Ragamala Vol. 7: Yaman/Kalyani


This volume of variations on raga Yaman opens with a modern jazz-influenced rendition by the Neel Murgai Ensemble.  A New York based ‘chamber’ quartet led by sitarist Murgai, NME creates intricate, finely spiced musical atmospheres that draw on Indian classical, jazz, and gypsy music.

Also included is bansuri master Pannalal Ghosh‘s beloved Yaman, a couple of film songs from Umrao Jan Ada (1981) and Junglee (1961), Farida Khanum’s spectacular romantic ghazal Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah as well as interpretations in a Western classical and contemporary jazz setting.

Yaman, also known as Kalyani, is by Indian classical music standards a relatively un-ancient raga. It first emerged in the 16th century with some claiming it was a composition of Mian Tansen and that he based it upon a Persian structure known as ‘Ei Man’. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the raga is often referred to as Eeman (in many varied spellings) and I have concluded this collection with a wonderful Afghan take on the raga  by Ustad Mohammad Omar, the famous rubab player.

Yaman emerged from the parent musical style of Kalyan, itself a style of classical Carnatic musical tradition called thaat. Considered to be one of the most fundamental ragas in the Hindustani Classical tradition, it is thus often one of the first ragas taught to students. In the context of traditional standards of performance, Yaman ragas are considered suitable to play at any time of the day, but they are traditionally performed in the evening. (Wikipedia).

Given its close relationship to Carnatic music the centerpiece of this collection is a stunning live recital by South Indian/Sri Lankan violinist L. Subramaniam and shenai nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan. Listen carefully to this piece and to the playfulness, mastery and virtuosity of both musicians as they play off each other. It delights and enshivers!

Rudresh Mahantappa‘s group Dakshina Ensemble which features South Indian saxophone innovator Kadri Gopalnath and Pakistani American guitar whiz Rez Abbasi also explores the Carnatic original in their massive track Kalyani.

I hope you enjoy this collection as much I do!


Track Listing:

01 Evening In A_ Raga Yaman [Neel Murgai Ensemble]

02 Raga Yaman [Pannalal Ghosh]

03 Zindagi Jab Bhi [Talat Aziz]

04 Raga Yaman [L Subramaniam and Bismillah Khan]

05 Yaman Kalyan (Largo moderato)[ Zubin Mehta and Ravi Shankar]

06 Ehsan Tera Hoga Mujhpar [Mohmmad Rafi]

07 Raga Emen Kalyan [Pt. Pratap Narayan and Kankana Banerjee]

08 Kalyani [Rudresh Mahantappa and Dakshina Ensemble]

09 Woh Mujh Se Hoay Humkalam Allah Allah [Farida Khanum]

10 Shakal and naghma in the melodic mode of Emen (Yaman) [Ustad Mohammad Omar]


Two in One: Suraiya


Filmstars, as everyone knows, command the adulation of vast numbers of fans. Film singers have an equally worshipful following. But what happens if you have a filmstar and as singer rolled into one? Especially, if the two-in-one rarity comes in the form of a wowful, big big eyed woman with a voice that does things to your heart?

Suraiya was such a phenomenon. She still is—the same melting eyes and delicate shapeliness, the same languorous silky voice. This makes her decision to withdraw from the films all the more enigmatic and regretful to her countless fans.

She is still so svelte and sprightly that it is difficult to believe she had already acted and sung in over a hundred films before she called it a day a couple of years ago. But then, she came to the films as Baby Suraiya, so that she had attained that tally at an a age at which most others begin their careers. This explains why those who surmise her age on the basis of the length of her career are bound to be astounded by her youth.

An unrivalled topper throughout her sojourn in the films, Suraiya was the favorite singer of all the reigning music directors, the great masters who have since become legendary names, and the chosen heroine of all leading men of the day. She has emoted a vastly varied range of moods both through histrionics and singing with equal grace and success. Here memorable castings with that fabulous artiste, the late K.L. Saigal, was the most natural thing that people expected to happen.

And yet, this unassuming and coy lady remains surprisingly modest. “I never considered myself a great artiste—certainly not a good singer. With no training in music at all I sang because in those days it was the vogue for all heroines to sing their own songs. I don’t know why people liked my voice.” Well, we don’t join issue with a lady and so would let the twelve songs featured on this disc speak for themselves. (Liner Notes)

With this brilliant, pithy and snappy piece of copy, some unknown writer summed up the brilliance of Suraiya.

