Cover of Anjali Anjali Pushpanjali

June 10, 2021

Song: Anjali Anjali Pushpanjali

Film: Duet

Composer: A R Rahman

Singer(s): S P Balasubramaniam/K S Chitra

I said last week I would want to do a SPB-Rahman song and here it is. One of the most famous ones of their collaboration.

I did only up to the first charanam as it’s a duet.

EDIT: It’s finally up!

Cover of the Stevie Wonder song Lately

June 6, 2021

Song: Lately

Album: Hotter than July

Artist: Stevie Wonder

I love Stevie Wonder and he is certainly a huge influence on my singing, for whatever that’s worth (personally, I think it’s not even worth the internet bandwidth taken up by these words but anyway…). Hence, I try NOT to cover too many of his songs.

But this is a rather different one from the great man. This song has his most minimalist accompaniment (just a quiet piano) and there’s no out-there chord progressions. But it is extremely heartfelt and poignant. I have tried the best I can to capture that quality in my rendition too:

My vocal tribute to SPB: Ellorum Sollum Paatu

June 6, 2021

It was SPB’s ‘birthday’ on June 4. The first birthday, that is, which he couldn’t celebrate here on Earth.

It’s unbelievable how time flies. I still haven’t quite processed the fact that, no, SPB is not going to come back and regale us in a concert. That the music has stopped.

I couldn’t not attempt a SPB song. I did Ellorum Sollum Paatu as I know the song well. I intend to do a Rahman song sometime next week.

The Germany that Indian libs should really be thinking of when they think of Modi sarkar (hint: NOT Nazi Germany)

May 30, 2021

Of late, it’s been seen that liberals, both in India and abroad, are wont to compare right wing politicians, especially of the populist variety, with Hitler and Nazi Germany. For eg, the break-in by rogue Trump supporters into the Capitol Building on Jan 6 has been compared to the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. While there are some similarities for sure, an important difference is Trump immediately condemned the violence and distanced himself from the failed coup. Some Republicans also sought to blame the AntiFa and Far Left for posing as Trump supporters to discredit them. This is in contrast to Hitler being arrested and using the trial to make an emotional case for the failed coup.

It is equally as important to study the conditions in Germany that triggered the coup. Which bear little resemblance to US in 2016 or India in 2014. I will keep US aside as the point of interest here is India.

The Nazis took over power in a Germany that had suffered a heavy defeat in World War 1 and whose economy since had been extremely embattled. What recovery there had been thanks to loans from the US disappeared after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Arguably, this second plunge into despair made the people more amenable to the Nazis as an option.

Contrast that with India. I don’t care how much of a diehard BJP supporter you may be, dear reader, but no, India was not on the verge of collapse in 2014. If you really believe that, you have drank the koolaid (or rather, you watch way too much TimesNow/Republic TV).

Let’s go back to 2013. The chief problem was the lack of political authority for the UPA which left them rudderless when it came to controlling the narrative. The narrative itself had been hijacked mainly by the India Against Corruption activists led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal (before he broke away to form a party), with the BJP slyly firing over their shoulders.

But the economy itself was in decent shape. The most painful disappointment then was not on account of widespread unemployment but that India was no longer achieving the 8% growth it had appeared set to for a long period of time. The trajectory to becoming an economic power had been slightly shaken off course.

In other words, Modi received a mandate of aspiration. Modi was seen as the superman manager who, armed with a single party majority, would carry out the necessary reforms and development work that the beleaguered UPA2 seemed to be unable to. Modi was the gamble of a then confident India that believed it did not need to lean on the Congress party anymore for governance. An India that, it may be said in retrospect, was too confident.

This is the juncture Germany stood at when it got engaged in World War 1. It eschewed the option of a more limited engagement accompanied by negotiations with Serbia because its commanders calculated that declaring war on Serbia would bring France and Belgium into the conflict as well as Russia whereupon Germany would fight a two front war and win. Yes, Germany truly believed that its might and superiority would beat back the other powers and it would then rival, if not surpass, the British Empire which it admired and envied.

In the same vein, it would now be clear to liberals – speaking at least of those liberals who have not found clever pretexts to continue supporting Modi for reasons other than TINA (there is no alternative) – that the core base of BJP supporters strongly believed in Modi as the vehicle to take India to superpower status and, more specifically, a glorious Hindu rashtra. That this core base stubbornly resists criticism of the Modi govt by resorting to whataboutery or fake news and resolutely holds on to the belief that the govt is delivering well beyond expectations. I won’t name names but somebody I know who is a CA like me (and therefore, you’d expect, a numbers man) celebrated the 2019 verdict by announcing on FB that Modi would make India a developed nation by 2024!

