On A Musical High Note: Singing in Hindi

Ninglun Hanghal 03 Feb 2014

There was a time when they used to croon popular English numbers. Bands from the Northeast were adept at composing songs in English, singing hits of Bob Dylan (there’s even a festival dedicated to him in the region), but crooning Hindi numbers from Bollywood hits? Not quite. It started happening only recently (barring, of course, the melodious contribution of late Bhupen Hazarika in select Hindi films)

and a clutch of bands and solo artistes are behind this trend. With several of these talented singers packing their bags and arriving in Mumbai, the quintessential city of dreams, the journey of Northeast musicians singing Hindi numbers has begun on a promising note. And though there are some challenges too. Here are some of the prominent names from the region promoting this trend.

Shillong Chamber Choir is a household name that has gone beyond the Northeast region since it was first formed in 2001 by Neil Nongkynrih. It first caught the attention of audiences when it participated in a reality show on Colors, India’s Got Talent, in 2010 and won the show. The melodious voices in this group, the unmistakable harmonies, the opera style of singing, caught everyone by surprise especially because this band was belting out – no, not just English songs -- old Hindi numbers. For instance, the choir’s re-adaptation of ‘Woh Subha Kabhi Toh Ayege’ by Asha Bhonsle and Mukesh in the 1958 Bollywood film Phir Subha Hogi, which media group Network18 eventually used as its corporate anthem, was uplifting. What clicks is the drama that the multi-genre choir adds to simple Bollywood songs with their unique style of singing. No wonder then that even Raghav Bahl, founder and managing director of the company, concurred, Shillong Chamber Choir band maintained the soul of ‘Woh Subha Kabhi...’ while rendering it with a touch of modernity that listeners today could identify with.

The 25-member band has, with its sheer show of talent and mellifluous voice and range, expanded its reach in terms of market and audience. The group’s biggest strength lies in retaining the sentiment while conveying the essence of powerful Hindi film songs. It’s no surprise that immediately after attaining national recognition via the general entertainment television’s reality show, the group was invited to perform at the Rashtrapati Bhawan when the US President Barack Obama came visiting. No wonder, Shillong Chamber Choir’s engagement diary is chock-a-block even as you read this piece.

Take Three
Why This Kolaveri
Senorita (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Ekla Chalo Re (Kahaani)

Zubeen Garg had quite a following in Assam before he decided to try his luck in the Hindi film industry. Hailing from Jorhat, Assam, Garg was already a popular lyricist, composer, music director and a poet.

His cult status back home could have dithered him for going to Mumbai but he went ahead. What Garg tasted in the dream city of Mumbai was the sweet sound of success, one that encouraged many from the Northeast to come and try their luck in the industry too. Though he was in the business of music for two decades, his turning point came when he sang ‘Ya Ali’ from Gangster (2006). Then came a song in Big Brother (2007) where Garg sang a popular number ‘Jag Laa’.

Interestingly, in both these songs Garg was shown onscreen with the producers and directors of these films quite possibly wanting to encash on the singer’s popularity in the Northeast. Settled in Mumbai for the last several years, Garg began his own sound studio, Sound & Silence, in the city. Though selective about his work in the Hindi film industry, Garg continues composing for Assamese films. He has sung songs in several other languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Oriya and Malayalam, besides, of course, Assamese and Bengali. This year will see the singer croon more melodies for blockbuster films in Bollywood.

Take Three
Ya Ali (Gangster)
Ek Din Teri Raahon Mein’ (Remix, Naqaab)
‘Jaane Kya Chahey Mann Bavara’ (Pyaar Ke Side Effects)

He was the quiet boy who loved singing and in the last few years, his popularity is soaring high. Many of Papon’s songs are climbing the Bollywood chartbuster list with ease. His voice is effortless even as he sings in a high pitch tone. His swar is flawless and music directors say that his biggest strength is the feeling that he seeps in his songs. The Assamese boy came to Delhi to become an architect but ended up jamming with musicians (he was part of the popular band MIDIval Punditz). Gradually, he started getting calls from music directors (he was also doing jingles before diving full-fledged into the world of Bollywood music) who wanted him to sing for mainstream, commercial Indian films. On his part, he started The East India Company, an electronic folk-fusion band. His husky tone (with an immense range) and the twang he has while singing Hindi lyrics, is what sets him apart from others. He has sung for Bollywood music directors like Pritam and Shantanu Moitra and this year, his fans can look forward to hearing more of Papon in Hindi films.

Take Three
Kyun (Barfi!)
Maula Sun Le Re (Madras Cafe)
Jiyein Kyun (Dum Maaro Dum)

Alobo Naga & the Band became the winner in the ‘Best Indian Act’ category at the MTV Europe Music Awards, 2012, and made its presence felt globally. Formed in 2010, this Dimapur-based band’s music has elements of rock, folk and progressive music. What makes this group interesting, however, is that the songs are always highlighting social cause and issues -- a reason why the band is not restricting itself to singing songs in various Naga languages and dialects. According to Alobo, singing in other languages is an experiment: a major reason why he wants to reach out to more audiences by singing Hindi songs. In his view, Hindi songs reach out to larger audiences and can be commercially viable too. “As a musician, I always want to try new things. Hindi songs is one such experiment.” Though he has still not brought out an album in Hindi, Alobo says that there are interesting projects in the pipeline. To be sure, he has composed title tracks for offbeat films like Beyond the Third Kind, Te Amo, and The Anushree Experiments. With music directors from the Hindi film industry taking note of Alobo’s full-bodied, powerful voice -- his cover versions of popular Hindi tracks are gaining recognition -- the singer is already working hard to improve his diction in Hindi. The Election Commission roping Alobo Naga & the Band recently as the brand ambassador to encourage young Nagas to vote is proof of this group’s growing popularity among youngsters in Nagaland.

What he’s also looking forward to witnessing is the growth of music in other languages in India. Majority of the Indian population listens only to Bollywood music and so the market share for other genres (barring Punjab’s bhangra-pop or  modern Sufi, for instance) is very limited, says Alobo. “As long as we keep making good music, other genres, other Indian languages will also find their listeners. India, after all, is a musical country. Music is an intrinsic part of our life and we live with it,” he adds.

Take Three
Tu Jaane Na (cover version/acoustic)
Shaam Hai Jawaan’(cover version/acoustic)
Let’s Rise Up (the special song composed for Election Commission of India)

Purple Fusion has been experimenting with music in Hindi and English, performing in India and outside. The Nagaland-based band, which was formed in 2012, has already performed with the stalwarts of the Indian music industry, including Rahul Ram, member of Indian Ocean, one of the most reputed bands in the country. The fusion band, which belts out songs in genres like rock, blues, funk , reggae, jazz, focuses on creating a new kind of music with diversion from the mainstream music and technology. It will be a while before we hear them as part of songs in mainstream Hindi cinema but if all goes well, this year could be Purple Fusion’s year at the Hindi movies.

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