Tag Archives: review

Coke Studio at MTV – Songs For Sale and Minicert Review

If you hadn’t already heard, the songs from the Coke Studio India are up for sale.

iTunes US     iTunes UK     iTune Canada     Flipkart

If you want to check out reviews before buying, your best bet is probably Music Aloud. After my (ahem, hugely popular) post supporting by Coke Studio, I have been a passive, disengaged spectator. I still support the program but I think it needs to produce at least one truly magical song for it to deliver on its promise. I am still waiting for that song.

On a separate note, I went for the Coke Studio Minicert gig at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore. The lineup was interesting – Tochi Raina, Mathangi Rajashekhar, Sanjeev Thomas and Papon – and the music was good for the most part. Leslie Lewis made a surprise appearance for the last song.

Tochi Raina sang a couple of songs and disappeared for the rest of the show. Mathangi sang really well, but as a friend commented, her Carnatic parts did not register. May have been the acoustics of the place. Sanjeev Thomas was mercurial. He got the only encore for the night but also missed his cue and had to be rescued by Mathangi. Papon, for me, was the find of the evening. He is young, lights up the stage and a brilliant singer. He was equally good singing Assamese folk and backing up Mathangi with semi-classical vocals.

A good show overall, BUT, before you buy the ticket for the minicert in your city, I recommend you find out what it will buy you. In this particular gig, the main space for the audience was off-limits for us. It looked like this space was reserved for the event sponsors. It would have been nice if HRC has told us about this beforehand. Instead they took our money, and made us feel like we were gate-crashing the party – not cool.

And before I forget – Did you know that the songs from the Pakistani edition of Coke Studio (Season 2 and 3) were available on iTunes? I found out only recently.

Season 2 – iTunes US     iTunes UK     iTunes Canada
Season 3 – iTunes US     iTunes UK     iTunes Canada

[Correction, Aug 23: It’s Sanjeev Thomas, not Sanjay Thomas.]


Leaving Home – The Life & Music of Indian Ocean – DVD Review

“Leaving Home” is a documentary by Jaideep Verma about Indian Ocean, one of the first Indian music bands. I have a lot of good things to say about the DVD, so let me get a quibble out of the way – The movie would have been extra special with 5-channel audio. Sadly, it’s just Stereo.

The film mirrors a typical, Indian Ocean song – its loosely structured, meanders freely and has a raw feel to it. After watching the movie for a while, though, you appreciate the method to the madness – the movie tells the band’s story by tracing Indian Ocean’s career chronologically, and explores each band member, one at a time.

Most of the story is told through Jaideep’s conversation with a band member or through conversations between the band members. Jaideep stays out of the picture most of the time. (In fact, while his name does appear on the DVD, there is no mention of his name on the DVD case.). Other people do chip in – family members, record executives, collaborators, musicians – but Indian Ocean remains the star of the show. It is their story, as told by them. Jaideep’s relationship with the band is not clear but it’s quite evident that he admires the band and that the band seems to be at ease with him. On one hand, this dynamic results in the band opening their kimono for the world; on the other, it does not leave room for an objective assessment (perhaps critique?) of the band’s career and music. The same dynamic imparts to the movie a degree of warmth and in the end, I am glad that the movie was made the way it was.

The movie has a couple of key themes:

  1. Struggle and Persistence – Indian Ocean struggled for a number of years through changing lineups, little recognition for their music and financial problems. But they persisted. There is an extremely poignant segment in the movie about a friend of Susmit’s who gave up music (he used to play bass guitar) to pursue a safer career. The movie shows the friend visiting Susmit after many years, playing the guitar (tentatively at first) and wondering what could have been. The caption in the transition to the next scene, quietly informs us that the friend passed away the next year.
  2. Teamwork – Indian Ocean has no frontman, no leader. Every member seems to contribute equally to the making of the music (there are delightful scenes of them jamming as a new song takes shape). Of course, there are disagreements (Rahul Ram wants political messages in their songs, the rest do not; Susmit has a problem with the chorus-verse format of songs, the rest do not) but mostly there is camaraderie and a sense of common purpose. We also get a sense that staying together needed work and commitment. Every time a member says that they have more commonalities than differences (and they say it a few times), you realize that that message is as much for themselves, as it is for the viewers.

As the movie draws to a close, a portrait of each band member emerges – “warts and all”, as blurb on the DVD case says –

Susmit Sen – He comes across as a guy who may not be hugely talented, but more than compensates for it through hard work, self-belief and sheer obstinacy.