It is important, then, to recognize that bhaktology, as libs call it, has its roots in unbridled hubris and a sunk cost fallacy that makes acknowledging the failure of Modi a bitter prospect, as opposed to deep wounds nursed over a feeling of being wronged or humiliated that led Germans to throw their lot in with Hitler.

Let us now compare how WW1 unfolded to the progress of Modi sarkar. And here, I introduce this wonderful documentary about the events leading to the Armistice of 1918 as well as the Versailles Treaty.

Listen at 19:18. When Ludendorff is asked what would happen if the great offensive failed, he retorts, “Then Germany will just have to go under.”

It was an all out war propelled by belief in the pre-eminent might of Germany.

By 1918, it was clear that victories on the Eastern Front notwithstanding, Germany was inexorably encircled on the Western Front and forced into retreat.

Ludendorff preferred to involve the US President Woodrow Wilson in the negotiations, hoping that international sympathy from powers not directly harmed by the German offensive (give or take a few American ships) would help him obtain more favourable terms of settlement. He also allowed a civilian government to handle negotiations.

That is, when the Versailles Treaty, such as it was, was revealed, it came as a great shock to a German people that had been led to believe all along that they were winning this war. Prof David Reynolds narrates at 46:46: “For years, the Germans had been insulated from reality by Ludendorff’s dictatorship. Suddenly, their country and all that they had fought for had been ripped apart in a few weeks.” I strongly recommend watching the accompanying visuals from 46:37.

Also watch from 3:50 to 4:13 below:

The passage ends with the chilling words, “Because living was descending into chaos.”

That is the crux.

That is what we in India may have to deal with when the Supreme Leader is finally revealed to BJP supporters as a bitter disappointment. Again, I don’t mean the ones who already concede that he has flaws but believe he is better than the alternatives and also have majoritarian reasons to distrust some of the alternatives like Congress. I am talking about those who have heavily invested in the notion that Modi is triumphantly leading India to greatness.

There are many, many more of them than you think and in places you’d least expect. Why, NRIs who got stuck in India during the second wave and had to undergo quarantine in their home nations to be permitted back in (in spite of holding citizenships) insist that the people at large are responsible for the second wave. Please understand the insidiousness of this argument. Yes, the people got complacent and decided they didn’t need to follow restrictions. But the central govt abetted this air of complacency by loftily declaring that covid had been conquered. Furthermore, even had govt not said so, it is vested with considerable powers to steer the ship. India is not a pure federal union like the US but a quasi-federal union. The Central Govt can, as it did in April last year, use its powers to manage and contain the spread of covid. So…to say the people are responsible is not a more accurate representation of the record but merely a defence of the utter abdication by central govt…by a leader who has never shied away from exerting his authority when he felt the need to.

So think back to 1910s Germany. This, dear liberals, is the climate we are dealing with. The sincere belief in Modi’s greatness is way too entrenched for BJP supporters to be able to give it up even post the desecration of the second wave. Let people die by the hundreds of thousands (if not millions), let millions more lose their jobs, but these supporters will not give in until they hear it from the horse’s mouth.

And do not rejoice when he does. Because when he does, the scenes you witnessed above from Germany post WW-1 will be echoed in India. When the supporters realize that this is what their fervent devotion has been rewarded with, they will not be able to handle the intense disillusionment. They will break down, as did Germany. An emerging economy which should be investing as much as of its time as possible in development will be plunged into the abyss.

And if you really think Modi is the worst, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Modi very much represents the aspirations of the old guard of conservatism (represented in India by the BJP) as did the alliance of Keiser Wilhelm II and Ludendorff. His practice of deception to avoid blame brings them to mind; one does not have to go all the way to Hitler. Hitler created a whole new brand of right wing politics all his own (along with Mussolini in Italy). It is in essence what would be called alt-right today. Modi is not that. We do not know yet what an alt right from India would look like and we shouldn’t exactly look forward to finding out.

