Shake your Bolly: my Masala playlist

You can go straight to Youtube and watch the whole playlist here.

I recently discovered Bollywood and my goodness, did it rock my world. The extent to which the Indian film industry is ignored by critiques and distributors in North America is nothing short of scandalous. But when I tried to drum-up some interest for my latest Bollywood discoveries on Facebook is was met with widespread indifference, which lead me to conclude that people were not interested in having more colour, music and mood-altering overproduced eye-candy in their lives. Or the desire to break free from the tropes of North American screenplays. Oh well.

But I do care and I think you all need it anyway. This is the first of a two-part post about my Bollywood playlist and it includes pop songs from the first Masala movies I saw on Netflix. Some of the older Bollywood available on Netflix took me some getting used to. As a result, this first installement of the playlist was born out of the more recent crop of Bollywood bluckbusters.

One thing that took me no time to get used to was the music and dance numbers specific to the Masala genre, known as “Item Numbers”. Item numbers are musical performances shown as a part of the movie but often without any importance to the plot. They have a variety of purposes, from vehicles for movie trailers to end credits sequences. Hindi movie lovers were trained not to leave during the end credits long before Marvel movies made it a thing. Another particularity of item numbers is that the Central Board of Film Certification — the government body that regulates the public exhibition of film and TV in India — is reputed to be more lenient about what is shown during music numbers compared to the non-dancing parts of the movie. That’s how a very safe, family-friendly, movie like “Jab We Met” can be closed off by a raunchy, pole dance-y item that is still safe for work.

Since the most popular item songs in Bollywood are rarely available on Spotify I decided to make you a Youtube video list. All these songs are available for sale on iTunes.

1. Mauja Hi Mauja and Nagada Nagada from the movie “Jab We Met”. Mauja Hi Mauja plays during the end credits and final scenes of the movie. There is a speaking interval in the middle of the song where the grandfather tells the two protagonists — now married with two daughters — that he saw right through them when he met Aditya, which is not true. The two actors, Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (not related) were a real-life couple at the beginning of the movie and broke-up during the shoot, causing curious fans to forever wonder in which scenes they are a reaal couple and which scenes are faking it. Their chemistry is pretty strong throughout. In Nagada Nagada, the Hero — the term used in Bollywood for male lead — Aditya, having driven the heroine Geet back to her family in Punjab, is getting ready to leave when he is invited to sing a song. Happens at my parties All. The. Time.



2. Marjaani and Love Mera Hit Hit from the movie “Billu”. “Billu” is a Bollywood movie about a Bollywood star coming to a small village to shoot a movie,  hence the “set within a set” concept of Marjaani. Shah Rukh Khan plays himself in what amounts to an extended cameo: the main character of the movie, Billu the barber, is played by Irrfan Khan. Marjaani was composed by Pritam, the composer who penned Mauja Hi Mauja. Bollywood loves referencing itself and you will notice that the actress accompanying Shah Rukh Khan in Maarjani is the same as in Mauja Hi Mauja. In Love Mera Hit Hit, all the wonderful soul-lifting tropes of item numbers are on steroids, with Shah Rukh coming from the future wearing costumes that could only look hot on him (but man, do they). In interviews, Shah Rukh Khan shows amazing wit and wisdom about his stardom. This video — which shows him almost spoofing himself— is just another reason why his presence at the top of the Bollywood food chain is enduring.

3. Speaking of spoofs, this video from All India Bakchod takes more than a few stabs at the item culture of Bollywood. And it’s as good a time as any to watch it before you watch the next few videos and see it all at work. The actor playing the skit is Irrfan Khan, also known as “the other Khan.” The Bollywood rooster is currently ruled by three (unrelated) Khans: Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. In Party Song, Irrfan and his assistant try to sell him as “another Khan,” with limited success. By the way, the movie they are mentioning, “The Lunchbox” used to be available on Netflix Canada. It’s a mesmerizing tale of two unhappy people finding connection through Mumbai’s famed lunchbox system. It really made me crave Indian food and Irrfan Khan’s movies.

4. Lovely, from the 2014 movie “Happy New Year.” What can I say, it’s everything Party Song mocks and yet I can’t get enough of Deepika Padukone dancing. In the words of my 9 year-old daughter: “She’s so pretty I’m gonna die!” I wasn’t sold on the movie — I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy in general — but anything produced by Farah Khan promises to have super entertaining dance numbers, a ton of friendlies (cameos) and a really creative credit sequence. So I watched it all.

