Remixes haven't always been trashy: In the 90s, Bally Sagoo, Instant Karma pioneered nostalgic Bollywood covers

There is nothing wrong with overseeing the evolution of a song either, as long as you don’t guiltlessly butcher or mount it like a pig.

Manik Sharma April 18, 2020 09:05:06 IST
Remixes haven't always been trashy: In the 90s, Bally Sagoo, Instant Karma pioneered nostalgic Bollywood covers

It may sound offensive right now, but remixes weren’t always as bad.

They didn’t always make you bleed from the ears nor did they motivate you to socially distance from people who happen to like them. And so, after hearing Tanishk Baghchi vasectomise a perfectly youthful song —  with 'Masakali 2.0' — to somehow yield disdain and barren disbelief, I couldn’t help but look back to the 90s.

Remixes havent always been trashy In the 90s Bally Sagoo Instant Karma pioneered nostalgic Bollywood covers

A still from Masakali 2.0

Though mining nostalgia for ‘better times’ isn’t exactly a great strategy, rarely does the present offer a cultural car-crash so bad that it forces you to fondly think back to times when humble bicycles and mopeds were cheered through broad alleys with abandon. The 90s gave birth to the remix genre, and before this infantile creation turned into the abusive, overbearing adult of today, there was much to adore and appreciate about remixes.

Before he subjected unsuspecting viewers to the sight of his incomprehensible goatee, Bally Sagoo introduced India to a new kind of music. Bollywood Flashback, released in 1994 and cursorily played on cable by a handful of music channels, was a bolt of lightning in a dark and dingy basement otherwise flooded by the corny, overenthusiastic mush of mainstream Bollywood. Sagoo, for example, infused Asha Bhosle’s ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’ from Yaadon Ki Baraat (1979) with the kind of bassline and vocals that instantly transported the song to a time where it could also be enjoyed and chimed to by listeners other than your parents.

When I first heard it, I liked Sagoo’s version better than the original. It felt catchy if you like, a little less manipulative in its emotions and wildly more entertaining. That said, what also added to the popularity of the song was a borderline exotic music video, which would launch a sort of soft-erotica movement in the Indian musical industry leading to musically cringeworthy, yet sexually liberating oddball hits like ‘Chadhti Jawani’, ‘Kaanta Laga’, and others. Some actually went too far. DJ Aqeel’s ‘Keh Doon Tumhe’, for example, is chorused by a woman verbally orgasming.

To this day, Sagoo’s 'Chura Liya' feels as absurd to watch as it sounds progressive. The sight of a thin man’s hairy legs, his body in the snaky grip of a woman, a white man rapping in a Jamaican accent, and Sagoo biting into an Apple as if he had just snatched it from Isaac Newton, all make for whimsical, wondrous viewing. 'Chura Liya' thrust Sagoo, a British-born Indian, into the limelight.

Remixes havent always been trashy In the 90s Bally Sagoo Instant Karma pioneered nostalgic Bollywood covers

A still from Chura Liya

His unanticipated success, inspired others, not in the least, Instant Karma, a three-man group comprising of Ehsaan and Loy of Shankar-Eshaan-Loy. Instant Karma, were more conservative and veered towards the traditional mores of romance. The band came out with \(1996) and soon followed it up with another album, where they collaborated with a handful of proven singers like Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, Zubeen Garg etc to recreate Bollywood classics. The trio rechristened ‘Hum Bewafa’ from Shalimar (1978) into a more robust, moody, contemporised version which also shred the detestable ‘jhinga la la ho’ chorus of the original.

Sagoo, himself, wasn’t always all remixes. His collaboration with a number of artists like Malkit Singh ('Gore Naal Ishq'), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan ('Tere Jeha Hor Disda') and Jay Sean ('Sohniye') yielded some memorable, if eccentric results. Inspired, perhaps by the 90s dubstep movement in England, Sagoo’s music was eclectic and unknown to most in India. In the pre-internet age, most Bollywood music, with the exception perhaps of Bappi Lahri and RD Burman before him, sounded similar. There was precious little recklessness in the compositions and nothing for the young to latch onto.

Listening to world music meant buying pirated CD-Roms or recorded blank cassettes with money that was better spent elsewhere. Experimenting with music, too, was a privilege. The arrival of stylised knock-offs, suddenly broke free from the moralising pastures of love, family and relationships, the golden troika, the eternal ‘prasad’ of Bollywood.

Though a sizeable chunk of Sagoo’s work, his collaborations especially, still remains explored, his most popular creation, in my opinion, is the greatest Bollywood remix till date. Remixing a Lata Mangeshkar song isn’t for the fainthearted but Sagoo, somehow managed the impossible with 'Noorie,' from the film Noorie (1979). A 180-degree twist of the tempo, the acoustics, and even the visual storytelling, 'Noorie' is an example of what remixes can achieve.

The internet age was always likely to be more critical of remixes. The palate has unimaginably expanded. There is now ubiquitous access to music from around the world, and given the variety at hand, even the notional act of gentrifying an original feels offensive. One could forgive the deprivation, if at least the attempt was sincere. But the lethargy, the utter lack of imagination with which these songs are now turned out, makes my daily buttering of the toast on both sides, feel like a forte as well. There is nothing wrong, principally, with revisiting heritage. We witness character stereotypes from old films, rehashed in countless ways, and we grow to like the deft changes, writers and filmmakers make to them.

There is nothing wrong with overseeing the evolution of a song either, as long as you don’t guiltlessly butcher or mount it like a pig.

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