The third album from the Balkar Bains Collection of old vinyl that has come my way in recent days. Another cracker!

Everything is wonderful

suraiya front

suraiya back

Track Listing:

01 Murliwale Murli Baja [Dillagi]

02 Bigadi Bananewale Woh Pass Rahe [Bari Bahen]

03 Woh Pass Rahe [Bari Bahen]

04 Nain Diwane [Afsar]

05 Jab Tum hi Nahi [Parvana]

06 O Dur Jane Wale [Pyar ki Geet]

07 Man Mor Hua Matwala [Afsar]

08 Ho Likhne Wale Ne [Bari Bahen]

09 Tere Nainon [Pyar ki Jeet]

10 Nirala Mohabbat ka [Dillagi]

11 Dharakte Dil ki Tamanna [Shama]

12 Mere Mundere na Bol [Parvana]


The Wonder That Was: Mohammad Rafi (Links restored)

Mohammad Rafi

Mohammad Rafi

At University I read a lot of literature in Hindi (and later, Urdu) as part of my maunder through tertiary education. Having grown up in India and spoken a street version of the language since my boyhood days I had a confidence in my ability and understanding of the language that I quickly discovered was over inflated. Watching Hindi movies, reading the occasional comic book and even formal language classes in high school did little to prepare me for the writings of Prem Chand, Harivansh Rai Bachchan or Phanishwarnath Renu. In addition to discovering that there was so little of the language (idiom, grammar, vocabulary) that I knew, reading these great writers confirmed just how isolated my childhood as an American in India had really been. The experience was sobering.

One classroom experience sums up the situation. We were reading aloud a Hindi short story. Our lecturer was a friendly man named Paul, whose knowledge of Hindi came from a purely linguistic interest. His familiarity with the spoken vernacular was virtually nil. I was asked to read half a page of text and explain it back to the class in English. I did so. My accent was strong and true and there were few words I could not sound out, even if I struggled with their meaning. But suddenly I was unable to make sense of one phrase. The character, the story went, ‘walked away singing a rafi song’.   I had no idea what that meant. Was rafi an adverb? What did it connote? Was it a derivative of ‘raga’?   I confessed to Paul that I didn’t know what ‘rafi’ meant.

“Really? You, of all people,” he said in disbelief. “You surely know Mohammad Rafi. The Hindi singer.”

I grinned but not pleasantly.

“The lines that follow are the lines of one of his most famous songs,” Paul went on. My embarrassment could not have been more acute.

The silver lining in this overcast tale is that I at last knew who Rafi was. Many more years would come and go though before I truly began to appreciate his genius. This time I found myself in Pakistan, as a student of Urdu. Throughout that glorious year of intellectual stimulation I spent many hours in buses and mini-buses (called ‘wagons’) travelling across the country discovering its rich history and culture. Inevitably, at some point in those long journeys the driver would play a cassette or two of Rafi songs: Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil, Mujhe Duinya Walon, and Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe and so on.

Around that time and because of those road trips, isolated remembered sounds from my youth began to coalesce into a unified story. Oh! So Rafi sang all those songs in Pakeezah, Love in Tokyo and Ham Kissi Se Kam Nahin. Oh! I know him!

Now that my feet (my ears, actually) were on firm ground, I turned myself to listening with intent to Ustad Mohammad Rafi.

In previous posts on this blog I have expressed my deep besottedness with Kishore Kumar. You may get the impression that I consider him to be the ultimate in Indian playback singing.

For a long time I did. But in all honesty it is a toss up between Kishore and Rafi. A friend says Kishore is the ‘midday sun’ and Rafi ‘the early morning’ of Hindi film song (with Mukesh being the ‘setting sun’). I can’t argue what that succinct summation and can only suggest that another way to evaluate these two maestros is to consider them as two sides of the same golden coin.

The man in the striped suit

The man in the striped suit

Rafi, of course, preceded Kishore by some years, even though by the early-1970s the younger had eclipsed the senior by most measures. A student of Bade Ghulam Ali Khansahib, Rafi’s journey from province to studio was much more direct and less traumatic than Kishore’s. Rafi exhibited none of the self doubt or eccentricity that distinguished, and seemed, by turns, to drive and torment Kishore. By all accounts he lived a life of a settled Muslim gentleman: loyal and protective of his family, personally pious and so unflamboyant, that were it not for his golden vocal chords, he would have escaped notice almost entirely.

