Asha Bhosle: “Ae Naujawan Hai Sub Kuchh Yahan” (from the film Apradh, score by Kalyanji Anandji, 1972)

I went on a little Bollywood binge yesterday. It was triggered by the fact that I have a few soundtracks lying around that I hadn’t had a chance to listen to yet. My favorite era for this music runs from about 1965 to 1978, though that’s not hard-and-fast. It’s just the era with the greatest concentration of favorites.

It was during those years that music directors of the Bombay-based film industry (Bombay hadn’t been officially re-named Mumbai yet) became perhaps the greatest syncretists in music history. They used the entire world as their palette and devised some of the wildest and most creative fusions. In the West, their embrace of funk and disco is the most widely discussed aspect of this period, but it goes so much further than that.

Yes, funky rhythms became an ingredient of playback songs in this era. But rather than Westernizing Indian music, I’d argue that these composers did just as much to Indianize the music they were borrowing from around the world. They reached out and absorbed rock and roll, surf, soul, mambo, tango, exotica, electronic music, psychedelia, progressive rock, Hawaiian music, and rumba with enthusiasm, but they brought those elements into a soundworld full of Indian instruments, harmonies and melodies, and even though English was an official language in India, the country’s various film industries (based in different parts of the country) mostly filmed in native languages.

Bollywood, the portion of the Indian film industry based in Bombay, which made movies mostly in Hindi (with a bit of English and other languages), is only the most famous of the country’s cinema centers. There were big Telugu, Tamil, Konkani, Gujarati, Kannada and Bengali film industries, too—every region had its industry, from Punjab to Assam. 

I’ve heard dribs and drabs from the Tamil, Telugu, Konkani and Bengali film industries, and there was a lot of adventure in the music there as well from what little I’ve heard, but yeah, Bollywood is the one I know best, like most non-Indians. 

The big-name music directors who worked on music for the most Bollywood films included a few individuals, such as notably SD Burman, his son RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri, Ravi, O.P. Nayyar, and Biddu, but also some notable duos, including Sonik Omi (Manohar Lal Sonik and his nephew, Om Prakash Sonik), Laxmikant Pyarelal (Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma), and Kalyanji Anandji, a duo of brothers Kalyanji and Anandji Virji Singh. 

The Singh brothers were born in Gujarat but moved to Bombay when they were young. They both worked in music from the mid-50s (Kalyanji experimented with early synthesizers), and spent most of their careers as collaborators, scoring literally hundreds of films over the course of nearly five decades (Kalyanji passed away in 2000). 

Their score from Apradh was only released in EP form, with four songs featuring the great playback singers Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, and Lata Mangeshkar, Bhosle’s sister. “Ae Naujawan Hai Sub Kuchh Yahan,” often referred to incompletely as “Aye Navjawan,” is one of their finest moments, with its sharp Indian/American beat, amazing sitar riff and command performance from Bhosle. Go here if you’d like to see the scene that featured this song in Apradh

As influenced by Western sounds as this music was, that influence has begun to run back in the opposite direction. These songs have been turning up as samples in American and British music since the 90s, and this song in particular was sampled by the Black Eyed Peas for “Don’t Phunk with My Heart.”