Rahul Ram – Despite being the most articulate member of the band, he remains a bit of an enigma. It doesn’t feel like he opens up as much as the other band members. He is very intense, has strong political beliefs (pro-Narmada, anti-Bush) and is so pragmatic, that he can appear cold. He has huge stage presence (I’ve seen Indian Ocean live) and the closest thing to a frontman the band will ever have.

Amit Kilam – Hugely talented, he can play a number of instruments and sing. He comes across as amiable and easy-going. Even after all these years, it feels like he’s still the kid in the band.

Asheem Chakravarty – Knowing that he died of a heart attack in 2009, viewers will likely watch Asheem closely throughout the movie. I don’t know if it is the result of this scrutiny, but Asheem seems to open up more than any other band member. He comes across as an emotional guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. You can’t help but like the man.

“Leaving Home” is not just for Indian Ocean fans. It is for anyone who loves music. It is the story of a bunch of regular folks, making great music.

[I watched the extended version of their DVD which consists of 2 DVDs. It has a few extras and costs more. This version is probably meant for fans. That said, while I am not a huge fan (though I like their music), I still enjoyed the leisurely 4 plus hour watch (with a few breaks).]

R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music – Book Review

I have a series of complaints about the book “R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music” by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal. For starters, it has a really confusing structure. It consists of three sections, each focusing on a decade of his life and career – the 60s, 70s and 80s, but within each section the chronology is disorienting. Within the sections, the authors try to focus on R.D. Burman’s associations with directors, lyricists, etc and in the process dilute both the chronology and the associations. Also, the authors may have deemed the chapter names clever (“Mango and Cadbury Uncle”, “Inexpensive Grass, Free Love”, etc.) but they only serve to frustrate readers trying to make sense of the book’s structure.

For people who are not trained in music (like me), the book gets too technical at times (“Also prominent was the use of Suddha notes and major scale, apart from touching upon the flat seventh note, Komal Ni…”). After the first few chapters, I became proficient at spotting these bits and skimming over them.

My last complaint is that while ambitiously tag-lined “The Man, The Music”, the book has a lot more of The Music than The Man. I was particularly disappointed with the sketchy treatment of Pancham’s relationship with Asha Bhonsle. Their eventual separation is described like an after-thought through a Vidhu Vinod Chopra quote that focuses not on their relationship but on Pancham’s slump in the mid-1980s – “Lack of confidence. People close to him, including Asha Bhonsle, left him.”. This is the first time in the book, their separation is mentioned!

Despite these flaws, this is a book to be loved and cherished.

The book’s biggest strength is it’s focus on R.D. Burman’s career. We find out about the 4-year gap between his first two movies and what he did during that time. We discover that we may have never known Pancham if an interview with Shammi Kapoor had gone awry. We get to appreciate that his success was as much due to the strength of his team, as his own musical genius. We trace the various ups and downs in his career, his troubled last days and his emphatic resurgence after death. The authors have clearly put in a lot of effort to amass a treasure trove of information on Pancham.

I also enjoyed the detailed analyses of all of R.D. Burman’s key songs and then some. Tip – To truly appreciate the authors’ analyses, you need to be plugged into the internet (in case you don’t have the songs) so you can listen to the songs while reading the analysis.

Apart from the serious stuff, the book has loads of delightfully quirky trivia. The authors do a nice job of not only informing but entertaining. Some of my favorite trivia from the book:

  1. Pancham coaxed Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma to play the tabla on “Mose Chhal Kiye Jaye” (Guide) even though he had given it up for santoor.
  2. “Dum Maro Dum” was originally meant to be sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Usha Uthup.
  3. Pancham was inspired by the cyclic noise from a faulty table fan to compose “Suno, kaho, kaha, suna” (Aap Ki Kasam).
  4. Pancham’s title music (starts at 0:40) for the movie Joshila was used in many movies, including movies that had other music directors.
  5. In “Zindagi Milke Bitayenge” (Satte Pe Satta), Pancham shuttled between the voice cubicle and the orchestra area because he had to sing and play the harmonica in the song.

For the most part, the authors appear objective but their deep admiration for Pancham is evident in their analysis of his music and shows through at times as petulance (“Not that Pancham needed the endorsement of any curvy statuettes” on Pancham not winning a Filmfare award till 1983) and defensiveness (over charges of plagiarism against Pancham). These elements transform the book from a dry research paper to a warm, vibrant homage.

This book is more than just a good read. It has a neat, 500-song index that will provide for many more hours of exploration any time you listen to your favorite Pancham songs or are in the mood to discover some new ones.


On Amazon.

On Flipkart.