So, in conclusion, I am going to present a formulation that will be intensely disagreeable to liberals. The best case scenario is Modi is genuinely touched by a miracle (like the miracle that saves Mr Bean in the Bean movie and helps him salvage the expensive painting that he destroyed) and he manages to reach halfway close to meeting the aspirations of his base. Yes, that means years more in the wilderness for the Left. But when the Left had the chance to beat him, in both 2014 and 2019, they messed up. So one has to pay the price for missed opportunities. But the survival of this right wing hegemony is the best bet for India’s stability – not because there are no alternatives to Modi but because the well being of the republic depends on the mental well being of his supporters.

The next best scenario (actually this is the best one but less likely than the one above) is his supporters do come to their senses without a crash landing. That they awaken to his follies and see the light and deal with it not by throwing the country into chaos but by angrily demanding accountability from him. Were this to happen, all would be well again with the republic. India would revert to the dynamic where voters were once intensely skeptical of politicians and had no love lost for any party. That’s as it should be…because we are all voters and not ideologues nor party workers.

The third best scenario is Modi dies a natural death. I do NOT want to see him get assassinated. For one, nobody deserves that fate and for another, we would then see riots worse than 1984. It is best he dies of what is undeniably a natural disease, leaving no room for conspiracy theories. Yes, again, the BJP will reap a rich harvest from sympathy votes but should the new PM fail to perform, he will not enjoy the same leeway that Modi has and will soon be voted out of power.

The scenario I fear most, as said above, is Modi finally losing his grip to the extent where it is palpable to all that he has failed, to even his most die hard supporters. I know no scenario will give more pleasure to some liberals but I do not believe the endgame of such a scenario would be good for India. Ideally, a hubristic leader should get his comeuppance. But when a nation foolishly attaches itself emotionally to such a leader, the consequences of such a comeuppance will not be pretty.

So, as perverse as it sounds, pray for Modi. Pray because this nation is now too much in love with him to disentangle itself from him in any way that could be described as relatively smooth or harmless.

Deewana Leke Aaya Hai (cover)

May 29, 2021

Song: Deewana Leke Aaya Hai

Film: Mere Jeevan Saathi

Year: 1972

Composer: R D Burman

Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

It was Majrooh Sultanpuri’s death anniversary on 24th May.

Majrooh was one of the most prolific – if not the – lyricists working in Hindi films and one of the last of the old guard to pass away (Gulzar was from a younger generation than Majrooh).

I particularly loved his work for his ability to convey poignant emotion with relatively simple words as well as economical phrasing that gives a lot of room to play with for the singer. He kept this up all the way into the 90s with hits like Pehla Nasha. To put that in perspective, he was delivering hits going back to the 50s with songs like Babuji Dheere Chalna!

The song I have chosen to cover has beautiful long phrases that give ample room for the legendary Kishore Kumar to sustain powerful notes.

I covered this song a couple of years back and it was one of the early covers I uploaded on my channel.

That one was without video and recorded on mobile with an app called Recforge (a pretty decent one at the time).

This one has video and is recorded using an interface and a DAW. I HOPE the output has improved for these efforts!

Let’s Chill Out to Swing Out Sister

May 23, 2021

If I have a guilty pleasure at all in Western music, that would be Swing Out Sister.

When it comes to Indian film music, I am perfectly capable of liking something as long as it has a good melody and good vocals. I may or may not fall head over heels in love with it but if somebody says they really like a song like, idk, Saara Pyaar Tumhara, I am certainly not going to have to suppress my inner snark from coming out and in fact I will join in the appreciation even if I don’t particularly need to listen to the song anymore.

But when it comes to Western, I become like Steve Carrell in Crazy Stupid Love loudly exclaiming BORING as Marisa Tomei reels off a perfectly respectable set of accomplishments. It isn’t that there is anything particularly wrong with stuff like Eagles, George Michael, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, etc. It’s just that I find them, for want of a better word, BORING. Why, even while I can well abide by stuff like AC DC, I would struggle to name more than a few hit songs of theirs. Yes, progressive rock snob, I am. Guilty as charged.

It becomes difficult to admit, having occupied such a lofty perch, that I like a band seemingly as square as Swing Out Sister, hehe.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with the band. The melodies are nice and pleasant, the arrangements (at least after the first album) are quite tasteful and the vocals, again, are quite pleasant. But they too share the same ‘flaw’ that I might bash pop music for – of being too predictable. So…what gives?

If I had to hit upon one thing that clinches it, it would be that Swing Out Sister somewhere appeal to the Bollywood buff in me. Wait, hear me out on this.

