2021 was a restless, unsettled year for me. The pandemic jerked along with more spikes than valleys. We traveled only safe, small circles around our home, never making it more than two hundred fifty miles. Our home, now pushing eleven years old no longer felt new; the appliances faltered, the paint chipped, the floors scuffed. Even my music went stale. I abandoned my thoughtfully created hours-long Pandemic playlist months ago. A certain famous woman had release after release, but I’ve never been a fan. I started to imagine the music I needed to hear: Indian artists blending traditional and modern sounds. Not Bhangra, not Bollywood, but contemporary musicians influenced by the Indian classical music I grew up listening to and craved now. I tried to narrow that into a Google search. I couldn’t figure out the right terms and nothing useful came up.
A few months ago after work, I sat in my car, searching my phone for new music. I pressed the browse button on my music app and scrolled through the categories. I was shocked to come across one called “Indian Indie.” Yes! That’s what I was looking for! In the dim parking garage I clicked on it and found playlists. They became my new drive music. As I listened I remembered sitting in a taxi in India.
It was December 2000 and we were somewhere near Delhi. My mom was talking in Hindi to the driver. I stared out the back window, listening to the swirl of their words. Before that trip I understood only kitchen Hindi– food, spices, implements– and basic phrases. But sitting in that taxi the language washed over me and suddenly I was a part of that conversation, a silent listener. I was sure I was following the conversation. This was, of course, impossible based on my limited vocabulary. Ultimately I attributed it to a strange side effect from my anti-malaria medicine, a vivid awake-dream, or maybe a hallucination.
Driving home in my own car, though, I experienced that same sensation. I was excited when I understood a word or a phrase (he said something about a house! I know that word!), but there was something deeper. And I realized what happened in the Indian taxi and in my car was the same. The language, the familiar, beautiful roll of consonants and vowels, was a song itself. Back in the taxi my mind transcribed the inflections, rhythms, and pauses of Hindi sentences into music. I didn’t fully understand the words, but I didn’t need to. I was experiencing it as pure sound and getting lost in it, the same way I would with any good music.
Here’s a taste of what I found. These songs use many different languages: Hindi, Kannada (one of my Dad’s languages which I rarely hear now), Tamil, English. Also a note: copyright restrictions from Apple Music made it difficult to share files. So I am including video links, but control freak that I am, I strongly encourage you to listen without watching the videos, to hear the sound without distraction.
This is one of the first songs I heard. Ignore the incorrect medical reference (ha). But do listen to the Indian violin solo. Thanks to my Dad, Indian violin was a core part of my music experience growing up. Hearing it in a pop song was transformational. As were some of the lyrics:
And I hope they will accept you
It’s safe to be a Hindu
I’ve never heard that in music. I wonder how if would have changed me to hear that when I was thirteen. “Dear Appa” by Smokey the Ghost
And this one “Good Morning” by All Ok, in Kannada. Again, strong memories of my Dad and his music. I can’t help wondering if he would love this or hate it.
“Naamcheen” by Seedhe Maut is pure fun… and THAT FLUTE SAMPLE! This is the kind of flute I wanted to play after college when I was free of my classical training.
I’ve been really stressed out the last few months and this song “Don’t Worry” by All Ok has helped. When it comes on during a run you may or may not see me subtly–very subtly!– dancing with my hands. And I also think about how my cousins, Indian friends and I playfully mocked Indian-accented English. Would that have changed if we had music like this growing up?
Sometimes you just need something fun to listen to. There’s not much Indian about this, but I would have loved dancing to this back in my med school days (where I was always the by-my-choice-designated driver for me and my friends). Here’s a live version of “Sharaabi” by Madboy Mink. Yeah, twenty-five year old me would have wanted to be singer Saba Azad, at least for a day.