Time Capsule of Delight: Golden Era of Sri Lankan Popular Music


This poster comes from a time and place that no longer exists.   In 1972 after centuries of being known (at least to those who didn’t live there) as the fabled emerald tear drop of Ceylon, the country took the much more ancient name of Sri Lanka.

Though very different from the country it is so geographically close to there are of course  connections of history, faith, legend and people that are now completely entangled.  For most children of the 80s and 90s and 00s, Sri Lanka is infamous (but not unique by any means) for trying to unentangle that heritage with violence.  Tamil Tigers. Peoples Liberation Fronts. Civil War. All of these displaced images (and the reality) of the most beautiful beaches in the world, a lush hinterland and some of the nicest people on earth.

I first visited Sri Lanka in 1977. A longish haired, lungi wearing hippie who crossed the strait between Rameshwaram and Talaimanar on a rusty large steamship.  I fell instantly in love. The greenery. The tea plantations. The white sand. How life was so inexpensive. I think I spent the princely sum of $50 for a 10 day visit (including accommodation and transportation costs).

During those ten days I discovered a band called Supertramp. Some French Swiss longhair had it on his Sony tape recorder. Sadly, the music of the land I was visiting didn’t even register.  And it would be several more decades before it would.

Even now I consider myself an infant in the nursery school of Sri Lankan music and have nothing meaningful to say about it that others have not. Baila is probably the island’s most well known popular form of dance music and traces it roots to the Portuguese time.  But to limit the music of Sri Lanka to the baila would be akin to identifying Punjabi music as only bhangra.

And here, dear readers is evidence of that statement.

This is a recording which can only be described as delightful. A 30 track tour across Serendip in which including bubbly baila you will be treated to folk, rural and urban species of sound from all round.

Six out of five!

Out of the park.

Get down and get back up again!


Track Listing:

01Instrumental Baila Medley

02 Soken Pala Ne

03 Gamen Liyumak

04 Naan Unnai Thedum

05 Instrumental Baila Medley

06 Netha Giya Hematana

07 Kaffiringha

08 Ceremonial Drums

09 Jeevithe Vasanthaye

10 Anbil Valarnthai

11 Pinna Mal

12 Mama Bohoma Bayauna

13 Vairodi Wannama

14 Handa Haami

15 Goyam Gee

16 Eka Dawasak

17 Mindada Heesara

18 Roshi

19 Sigiriya

20 Deepa Tupe Vihare

21 Drum Orchestra

22 Gavaskar the Century Maker

23 Bolanda Katha

24 Sinidu Sudu Muthu

25 Malli

26 City of Colombo (with Noeline Mendis)

27 Durakathanaya

28 Amma

29 Kimada Naave

30 Perakumba Davasa


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




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  

Garage Banda: King Khan

King Khan

King Khan

Arish Ahmad Khan, better known by his stage name King Khan, is a Canadian musician. He is best known as the frontman of the rock ‘n roll bands King Khan and the Shrines and The King Khan & BBQ Show.


Khan was born in Montreal to an Indo-Canadian family. Since 2005 he resides in Berlin, Germany with his wife and two daughters.


Brewing up a heady mixture of high-spirited rhythm & blues, real-gone psychedelia and middle-finger-flipping garage rock, King Khan has earned an international reputation as one of the wildest showmen in underground rock. Born and raised in the suburbs of Montreal to a family of Indian émigrés, Erick Khan first made a splash on the Canadian music scene in 1996 when he joined the frantic garage punk outfit the Spaceshits, where he played bass under the name Blacksnakethe Spaceshits released three albums and a handful of 7″s, but after nearly four years with the group, Khan opted to strike out on his own, relocating to Germany following a tour of Europe. Adopting the new stage name King Khan, he began assembling a solo act while also recording and touring with former Spaceshits vocalist Mark Sultan (aka Bridge Mixture and BBQ), cutting a pair of albums as the King Khan & BBQ ShowKing Khan & His Sensational Shrines (the “Sensational” part tends to come and go at will) made their recorded debut on a split single with Reverend Beat-Man & the Nonbelievers in 2001, followed by the EP Spread Your Love Like Peanut Butter and the album Three Hairs and You’re MineKing Khan‘s band grew all the while and took on a number of remarkable personalities, including Ron Streeter, a percussionist who spent years touring with Curtis Mayfield and Stevie WonderBen Ra, a German sax player who worships at the altar of John Coltrane and Sun Ra; Freddy Rococo, a French organ player who previously led a one-man band in drag; and Bamboorella, the Shrines’ full-time go-go dancer. After cutting a split LP with the DirtbombsBilliards at Nine ThirtyKhan and the Shrines released their second full-length album, 2004’s Mr. Supernatural, which was followed by lots of international touring and a third full-length, What Is?!, in 2007. In 2008, Vice Records signed King Khan & the Shrines to an American record contract, and sealed the deal by releasing The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines, a collection of Khan‘s best material to date, dominated by tracks from Mr. Supernatural and What Is?!. It would be several years before Khan returned with the Shrines, issuing the more psychedelicly-tinged Idle No More in 2013 on Merge Records.

Les Eurockéennes de Belfort 2009

And so ladies and gentleman, lovers of music of South Asia and its energetic, vibrant and diverse diaspora, we present to you some music with exactly 0 references to ragas, ghazals, Bollywood, Indian folk or khyal. Whether King Khan has any loyalty to the land of his forefathers at all, this record will not help illuminate.

Rave on!

King Khan front

King Khan inner

King Khan back

Track Listing:

01 Anala

02 Invisible Girl

03 I’ll Be Loving You

04 Animal Party

05 Spin The Bottle

06 Third Ave

07 Tastebuds

08 Truth Or Dare

09 Crystal Ball

10 Lonely Boy

11 Tryin’

12 Do The Chop