5. Dard-E-Disco , another example of Bollywood not taking itself too seriously, once again at the expert hands of choreographer/producer Farah Khan and actor Shah Rukh Khan from the 2007 rom-com “Om Shanti Om.”  If someone is watching over your shoulder while you listen to this one, you might have some ‘splaining to do… So much shirtless Shah Rukh, so much water….

2016: The Soundtrack

One of my favourite non-family-related holiday traditions is the browsing of “Best albums of the year” articles, blog posts and podcasts. Back in the days, my holiday music-buying lived and died according to what former broadcaster and pariah Gian Gomeshi offered as his top 20 albums of any given year. Since Gomeshi’s fall from grace, I have not found a compilation that was as consistently up my aisle as his. Oh well.

Now a normal music compilation would give you a list of “Best Albums Released in Given Year” but this is not how my world goes round. I’m a binge-everything. Binge-writer, binge-eater, binge-Netflixer, binge-music-listener. When I love an album, I love it until I break the machine. As a teenager, I warped cassette tapes. I don’t listen to music when it’s released, I listen to music when I want to. As a result, this is a compilation of the best bands and albums I discovered in 2016. I came late to the party on some of them but that should be no reason to neglect them. Happy listening!

1. Half Moon Run. Originally from Montreal, now mostly touring, the band kicked-off their latest tour in Ottawa this December. I went to their show with my oldest daughter, who was a fan back in the days when they drew a crowd of 15 at Ottawa’s Bluesfest. Now critically acclaimed and playing to sold-out mid-sized venues, the time to catch them up-close and personal is surely running out. Music style: alt-pop, Indie rock, rich melodies, vocal harmonies and acoustic arrangements.

On the playlist:
Consider Yourself
Full Circle

2. Scroobius Pip. I discovered this rapper/Hip hop/spoken word artist through my favourite podcast Sodajerker on Songwriting. As a writer, his work was a revelation to me. It inspired me to start writing my own poetry. My gateway song was The beat that my heart skipped but if you can take a bit of sound distortion, do listen to Magician’s Assistant: It’s brilliantly written, raw and hits you like a gut punch. Music style: Slam poetry, hip hop, spoken word, rap, electronic.

On the playlist:
The beat that my heart skipped
The Struggle
Magician’s Assistant

3. The Lumineers. Another discovery through Sodajerker’s interviews. I already knew Ho Hey (because who doesn’t?) but I recently discovered their second album, Cleopatra. The Lumineers are taking the old quip about 3 chords and the truth to it’s most beautiful expression. Their arrangements are creatively minimalist, in the way that only genius musical minds can muster. They don’t rely on instrumentation and over-production to round-out their songs, relying instead on rock-solid melodies, hooks, and riffs on the piano and guitar. Their songs tell stories that are made even more poignant by Wesley Schultz’s haunting voice. You can get a better look at the stories told in Cleopatra by watching the videos. In each video, the characters of the different stories cross paths and impact each other’s lives in direct and indirect ways. Music style: Acoustic, Americana, folk.

On the playlist:
In the light
Ho Hey

4. Hamilton. Not having lived completely under a rock, I had heard about the musical Hamilton. I knew it was a phenomenon. I knew that tickets on Broadway were sold out until the cows came home, yadda, yadda, and my friends who loved Hamilton wouldn’t shut up about it already. Still, I was not inspired to listen to it until my 14 year-old daughter bought it on iTunes and it found its way on my phone through a sync accident. Hamilton is the Pulitzer-prize winning, viral, hip hop musical about one of the Founding Fathers. It doesn’t matter how you feel about viral phenomenons, musicals, hip hop or Founding Fathers, Hamilton is the kind of opus that will entertain, educate and punch you in the gut regardless of taste. The songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda are lyrical genius, the main characters of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton capture the human struggle between right and wrong, rationality and emotionality, with accuracy and style. The two Hamilton albums are the musical by the original broadway cast (including composer Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role) and The Hamilton Mixtape in which various artists offer their takes on the songs and themes of the musical. Music style: hip-hop, rap, musical.

