Bold Experiment: V. Balasara and His Singing Sitars

cinthol_ad_1970s He was taken with an inordinate feeling of nostalgia these days. Nostalgia was not an emotion he particularly tried to nurture; nor was he fond of the sappy unreliable memories it always delivered. But probably because he was tired of being alone, living far from his family and because he had recently returned from a short visit to India he did not resist the feeling.   Though he was not nostalgic he did inhabit a certain psychological world where the brightest and most attractive things seemed to have been conceived and created in an era before digitization and virtual reality had become the norm. The album cover before him showed a young Indian woman with makeup that suggested 1970 smiling up at a group of rather stiff sitars. It reminded him of the ads in the newspapers that were delivered to the home very morning by a skinny man on a rickety cycle.   Ads for soap and locks and trips to Kashmir. They were always full of ladies who looked exactly like the one the album cover. The title made him smile: Great International Hits. Indeed. As he listened the familiarity of a secure childhood, intermissions in darkened cinemas and background music at swank restaurants in Calcutta and Madras made him feel good. He relaxed. The sitars sounded as if they were not really made for this sort of outing. But they complied and when surrounded by strings, drums and accordions he felt as if they did find their voice. Sort of. The tunes, Stranger in the Night, These Boots Are Made for Walking, Sugar Town and Do Re Mi, were not exactly rock n’ roll, but then they were the sounds of that era: 1966-72 when India and the West seemed to tentatively put forth their hands toward each other. The embrace was sincere but not necessarily entirely comfortable. Hesitation abounded and he could sense that with each track. The sitarists plowed ahead, as quickly as possible, probably convinced that Westerners loved fast moving music.   There was no time to explore the space between the notes or dawdle luxuriantly with such nonsense as ‘alaap’. He had no doubt the record was cut live. One track after another. The experiment of a creative Bengali man, V. Balasara, who had made a name for himself playing all sorts of instruments with strange, modern sounding names like Univox and Melodica in the film studios of Bombay. Did this sell? Did it have an audience other than proprietors of movie houses and up and coming restaurants? He looked at the back of the record and saw it was pressed and issued in Sydney. I guess it must have had some fans.

V. Balasara

V. Balasara

The man put the album down and turned up the sound. Lara’s Theme, which at one time could have stood in for India’s national anthem was playing. When it wound to a close, he started the whole thing again. Damn, this was fun music. Balasara front Balasara back Track Listing: 01 These Boots are Made for Walking 02 Puppet on a String 03 My Favourite Things 04 I Want to Hold Your Hand 05 Sugar Town 06 Edelweiss 07 Do-Re-Mi 08 If I Had a Hammer 09 Strangers in the Night 10 Tequila 11 Lemon Tree 12 Lara’s Theme B S  

11 thoughts on “Bold Experiment: V. Balasara and His Singing Sitars

  1. Thanks for showcasing this obscure and rare album from V Balsara. And thanks for the vintage ad of Cinthol soap too…they take me back several decades in past…..nostalgic….

  2. I would like to offer some corrections. V Balsara or to be precise Vishtasp Ardeshir Balsara was not Bengali. He was born in Mumbai to a Gujarati speaking Parsi Zoroastrian family. His folks were from Valsad (formerly Balsar) in Gujarat. Another Parsi with his roots in Valsad or Balsar got a bit more famous than V Balsara, Who?
    Farrokh Bulsara. Who Farrokh Bulsara? Well he changed his name to Freddie Mercury.
    Anyway Vishtasp Balsara died in 2005.
    Keep up the good work here and at Washerman’s dog too.

  3. The text is great and so full of charm ! But when I see the track listing, I am not sure I want to hear that … 😉 But hey, who cares ? Let’s give it a try ! After all, just yesterday, I listened to some oldies by Doc Watson and downloaded some Serge Reggiani songs…can it be “worse” ?

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