If you, dear reader, are in your twenties and of Indian origin but live stateside or somewhere abroad or you are not Indian but have Indian colleagues in that age group, you could be forgiven for assuming this is what Bollywood sounds like/has always sounded like. I, uh, don’t mind that song barring how loudly everything is mixed and it’s still not as loud as a Taylor Swift product. See, I warned you, snarky snark.

Anyhow, that is not at all how Bollywood used to sound. Bollywood used to be many things and sometimes it could be like this:

Or this:

Ah, so you see the connection now! Back in the day when Indians were more of Anglophiles or Europhiles than Americophiles, there was a niche of Bollywood music that was drenched in class. And yours truly loves those songs (such as the ones above).

It’s easy to see why Swing Out Sister reminds me of the ‘glory days’ of Bollywood when you see their video for Forever Blue:

Or the one for You On My Mind:

This is not a coincidence. Corinne Drewery (the singer) and Andy Connell (keyboardist and composer) do say they were going for a soundtrack music like feeling and the above video was inspired by (or meant to accompany) the film Thomas Crown Affair. Uh, yeah, Thomas Crown Affair was first made in 1968, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (though if you’re my age, you probably remember the Pierce Brosnan starrer that was a remake of the ’68 film).

The video for Waiting Game is no longer up on Youtube and it’s also a lot of fun (on the other hand, should you ever stumble upon their performance of that song at the David Letterman Show, run a mile away from it – trust me on this one).

But…post the album that these songs were a part of (1989’s Kaleidoscope World), Swing Out Sister’s commercial success began to dwindle and they made fewer and fewer videos. So…what was it that STILL kept me invested?

From 1992’s Get In Touch With Yourself onwards, they moved into a sound that I would essentially call as soulful smooth jazz. I know, sounds like an oxymoron, right? But that’s exactly why it works for me. It’s not so drenched in saccharine overproduction as smooth jazz (especially of that period) could be. And yet, it has enough of a connection to jazz to hold my interest. Let’s just say that if I have to listen to fairly predictable music with pleasant vocals, I am much more comfortable when the music evokes jazz rather than country or folk. Hey, that’s just me and my biased tastes, what do I do.

They briefly experimented a LOT and came right up to speed with going trip hop trends on their 1999 album Filth And Dreams. As a reward for their labours, the album was only released in Japan. But it has my absolute favourite track of theirs, World Out of Control.

What they have typically sounded like, though, would be on the lines of this (wish there was a better quality print of the video!):

Or this:

Or this:

Lastly, this one from their last release to date:

I also highly recommend the album Live At The Jazz Cafe which features wonderful re-arrangements of their songs.

Singer Corinne Drewery doesn’t have the most amazing technique. While I am not discussing that here as this is an appreciation post, suffice it to say it is sub optimal and limits her range. But she does have a knack for exuding charisma and that you can’t teach. Listen here and tell me this doesn’t ‘remind’ you of Chandralekha (I mean, this song came first by a six year margin):

On that note, I have to make the obligatory mention of THE hit song with which they’re associated, to the point where those who have not followed their career since may believe they are a one hit wonder. That wondrous ‘one hit’ is the song Breakout:

The album both songs come from is titled It’s Better To Travel. I could not agree more with the sentiment, as we continue to stay cooped up at home to avoid contracting a certain, a certain virus.

Stevie Wonder – Overjoyed – my best cover yet!

May 13, 2021

Song: Overjoyed

Artist: Stevie Wonder

Album: In Square Circle

I don’t mean to be immodest when I say that this is the best of the covers I have posted. Hey, I did say MY best! 😛

With that out of the way, I will post the cover first and then my lengthy justification for the above statement so you have the TL DR right up.

So….number of reasons why this came out better than any of the other covers I have recorded and posted on my channel:

  1. As a Stevie Wonder fan, I have listened to this song far too many times to have kept count and also practiced singing it lots and lots of times. So I had super internalized it to a degree that may not necessarily happen with every song. That is, I could sing this song without thinking about what melody, what words I have to sing next AT ALL. Mostly the words, I am usually good at memorizing the melody and less so the lyrics.
  2. This song in particular worked well with the interface/DAW and the settings I used. Recording soft songs used to be a sub optimal experience before for me because I had to use a fair amount of power to ensure the vocals came out loud enough in the recording. But this song needs to be sung in a very relaxed tone. With the DAW, I could finally relax. My technique has also evolved by now to the point where I can maintain an open tone without putting in too much effort behind the note.
  3. As it happens, I am not super comfortable yet with using compression because I am nearly redlining the dry vocal take as it is and any compression will only add clipping. That would normally lead to TOO dynamic a recording but in this song, it works well IMO. It’s not like your typical 80s power ballad where you really launch into the high chorus dramatically. Instead, you kind of soar gently with a nice arc into it. So the fact that I haven’t diluted the dynamics at all might have helped. Added to that the fact that I use delay and reverb with a lot of restraint.