In a city and industry that feasted on gossip and scandal Mohammad Rafi eschewed the naughty headline. Whatever negative publicity came his way was more in the category of professional spats (such as his being dropped by O.P. Nayyar for several years because of his moonlighting with Shankar-Jaikishan) than scandal. No sexual innuendo, public drunkenness or roughhousing for Rafi sahib. When he wasn’t at the studio recording, (which was not often, if we are to take his claim to have recorded between 25-26,000 songs, seriously] he limbered up his fingers for a game of caroms or could be found on the badminton court.

Of course, there was THE ROYALTY ISSUE, as it has been passed down through the years, but even that was a business dispute. And his role in the affair is perhaps the most interesting part of the story. It certainly is the best public demonstration of his essential sharif character. By the early 1960s playback singing, and indeed, almost the entirety of Indian popular song, was the unchallenged domain of Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. The latter approached Rafi for support in her decidedly bold and progressive demand for a greater share of royalties from their songs. Rafi declined, stating that his agreement was to sing a song and as long as he received the contracted amount his interest had been satisfied. It was the producers and directors who ran the risk of the film being a flop and losing their shirts (and dhotis), not the playback singer. If the film went on to reap millions for the investors, so be it. That was business.


This reveals so much of Rafi’s outlook on life. It was the attitude of a man who valued the straightforward approach. Fairness was determined by sticking to the deal. There is a fundamental humility in Rafi’s response as well. “I’m just a singer; nothing great.” His deference to the big shots with the deep pockets betrays a very traditional, almost village acceptance of social order and place. His stance on the royalty issue, in my opinion, simply adds vibrancy to the burnish of his reputation. A man comfortable at once, with his roots and his present. And a man of principle. Listen to the lyrics of one of the song’s in this collection, Polam Pol, a satirical stab at the cheating that goes on in everyday life and you’ll see where Rafi comes from. “Gane mein nahi pukka gana” (not singing a song properly) is condemned along with mixing water with the milk and lawyers telling lies.

Having said that, let’s not take anything away from Lata’s brave fight. It foreshadowed similar moves by American musicians, especially black ones, who stood up against the record and publishing companies to get a better deal from their art. In the Royalty Issue there was no right or wrong side; just two deeply held and very worthy takes on what makes the world spin on its axis.

Mohammad Rafi’s  singing was distinguished by a sense of adventure that belies his at-home-ordinariness. Though he rose to maturity as an artist in the 50s when Hindi film music was based largely in the classical (and later) folk traditions, when the scene changed and composers like Shankar-Jaikishan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal embraced jazz, rock and Latin sound structures into their music Rafi stepped up without missing a beat. Listen to numbers like the aforementioned Polam Pol (1957) and Jan Pehchaan Ho (1965) to be impressed by a voice that is absolutely at ease with the demands of an entirely new way of singing. Rafi’s willingness to embrace the modern racy feel of music that began creeping into Hindi films as early as the late 50s laid the foundation from which Kishore took off in the 70s. Indeed, can we argue that because composers knew they had an artist as sure and masterful as Rafi they themselves pushed their compositions with the assurance that there was someone who could do them justice?

Certainly its hard to imagine Hemant Kumar or Manna Dey stretching themselves sufficiently to get the wild new rock n roll scenes pitch and picture perfect. If Kishore was indeed the bright sun of the 70s, we must thank Rafi for blazing the path that he scampered down so playfully.

Be it ghazal, qawwali, bhajan, lok geet, drunken swoon or lover’s croon Rafi’s ability to sing each not just competently but convincingly and with genuine pleasure is further evidence of this man’s artistic and humanistic greatness. There really was no one quite like him.

For your listening pleasure I’ve put together a double mixtape of some of my favorite Rafi cuts. Classics, underappreciated ones and even a few rarities.