Coke Studio India Must Be Cheered

Coke Studio debuted in India last Friday. Armchair critics did detailed analyses proving conclusively that the first episode sucked. “Loud and empty” said one post. Another post said it “veered dangerously close to cacophony at times.”.  There were some voices that attempted to tone down things a bit including this post, this tweet and this tweet.

Still, the general buzz around the first episode (based on a highly unscientific analysis of tweets, blog comments and Facebook status updates) seems to be negative – Coke Studio India pales in comparison to the Pakistani version.

I say it’s premature the pass the verdict. Till will get to the end of this season, I say we should cheer Coke Studio for what it’s attempting to do.

Coke Studio puts the focus squarely on music. Can you think of any television program (let alone a music program) that is not interrupted by ads? No ads, no garrulous presenter, no arrogant judges, no “reality” drama, no idle chit-chat – just one song after the other for one whole hour.

Coke Studio puts the spotlight on musicians. The musicians own the stage. Granted there are a few famous artists in the picture, but so were a number of musicians who would never had the opportunity to present their art to such a large and diverse audience, had it not been for Coke Studio. The most recent print of Sound Box magazine describes the plight of musicians in India:

Ask the mass consumers of music out there about what comes to mind when they think of Munni badnaam hui? Malaika Khan Arora and Salman Khan…..Ask them about who composed these songs…..and you can bet your last rupee that the vast majority of them would have no clue.

And if this happens to musicians who have “made it big”, do other musicians really stand a chance unless platforms like Coke Studio come along? Next time I hear a Mousam Gogoi song, I will have a smiling face to put against the name – and that’s a cool thing to be able to do.

Coke Studio challenges the language barrier. Other than Hindi, the first episode of Coke Studio India featured Bangla, Assamese, Punjabi and Tamil. This is great for music lovers – they have more choice. And it’s great for musicians – they get a bigger following. One of my favorite songs from the Coke Studio across the border happens to be in Persian. And with 1.5 million plus hits on YouTube, I know Coke Studio can encourage people to care more about the music than the language.

Coke Studio challenges the genre barrier. It throws in a bunch of musical forms in a melting pot. What comes out can either be surprisingly good or chaotic. My favorite number from the first episode was the Tamil folk – Sufiesque (I just invented the word, feel free to use with credit to me) collaboration between Chinnaponnu and Kailash Kher. And while I felt that the Punjabi folk – Carnatic fusion by Tochi Raina – Mathangi Rajasekhar was more confusion than fusion, I admired Coke Studio’s audacity to try out something like that. In the end, I think this kind of experimentation must be encouraged. Even if it produces only a handful of gems, I think Coke Studio would have delivered.

To those who are bemoaning the first episode, I say – settle down and give the show a chance. If you are involved enough to have an opinion about the first episode, you must be a music lover. I hope MTV takes note of some of your suggestions and doesn’t get all defensive and snooty.

And while this season of Coke Studio is on, you should be cheering it. You should be cheering it because it could make a difference. You should be cheering it because it is significantly better than the alternative. Oh wait, there is no alternative.

Popular Is Not Always Good

Stung by poor reviews of “Ready”, and outraged Salman Khan asked – “Are my fans stupid?”. My answer – Not all of them, but the truth is that there is no correlation between people’s intellect and their taste. As the saying goes, “There is no accounting for taste”.

I haven’t seen “Ready” but a number of people (non-critics) told me they had a splitting headache after watching it. I also had some people tell me that it’s an “entertainer”. The box office numbers for “Ready” leave no doubt that it’s a hugely popular movie. But based on what I have heard so far, it’s also possible that “Ready” happens to be a lousy movie. How’s that possible? Isn’t popularity an indicator of good quality? Not always.

  1. Bad products can become popular. What makes bad products popular?
    • Star appeal – Fawning fans can be extremely forgiving of poor quality.
    • Marketing – Marketing campaigns can make you believe a product is good, even if it’s not.
    • Lack of options – If the market is full of mediocre products, products that suck less can become popular.
    • Titillation – Sometimes, an ordinary product can become popular by possessing a “leave your brain behind” quality that titillates but does not satisfy.
  2. Good products are not always popular. Absence of star appeal, poor/no marketing and a competitive market can prevent a good product from becoming popular. Being unconventional can hurt a product too. If a product strays too far from the norm, people can find it difficult to accept it.

I may not agree with all the critics all the time but I believe they play the hugely important role (at least the good ones do) of assessing product quality. The distinction between good and popular would be lost on us, if it were not for critics.

