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Seven Indian Bands That Should Exist

Goth bhangra tops this list

Rakesh Khanna Jan 14, 2014
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1. The Goth Bhangra Band

I’ve never been sure why goth music and goth fashion never took hold in India ”“ or, vice versa, why Indian music and style never influenced goth rockers in their 1980s heyday.  It seems a natural combination. Put on a black Pathani suit and some kohl around the eyes, hang some bulky silver jewelery around your neck, and you’ll be right at home in a Sisters of Mercy video. Bhangra music can already sound pretty dark and spooky, with all those komal res on the tumbi and scary deep voices going “Hoi!” in the background; it’s just that the effect gets diluted by the flamboyant visuals. Nix the colorful clothing and the happy-shoulders dance, relocate to junkyard bonfires and gloomy caves, and the spookiness quotient rises dramatically. Try listening to Daler Mehndi’s “Saade Dil Te Churiyan Chaliyan” while watching the video to The Birthday Party’s “Nick the Stripper”, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Some old-school Bhangra tracks seem readymade for an underworld/undead treatment. Take Gurdas Mann’s “Peer Teri Jaan Di,” for example”¦ it’s got more than enough depression and suicidal angst to be a goth song. Just slow it down a bunch, add some heavily reverbed guitar feedback a la Bauhaus-era Daniel Ash, throw in a gated snare drum backbeat, sing a few extra lines about, say, ripping out your spleen and feeding it to rabid vampire street dogs, and you’re good. As far as I can tell, the only reason this hasn’t happened yet is that Punjabi musicians haven’t been adding enough bad LSD to their chaas.

2. The Classic Rock Cover Band

In the West, goofball cover bands have been a thing for a long time. In the 1990s, for example, there was Dread Zeppelin, a band that did reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs; it was fronted by a very large Elvis Presley impersonator named “Tortelvis.” Today there is Mini Kiss, a Kiss cover band in which all the members are dwarfs. In India, for some reason, all Classic Rock cover bands seem to take themselves waaay too seriously, and try to reproduce the originals as faithfully and boringly as possible. The only exception I know of is The Yeagles, and their rather brilliant parody Hotel Kerala-fornia. But there’s lots more room to play around here. “Brown Jovi” would be a great band name, no? Or imagine a Tamil G & R cover act called “Thupaakkigalum Rosapookkalum,” doing a Veena/Mridangam/Vocal arrangement of “Yennudaiya Inimaiyaana Kuzhundai” (Sweet Child Of Mine). Or how about an evening of qawwali versions of Jimi Hendrix hits? I’ve always thought “Waterfall (May This Be Love)” would make a wonderful qawwali song.

3. Rabindra Ska-ngeet

I have to confess that I don’t get the appeal of Tagore Songs at all. Maybe if I understood Bengali it’d be different, but without it””sorry, but I have to say this””the songs just sound like boring dirges. I even have several Bengali acquaintances who have admitted to feeling the same way (after their tongues have been loosened by generous quantities of alcohol, and even then only after they have been assured that there is no other Bengali person within a five-km radius who could possibly hear them).

But I think I’ve figured out how to update the Rabindra Sangeet genre and make it hip again: Ska versions! Just imagine this: You hop on your Bajaj Chetak and ride out to see a couple of Kolkata rudeboys dressed in vintage two-tone duds and black trilby hats with checkered bands, singing upbeat Prem Porjaiin Desmond Dekker-style harmonies with some Prince Buster chatter, and a saxophone, trombone, slick bass and a drum set backing them up. Take warning, take warning! The girls’ll be skankin’ all night.

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Tamil illust4. The Tamil/Celtic Folk Band

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this yet, but traditional Irish music uses almost exactly the same minor scales and sesquialtera rhythms as Tamil folk music. (I’m including both the rural sound of Chinnaponnu, and the urban gaana songs of Gaana Ulaganathan.) All that’s left is to mash them together. Get the nadhaswarams, pennywhistles and mandolins to play fast reels in unison. Strap somesalangai (gungaroos) on the the bodhrán player’s calves and teach him to dance thappaattam. Pour a shot of kallusarayam (local toddy) into a pint of Guinness, and serve flaming hot ”“Sláinte, machaan!

(If you’re a Pogues fan, add an electric guitar and a very angry, sarcastic vocalist singing in Kolaveri Tanglish.)