On the playlist:
Aaron Burr, Sir (From the Broadway Cast)
Wait for it (From the Broadway Cast)
The Battle of Yorktown (From the Broadway Cast)
Immigrants (From the Mixtape)
I wrote my way out (From the Mixtape)
Valley Forge (Demo) (From the Mixtape)

5. Sweet Crude. This Indie pop-rock band seeks to revive the traditional sounds of French Louisiana. This is my most recent discovery and I haven’t listened to their work quite enough (yet) to distil it but it’s coming. Their music is dazzling and engaging, it’s like an old-fashioned kitchen party except that everyone can play and sing. Strongly recommended. Music style: acoustic, Indie pop-rock, folk, Americana.

On the playlist:
Parlez-nous à boire
Mon esprit

6. The Nashville soundtracks. Nashville is a TV series about the lives of a cast of music-industry types set in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. The characters include country music stars at the top of the heap (Rayna, Juliette), nobodys on their way to stardom (Scarlett, Will), nobodys looking for a break (Gunnar, Layla), the supporting cast of band members, songwriters, managers and producers (Avery, Deacon) and other hangers-on. It ran for 4 seasons on ABC before being canceled and picked-up by CMT when the fans raised enough of a ruckus to bring the show back. The fifth season kicks-off this week with a one-hour sneak-peak at the two-hour premiere scheduled for January 5th. But enough about the TV, the real main character of the show is THE MUSIC. With each season, a full-length EP is released plus single tracks for a total of (at least) 20 songs per season. And what songs! The show creator, Callie Khouri, is married to mega-producer T-Bone Burnett. The music is written for the show by an all-star buffet of Nashville’s best and brightest songwriters and was produced by Burnett first and then by Buddy Miller. The actors are doing their own singing and the music is curated to advance storylines, develop character arches and narrative exposition. Music style: Country, blues-rock, folk, Americana, acoustic, alt-country, country-pop.
It was too hard to pick the best tracks of the 150-or-so songs for the playlist so I went with my favourite combos of characters to songwriters:

On the playlist:
If I didn’t know better (co-written by John Paul White, performed by “Scarlett and Gunnar”)
No one will ever love you (co-written by John Paul White, performed by “Rayna and Deacon”)
Undermine (co-written by Kacey Musgraves, performed by “Juliette and Deacon”)
Changing Grounds (written by Gillian Welch, performed by “Rayna”)
When the right one comes along (co-written by Justin Davis, Sarah Zimmerman and Gloria Middleman, performed by “Scarlett and Gunnar”)
A life that’s good (co-written by Ashley Monroe and Sarah Siskind, performed by “Deacon”)
Lately (co-written by Ashley Monroe and Sarah Siskind, performed by “Scarlett and Gunnar”)
Heart on Fire (co-written by Kate York and Sarah Siskind, performed by “Maddie and Daphne”)
Boomtown (co-written by Maren Morris, performed by “Juliette and Luke”)
I will never let you know (co-written by Kate York, performed by “Scarlett and Gunnar”)

7. John Hiatt. I discovered John Hiatt through the Nashville soundtrack when his hit Have a little faith in me was covered by Maisy Stella and Will Chase. The album Bring the family was his first release following his sobriety. He started recording Have a little faith in me in studio with a heavy arrangement but the session was plagued by setbacks and delays. The next day, he learned of the suicide of his ex-wife and recorded the pared down acoustic version he his most widely known for. The rest is history. This album is no one-hit wonder however: every track is a hit. Music style: Folk, country, blues-rock, Americana.
On the playlist:
Have a little faith in me
Memphis in the meantime

8. Miranda Lambert. Yes. Miranda Lambert. I don’t care how you feel about over-produced blond country singers, this girl is the real deal. For sure, some of her songs are cut for commercial radio success but her early albums were critically acclaimed as well. Pick any of her albums and you will find that most of her songs swing country-country rather than pop-country. I’m partial to Platinum as her best album although Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not far behind. Music style: Country, alt-country, country pop, bluegrass.

Once again, it was hard to pick my favourite songs so I went with my favourite songwriters instead:

On the playlist:
Little Red Wagon (written by Audra Mae)
Dry Town (written by Gillian Welch)
All that’s left (written by Tom and Dixie Hall)
Gravity’s a b**ch (written by Miranda Lambert and Scott Wray)

In 2017, I’m looking forward to dig into the work of Gillian Welch. Her songwriting hits all my buttons. Otherwise, I will just float where the music leads.

What were your favorite finds of 2016? Feel free to link your Spotify Playlists in the comments and let’s chat tunes!