Perhaps Salman Khan should not be concerned about what the critics say. After all, he (like some others of his ilk) is not really in the business of being good. He’s in the business of being popular.

Or, he could consider the possibility that good can also be popular.

Apple’s iCloud Is Transformational

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple’s service that allows consumers to shift their storage hub from local hard-drives to the internet. iCloud takes care of syncing a variety of content and information (contacts, mails, calendars, music, photos, videos, documents, etc.) across multiple devices. The following apps are available on iCloud:

  1. Contacts, Calendar, Mail are available on iCloud for free. Apple is shutting down MobileMe, the product that used to do the same at $99 per year.
  2. Apps Store
  3. iBooks
  4. Device backup – Backs up important settings and loads on new device
  5. Documents in the cloud – Supports availability of Pages/Numbers/Keynote across devices.
  6. iCloud storage APIs – For developers to build iCloud apps
  7. Photo Stream – Stores the last 1000 photos on the cloud. Allows access across devices. People with more than 1000 photos can move older ones from Photo Stream to their device.
  8. iTunes
    1. Anything bought on iTunes can be re-downloaded on 10 devices
    2. Automated download to all devices. Download starts when you plug in your iPhone for charging.
    3. For non-iTunes music, consumers can
      1. Sync devices
      2. Buy the songs from iTunes, so it’s available on iCloud
      3. Buy the iTunes Match service at about $25/year. The service lets you match your non-iTunes tracks to iTunes’ 18 million song catalog. Matched songs have the same support as iTunes songs – 256K downloads (even if the original track is less than 256K) available on 10 devices. Unmatched songs will be available on the cloud as is. Apple claims that the matching takes minutes (as opposed to the “weeks” it takes to upload music to Google Music Beta or Amazon Cloud).

How much will iCloud cost?

Some details are not known but for the most part, iCloud is free. Storage for purchased music, apps, books and the 1000 Photo Stream photos are free of cost. 5GB of storage is available for free for mails, documents and backup. Apple indicates that 5GB is more than enough and does not even address the possibility of the need for more than 5GB. The only component of iCloud that costs money is iTunes Match at $24.99.

When will iCloud be available?

iTunes on iCloud is already available. The remaining components will be available this fall.

What about streaming?

No streaming. (I will be writing another post with my theories on why Apple did not roll out streaming).

Why is iCloud transformational?

  1. Comprehensive – It is the first and only service that manages such a wide gamut of “stuff” on the cloud.
  2. Invisible – It is so well integrated with the Apple ecosystem, that consumers may not even notice it. Stuff just becomes available across devices.
  3. Big impact – Except for iTunes Match, it is free. At that price point, adoption of iCloud by anyone with an Apple device is a no brainer. With millions of Apple customers using iCloud, the standard for managing multiple devices has changed permanently. For the better.


Of A.R. Rahman Concerts And Concert Venues

I attended my third A.R. Rahman concert yesterday at the Palace Grounds in Bangalore. Two things were very different this time – two things that made this show the most unremarkable of the three.

The Concert

My best Rahman concert was back in the winter of 2004-2005 in Cow Palace, Oakland. The warm and fuzzy feeling I have about this concert may be because it was my first Rahman concert but leaving that bias aside, the evening was magical for me because the who’s who of Indian music was on the stage – Shankar Mahadevan, Sukhwinder Singh, Sonu Nigam, Hariharan, SP Balasubramaniam, Sadhna Sargam and of course, A.R Rahman.  ARR sang maybe a couple of songs but his rendition of “Vellai Pookal” that night remains etched in my memory. Even my second concert – at Sears Center, Chicago – was pretty enjoyable. Rahman’s reportoire was larger, he looked more self-assured on the stage and performed more songs but he was again accompanied a bunch of awesome singers – Sukhwinder Singh, Hariharan, Naresh Iyer, Chitra, Blaaze, Madhushree and Sadhna Sargam.

Unfortunately, the concert yesterday had a little too much of ARR (there, I said it!) and a little too less of really good, accomplished singers (and ARR is not that). Except for Javed Ali and Vijay Prakash, the other singers disappointed.

The Venue

This post is already sounding like a rant so let me just list a few things that made Palace Grounds’ logistics less than optimal:

  1. Parking charge of Rs 100/- on a Rs 5000/- ticket? They might as well include the cost of parking in the ticket and make it easier for people to get into the venue.
  2. Parking the car was pretty easy but getting out was chaotic. There was no one around to guide people out, no lanes were marked and I witnessed a few cross-country races as people found weird exit routes across open fields, around trees and on road shoulders.
  3. Depending on the ticket cost, some of us had food coupons. “Food” consisted of a can of drink, a bag of chips and the entrée (drum roll) a crumbled-up sandwich thrown in a plastic bag. Thankfully we had packed curd rice for the kids. My wife sustained herself on chips and popcorn. I dined on a guava after I got back home. Note to organizers – I know its tough organizing food for so many people. Why bother? Just let people know so they can pack their food.