Something about the song itself. It came on an album that did well commercially back in 1985 but is not particularly well regarded critically. My good friend Vats (if you know the band Rainburn) jokes that the reason I like this song is it is actually an out-take originally recorded as part of the Secret Life of Plants session (that is, in the 70s). There is something to that theory as I have a distinct preference for 70s rock compared to the 80s. And let’s face it, most of the rest of In Square Circle is pretty dire by Wonder standards (I do like Never In Your Sun in spite of the production).

So, to wrap up, I hope you did like the cover enough to justify my hardsell, lol. I hope this one transcends genre and language boundaries. It is a very melodic song about a very universal theme – love. If you liked it, do subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. And if you would love to hear particular songs from me, do drop in your requests. If I am technically able to sing the song (in terms of range and virtuosity required) and if I can find a good karaoke track for it, I will gladly take a stab at it.

P.S: Full disclosure – The video is NOT taken when I was actually recording the song. Owing to some technical issue, I am not able to run both the DAW and the camera app on Windows simultaneously. So I recorded audio and – wait for it – separately recorded video singing the song (but took the audio out from THAT recording). Aw, you thought I lip synced? 😀 I wanted to but I am not good at acting. I can’t make the mouth movements look realistic. I need to feel the jaw muscles working to look convincing at singing. 😀

Babylon Sisters (cover)

May 9, 2021

Song: Babylon Sisters

Band: Steely Dan

Album: Gaucho

In case you didn’t know that already, I am a diehard Steely Dan fan and love all the albums from Countdown to Ecstasy to Gaucho as well as a few cuts from Can’t Buy A Thrill. While Gaucho somewhat polarizes opinions with its robotic sounding production, imo it has more of the nasty/pungent humour so characteristic of Steely Dan compared to the prettier Aja (which is undeniably their masterwork).

Had fun singing this song and hope you will enjoy listening to it too. Have at least been able to add delay to the vocal track.

Rahi Tha Main Awara (cover)

May 2, 2021

Song: Rahi Tha Main Awara

Film: Saheb Bahadur

Singer: Kishore Kumar

Music: Madan Mohan

I have fond memories of listening to this song over and over on a Kishore Kumar hits cassette. It was one of maybe five KK compilations we had in original; there must have been some ‘high speed dubbing’ copies too. This one had the best collection of songs out of all of them. It also had Simti Si Sharmaai Si, a lovely Kishore solo from the film Parwana.

It is not clear how either song came to make it to a greatest hits collection. Neither song made it to the Binaca Geetmala top 50 of the year. And while Parwana is at least somewhat well known of a film as it starred Amitabh Bachchan, Saheb Bahadur, a Chetan Anand film starring his brother Dev Anand, sank without a trace.

Maybe Sanjeev Kohli, who was working for HMV then, had something to do with it! Maybe, maybe not, but these two songs weren’t the only less than obvious selections on that compilation. So whoever got to curate that cassette was probably a Kishore connoisseur and did their job lovingly.

This is a very unusual song as you can tell from the twists and turns in the second interlude as well as the second antara. It has a sense of mystery and enigma. Madan Mohan used to call it jazbaat.

I pick up the song about where the first interlude starts. This is the first one where I have used an interface and DAW for recording and used a video editor to combine the recording with video. I am still figuring out post production so it should get better going ahead. But the quality is probably already the best of any of the covers I have uploaded. As for the singing, you be the judge but hang around for the second antara because I thought that came out well in particular.

Songs for covid pt2- Zindagi Ki Yehi Reet Hai

May 2, 2021

Song: Zindagi Ki Yehi Reet Hai

Film: Mr India

Singer: Kishore Kumar

Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal

This song has very uplifting lyrics about dealing in a positive way with hardship and tragedy and keeping on going. Which makes it particularly poignant for the times we live in.

You probably have endured the loss of a loved one due to covid as I have too. You know of several others who have had the disease and some of whom got a scare. Why, maybe you are dealing with it yourself. As I am dealing with long covid.

But as the song says, “Aaj bigde toh kal phir bane/aaj roote toh kal phir mane.”


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