Ok, I’ll shut up now and let you drown in the Wonder That Was Mohammad Rafi.

genius of rafi 1

Track Listing (pt. 1)

01 Maan Mera Ehsaan

02 Aaj ki Raat

03 Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe

04 Aaz-e-Dil Chedh De

05 Husn Chala Kuchh Aisi Chaal

06 Nain Mila Kar Chain

07 Yeh Mera Prem Patra

08 Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche

09 Chhahoonga Mein Tujhe

10 Pollam Pol (Laxmi)

11 Khilona Jan Khar

12 Mere Dost Kissa

13 Aaja Re Aa

14 Ye Duniya

15 Toote Huye

16 Mujhe Duniya Walo Sharabi Na Samjho

17 Chalo Dildar Chalo

18 Pukarta Chala Hoon Main

19 Qad-o-Gaysoo

20 Tun Aheen Sahib


genius of rafi v 2

Track Listing (pt. 2)

21 Jan Pahechan Ho

22 Dil Deke Dekho

23 Teri Galyon Mein

24 Chura Liya Hai Tum Ne

25 O Duniya Ke Rakhwale

26 Bus ke Dushwar Hai

27 Aap Naraz, Khuda, Khair Kare

28 Gulabi Ankhen

29 Aaye Na Balam

30 Pathar Ke Sanam

31 Baharon Phool Barsaao

32 Chaudhvin Ka Chand

33 Tumsa Nahin Dekha

33 Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil

34 Love in Tokyo

36 Kya Hua Tera Wada

37 Jo Wada Kiya Ho Nibhana Padega

38 Ek Dil Ke Tukde Hazar Huye

39 Chal Chal Mere Bhai

40 Chhalake Jaam


All Work All Play: Kalyanji Anandji


1970 Mega Hit for Kalyanji and Anandji

As a lad while riding my trusty Robin Hood bike around Allahabad, or while sipping tea on the platform of some railway station, I would always take pleasure in looking at the posters and huger than life hand painted hoardings for the current crop of Hindi films. Of course, the hero was the most prominent in the art work and typography. Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Amitabh, Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar got your immediate attention.

But surprisingly (for me at least), a couple of names seemed to get almost as much prominence as the actors. These were the names that followed the bland statement, ‘Music by’. I didn’t understand at the time that for many potential cinema-goers, the music was at least as important as the story and the action. And that choices were often influenced by who composed the music, not who directed the film.

And another thing that always bemused me was that the music was always ‘by’ a small handful of composers. “How,” I wondered, “do these guys have time to write so much music?” Didn’t they sleep or take holidays?

Based upon this study of posters and billboards I concluded that not only were these men extremely hard working but that to make it in Bombay as a composer you had to have a double barreled name: Shankar-Jaikishan, Laximkant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji. These twinned names were both romantic and mysterious. Did the represent real people? Where they one person or were they cousins? And how could they write so much music!?

As I advanced in years and finally made time to solve this childhood mystery, I learned the answers to my nagging questions. Of course, you didn’t have to have a long hyphenated name to make it as a composer; I just happened to grow up in the golden age of Hindi cinema music when these three duo enchanted the masses and vied for hits. I never did figure out, though, how they could keep up such a work rate as they did, but then some things are better left unanswered.

Tonight we share an off-the-shelf (of a desi grocery store in outer Melbourne) collection of Kalyanji-Anandji hits. This is the sort of collection you can find by the dozen, with endless covers and an eternally fresh and never-identical line up of songs. But just because it is as common as a daisy doesn’t mean it isn’t worth listening to. Because these two brothers were incredible creative artists and any collection is bound to be entertaining as well as nostalgic.

Kalyanji-Anandji were Gujarati brothers who grew up in Bombay, sons of a Kutchi shop keeper. But selling stuff (at least physical stuff) was not for them.

The venerable Kalyanji and Anandji

The venerable Kalyanji and Anandji

Kalyanji started his career as a musician, with a new electronic instrument called the clavioline. which was used for the famous “Nagin Been,” used in the film Nagin (1954) which had the music of Hemant Kumar.[2] Kalyanji then, with his brother Anandji, started an orchestral group called Kalyanji Virji and Party which organised musical shows in Mumbai and outside. This was the first attempt made for holding live musical shows in India.

Kalyanji Anandji’s arrival in the Bombay film industry as music composers was a turning point. When big music directors like S.D. Burman, Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, Naushad, Shankar Jaikishan and Ravi were ruling the Hindi film music world – and it was a golden period of film music – it was very tough to make a place amongst them. Still they came and won the hearts and minds of Indian people.

