Musical Space: Hip-Hop Goes Bollywood

Mar 16, 2016

Western pop has occasionally flirted with the music of India; witness the rather faddish infatuation with the sitar in the 1960’s courtesy of rock stars like George Harrison. Indian music was exotic and mystical. It was also intellectually stimulating and beautiful, I must add.

The world is much smaller now; there is no longer such a thing as rare or exotic music. But the music of India is now an even bigger international force. Bollywood movies, which are mostly musicals, reach the largest audience in the world. Then there is Bhangra, the dance music created by Punjabi emigres incorporating traditional instruments in London in the 1980s. And thanks to those 1960s hippies, there’s all that Indian Vinyl out there being discovered by crate-digging DJs.

Bhangra rhythms and Bollywood references have naturally found their way into American mix-tapes and onto the dance floor. Things really took off about a dozen years ago when mainstream hip hop got into the game.

Jay Z remixed a song by British bhangra rapper Panjabi MC in 2003, unleashing a club banger called “Beware of the Boys” and opening the door for other hip hop artists to plunder bhangra rhythms.

My favorite use of Indian samples is a pair of albums by Madlib called “Beat Konducta in India.” Madlib’s albums are performances: loose and jazz-like collections of unlikely flavors. But here he’s added curry.

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