5. The Hardcore Punk Tambola Band

Ever since I was first introduced to the adrenalin rush and heartbreak of gambling ”“ playing Housie for Rs 10 a card on the terrace of my cousins’ Delhi apartment colony in the mid-1980s ”“ I’ve dreamed of forming a punk quintet called “The Jaldi Five.” In my dream, the sound will be similar to Crass or The Dead Kennedys, and the songs will all have titles like “Two Fat Ladies,” “Lucky for Someone,” “MurgiChor,” “Hockey Sticks,” “Two Little Ducks,” “Independence,” “Skinny Legs,” “Top of the House,” and “Only Number One.” Everything will be played as fast and loud and with as much anarchic rage as humanly possible, and no song will last longer than a minute.

In my dream, The Jaldi Five will stay together long enough to do one epic album and then break up after a lousy gig in a Noida shopping mall where a couple of members get very drunk and set off a huge crate of fireworks in the food court, “accidentally” burning down the KFC, and have to spend time in jail.

6. The Military-History-Obsessed Metal Band

The history-of-warfare metal anthem was pioneered by Iron Maiden, with songs like “The Trooper” (about the Crimean War) and “Run to the Hills” (about the Early American colonists’ wars with Native American Indians)””though Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”, about the Viking conquests, could be considered an even earlier precedent. In any case, nowadays there are whole bands devoted to the genre, like Swedish metalistsSabaton (who perform songs about everything from the 1631 Battle of Breitenfeld to the Greco-Italian theatre of World War II) or Alestorm (the Irish pirate metal band).

But while metal lyrics are full of imagery of pillaging Norsemen, rampaging Huns, and Wild West gunslingers, anyone looking for Asian military history is sure to be disappointed. And that’s where Indian metalheads need to come to the rescue. The Battle of Kalinga, for instance, is long overdue for commemoration with a 15-minute symphonic metal anthem. (And wouldn’t “Rock Edict” make the perfect title?) The War of 27 Years or the Saga of Begum Samru would make great material too. However, since the epicenter of Indian metal is in the North East, it’s perhaps more likely that our country’s first historical headbangerswill focus on engagements like the 1944 Battle of Imphal, the 1671 Battle of Saraighat (between the Ahom Kingdom and the Kachawa Rajputs), and the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 (it should be easy to write a rousing chorus about the beheading of the four British officers at Kangla Fort). Ideally, these songs will have brief melodic introductions featuring traditional instruments like xutuli and pena, before the double kick drums and wall of guitars drop””all cranked to eleven, of course.

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7. The Riot Ladki Band

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have realized that this country has a major misogyny problem. The epidemic of horrific rapes is getting more and more press, and more and more people are more and more outraged all the time, but nothing appears to be changing on the ground.As of this writing, Mamta “Be careful how you dress” Sharma, Abhijit “Dented-Painted” Mukherjee, and Ranjit “Enjoy Rape” Sinha all still have their jobs. The police force is still full of chauvinist assholes. Mindless adherence to ugly old patriarchal traditionsthreatens to derail India’s development and send us hurtling towards the bottom of the world’s human rights indices, and the politicians that run the country seem least bothered.Popular movies continue to glorify all manner of male stalking and psycho behavior, while condemning the slightest show of independent thinking by a woman.

And that’s why this country needs a chart-busting bad-attitude girl-power group to take over our radios and television sets and spark rapturous fandom in our children. We need an Indian version of The Runaways, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, OOIOO, The Slits””with some Missy Elliott thrown in. But for maximum socio-political effect, they probably shouldn’t play straight rock-and-roll or punk or hip-hop, and the girls probably shouldn’t be English-speaking types from Bangalore. They’ve got to burst out of Indore or Ranchi or some smaller cow-belt town you’ve never heard ofwith an insane new brand of thrash-lavani-dubstep. I’m picturing cheap loud saris with village-style green forearm tattoos and paan-stained teeth and wild hairdos, but whatever their clothes are like, they should be made out of materials that average-income Indian women can easily afford. These girls need to be fierce and they need to be dangerous and they need to absolutely not give a shit what anyone thinks of them.And whatever instrumentation they use, whether they sing in Marati or Bhojpuri or Telugu, they’ve got to teach a generation of young Indians one very important lesson: that women should be able to do whatever the hell they feel like doing and still be treated with respect.

I’m praying for the day I get to go see this band.

Rakesh Khanna is one of the founders of Chennai-based publishing house, Blaft Publications. He is the editor of The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction and co-editor of The Obliterary Journal, a collection of South Asian comics and street art.


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