The Bharat Bhushan–Nirupa Roy hit Samrat Chandragupta (1959) was his first film as Kalyanji Virji Shah. Songs like “Chahe Paas Ho” (Lata–Rafi) that are remembered to this day were what made the movie a commercial success. This was followed by his composing music scores for more films like Post Box 999 before Anandji who was assisting him, joined him officially to form the Kalyanji Anandji duo in Satta Bazar and Madari (1959). Chalia (1961) was their earliest major hit. In 1965, two decisive scores, Himalay Ki God Mein and Jab Jab Phool Khile, established them as composers to reckon with.

Kalyanji-Anandji’s variety-studded music is complete with some of the topmost songs of all singers and genres. Both Kalyanji and Anandji worked as music composers for over 250 films, 17 of which were golden jubilees and 39 silver. The factor behind their success is hard work, apart from their talent. They were never self-centered or egoistic. The spiritually inclined brothers opened up a new horizon in Bollywood. They used to put society in front of them and, as a thankful gesture, organised many charitable concerts for NGOs and several charitable institutions in India and abroad with some of the biggest names in Bollywood, like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Rekha and Sridevi.

They were tireless in discovering new talents and grooming them, as well. Manhar Udhas, Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Sadhna Sargam, Sapna Mukherjee, Udit Narayan, Sunidhi Chauhan, now very popular names, were nurtured as singers and got their first breaks from Kalyanji Anandji. Fellow composers Laxmikant Pyarelal, before becoming famous, worked as music assistants to Kalyanji Anandji.

They helped introduce or gave career defining breaks to lyricists like Qamar Jalalabadi, Anand Bakshi, Gulshan Bawra, Anjaan, Verma Malik and M G Hashmat. (Wikipedia)

This collection is full of riches (with many of their best ones not here) but my favourites are:

Udi Baba (one of the weirdest hits ever to come out of Bombay)

Wada Kar Le Sajna

Aaz-e-dil Ched De

Hamne jo Dekha Sapne

Nain Mila Kar Chain

Hope you enjoy!


Track Listing:









































Harmonium up and playing again! Nandu Bhende’s Disco Duniya

Naacho ! Disco Chalo!

Naacho ! Disco Chalo!

Well, all systems are go! At least for now, even if behind the scenes a veritable tech menagerie is working overtime to stave off complete oblivion. In my free hours since the loss of my digital world I’ve dug out ancient tiny external drives and copied the most complete libraries of music and photos that survived to other safe havens. My desk is a bomb site of USBs, wires, little external drives and those two ugly fat Seagates, still dead as stones.

Even the MacAir which was similarly defunct has been persuaded (by the good unblocker, Ganesh, perhaps?) to come to life again. So while the panic levels have decreased somewhat there is still some ways to go before I can sleep completely easy at night.

Thanks to all of you who provided comfort and even offers of help and cash to get the show back on the road. That was unexpected and really, very deeply appreciated!

So to celebrate the resurrection Harmonium lets get right into it with a VERY special disc: Disco Duniya by Nandu Bhende.

Nandu Bhende is a seminal figure in the history of Indian popular music, about whom I am very poorly placed to write anything. Others, especially Sidarth Bhatia, the author of a history of India’s rock ‘n roll scene (India Psychedelic- The Story of a Rocking Generation), are far better placed than me to speak about Bhende and his many incarnations on the music scene.

A young Nandu Bhende

A young Nandu Bhende

An early founder and member of many rock groups that played the clubs of Calcutta and Bombay, Nandu was drawn into the world of film music where he both composed, performed and sang. From an artist family tree which includes one of India’s greatest modern writers/critics the Bene Israeli poet Nissim Ezekiel, Nandu Bhende produced this disco record that is now quite the collector’s item.

Capitalizing on the new disco sounds (the electronic pops and squeals are well represented here) Bhende basically sampled and blended and twisted the sounds of Bollywood into two long seamless tracks. Side A reviews some of the biggest filmi hits of the 1970s and revamps them in a sound that (for that time, the early 80s) was the absolute height of funkiness. He brings in the voice of a young lass (who remains nameless on the credits) and sings along on some of the tracks himself. I am also assuming Mr Bhende played all the ‘instruments’ himself, as they are all keyboard generated.

Side B, is a similar long (but very interesting) journey through the ever green hits of Shammi Kapoor, the handsome, romantic Hugh Grant of 1960s Indian cinema.

So without further ado…get on your dancing shoes and head out to the disco!

Disco Duniya front Disco Duniya back

01 Hits of the Decade

02 Shammi Kapoor Hits