high time Bollywood got recognition as a genre; one of the major reasons he founded Botown was to celebrate these songs and the people behind them. “In America, musicologists have recognised a canon of the most influential popular songs of the 20th century that have endured through time and re-interpretation. This includes the work of such artists as Porter, Gershwin and Ellington to name a few.  It’s my belief that within the wide variety of Bollywood music there exists such ‘standards’ – songs which define the art which are a constant source of inspiration.”

This post-structural analysis ultimately finds its place in their version of “Roop Tera Mastana”, the striking twists to the well-worn Himesh Reshammiya number “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa” and even the clever soul-funk play with the iconic “Chhaiyya Chaaiya”. Bollywood nonchalance drips from their performances, as does it from Ajay’s signature delivery.

Another band which relies on referencing as well as heavy doses of nostalgia is Peter Cat Recording Co. If you have watched their Love Demons video you know what we mean, as an ardent fan commented, “Like Dennis Hopper and Madhur Bhandarkar got into a room and said, ‘Okay, let’s do this shit.’ (I mean this in the best way possible).”

Says Suryakant Sawhney, the lead singer of Peter Cat Recording Co (PCRC), “A lot of Bollywood has always been inhabited by a lot of weird people. Niche people who really create music. ”  Adding to that he thinks it is a place to go back to for a repository of good music, “They ended up making a really global kind of music, without realizing it maybe. As opposed to trying hard to mix Indian with some other kind of music, they would basically take elements of what they liked from another country’s style and make it their own.  I also liked it because Hindi as a language is so much more poetic than English. For instance, there are influences of German music and then they switched to French, switched to English, switched to African… I know that there was a lot of accusation of copying and all of that, but majority of the music remained a lot of what we call fusion music now”.

All about Bollywood's Soul

All about Bollywood’s Soul- From Left to Right – Karan Singh, Suryakant Sawhney, Kartik Pillai, Rohan Kulshreshtha

As far as Suryakant is considered however, the golden years of Bollywood ended about ten years ago. “The last thing I really liked from India was Swades. I don’t know what’s happened after that. A lot of it (the music scene in Bollywood) has collapsed in a very bad way. But also, this has happened all over the world. The music scene is exceptionally bad. There has always been really bad music at all times, in the 50s, 60s and 70s there was some really shit music. But I guess popular music is really bad now. Lyrics are retarded!”

Both bands share a common love for the acoustic world before digital technology’s entry into music-making. As far as Botown goes, it is very important for them to reproduce the live music effect for the integrity of their sound. Keeping that in mind, their first album was recorded completely in analogue. “The ethos of the band is to keep music live so we hark back to the days that pre-date computers, drum machines and MIDI. When you think of the simple technology used and the amazing sounds they produced – that’s real love!

Ajay Shrivastav indulges in some Bollywood swag

Ajay Shrivastav indulges in some Bollywood swag

But it is not just the music but essentially the character of Bollywood that ultimately inspires both Botown and PCRC. Both Ajay Shrivastav and Suryakant Sawhney grew up abroad, and remember fondly a childhood where Bollywood established a connection with India. In fact, Ajay learnt how to speak Hindi while watching Bollywood songs, and Suryakant remembers listening to Guru Dutt on the radio as a child, and then A R Rahman remained a favourite for years after, even as the influence of Western pop grew on him. Ajay sums up the feeling as it was, “If Bollywood were a religion, there would be a lot less tension and a lot more harmony in India. Yes absolutely Bollywood unites! People live their lives by it and set their calendars by it. This is proved by the fact that whilst diasporas across the globe are divided on a lot of issues, the one thing they celebrate together is Bollywood films and music.”

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