What might possibly link Louis Armstrong, Portuguese fados and Geeta Dutt singing Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De (what a gorgeous song) in the 1956 film Bhai Bhai? Ah, for that you'd have to have been at Naresh Fernandes's delightfully thought-provoking lecture on Thursday evening, on the coming of jazz to Bollywood. What's more, he began with a clip of Amitabh Bachchan belting out My Name is Anthony Gonsalves from that mouth-watering bell-bottomed '70s classic, Amar Akbar Anthony (Parveen Babi AND Shabana Azmi AND Neetu Singh ... be still my thumping heart! And hey, bring back the multi-starrer!)
It should be no surprise if you think about it, but it still is: the way musicians trained in Indian classical traditions teamed up with (mostly Goan) others trained in Western styles, and produced a flowering of music for Hindi films that is unparalleled anywhere. This was fusion before there was bad fusion, East meets West on an intimate, almost unconscious level. Even non-Hindi film buffs like me (scorn all you want, but I couldn't tell Mohammed Rafi from Mukesh from Manna De to save my life) look back a generation to what was a definite golden age of film music; and Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De came from right in there.
Anthony Gonsalves is relevant because there was a real Anthony Gonsalves, a man who both played the music of his Goan roots and understood raags; he composed using both strains (he had a "Sonatina Indiana", among others). From the 1940s on, he was part of the Hindi film music scene in Bombay. In particular, he taught the violin to Pyarelal (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal), who wrote My Name is Anthony Gonsalves. Pyarelal's own fond tribute to his guru. Who would have thought it, watching Bachchan do that mad top-hatted bop?
Listening to all this, I thought of the innumerable other cross-culturally influenced songs from our films. Aao Twist Karen pays tribute to Chubby Checker and the rocking, twisting '60s. Tere Liye is Abba's '70s hit Mamma Mia reworked. Yeh hai Bombay Meri Jaan is Oh My Darling Clementine, made more interesting. Tere Mujhse Hai Pehle is from that folk classic, The Yellow Rose of Texas. On and on. Where else has there been this rich mixing and remixing?
And yes, what does link Armstrong, the fado and Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De? Well, Bombay had its own Louis Armstrong, a trumpet player called Chic Chocolate (!) who consciously modelled himself on the great American but was no mean musician himself. He was part of the Hindi film music scene too, till his death in 1967; melding jazz and blues, and his Goan Catholic traditions, into melodies for the screen. And in Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De, he inserted a phrase from the fado "Coimbra".
What a smorgasbord to feast on! And for me, the talk had another dimension to it because of someone I met in the audience -- of that, next time.
But here, read what Naresh said yourself. Don't let my far less interesting post dilute that pleasure. And for you non-Hindi types, Aye Dil Mujhe Bata De translates approximately to the title of this post.