My rants aside, I know I will attend any ARR concert that comes to town. He got it right two times out of three. Pretty good odds.

PS: Here is the list of songs. The ones in bold were ones that I really enjoyed. I may have missed a song or two when I went to get the food bag.

Tere Bina (Guru) ARR

Dil Se (Dil Se) ARR

Tanha Tanha (Rangeela)

Daud (Daud) Remo

Ni Mai Samajh Gayi (Taal)

Rang De Basanti (Rang De Basanti)

Masakali (Delhi-6) Vijay Prakash

Gurus of Peace/Chanda Suraj Lakhon Taare (Vande Mataram) ARR

Yeh Jo Desh Hai Tera (Swades) ARR

Chhodo More Baiyyan (Zubeida)

Genda Phool (Delhi-6)

Hosanna (Vinnathandi Varuvaya) Vijay Prakash

Jaane Tu Meri Kya Hai (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) Javed Ali

Luka Chuppi (Rang De Basanti) ARR (And recorded Lata!)

Tu Muskura (Yuvvraj) Shweta Pandit, Vijay Prakash

Anjaana Anjaani (Yuva) ARR

Medley – Meherbaan (ADA) – Rehna Tu (Delhi-6)- Jage Hain (Guru) – Ishq Bina (Taal) ARR

Violin instrumental – Mary Anne

Medley – Chikku Bukku (Gentleman) – Petta Rap (Kathalan)

Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire) ARR

Medley – Arziyaan (Delhi-6) – Khwaaja Mere Khwaja (Jodha Akbar) ARR / Javed Ali

Kahin To Hogi (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)

Mukabala (Kathalan)

Thok De Khilli (Guru)

Humma Humma (Bombay) Remo

Irumbile Oru Idhayam (Enthiran) ARR

Roobaroo (Rang De Basanti) ARR

Vande Mataram (Vande Mataram) ARR

[Update May 31 – The violinist was Mary Anne according to TOI. Not Vanessa Mae – my Google guess.]

A.R. Rahman – The Spirit Of Music – Book Review

Conversations, Not Biography

“The Spirit of Music” sets the readers’ expectation right on the cover by declaring “Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir”. Unfortunately, a lot of people have been referring to it as ARR’s biography. It is not. It is just a very long interview. It makes for a light and entertaining read but it is constrained by two things – a) ARR’s ability to communicate with words (not nearly as good as his ability to communicate with music), b) His willingness to share information.

Nevertheless, the book is a great read because Ms. Kabir does manage to get ARR to open up like never before. There are some very personal insights that could have come only directly from ARR. Examples:

  • When ARR hits a composer’s block, he writes tunes to Bulleh Shah’s and Amir Khusrau’s poetry. Guru’s “Ae Hairathe Ashiqui” was composed on Amir Khusrau’s “Ae sharbat-e ashiqui”
  • He deals with pressure at work by heading out of Chennai to visit a Sufi dargah near Mahabalipuram

ARR’s Struggles

The one thing that struck me the most in the book is the description of the years of struggle ARR went through. His rise after “Roja” may have been meteoric but here is what his career looked like before it:

  • 1978 – 1979 – Started working as a roadie when he was 11 years.
  • 1980 – Played keyboards on Doordarshan program, Wonder Balloon
  • 1981 – Played in school band
  • 1985 – 1986 – Played in band, Magic. They had two gigs. To quote ARR – “And that was it – finito.”
  • 1987 – Composed Album called “Disco Disco” for Malaysia Vasudevan
  • 1988 – Played in band, Roots. Gave one performance.
  • 1989 – Setup Panchathan Studio, a recording studio, in the backyard of his house. His mother had to sell her jewellery to finance the studio.
  • 1979 – 1989 – Sessions musician. Played keyboard for Illayaraja, Raj-Koti, Vijay Anand
  • 1990 – Released English-language album called “Set Me Free” with Malgudi Shubha
  • 1989 – 1991 – Composed ad jingles.
  • 1990 – 1991 – Played in band, Nemesis Avenue. Played one gig.
  • 1992 – Played keyboard on Zakir Hussain and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan’s album “Colours”. Credited as Dileep.

Sure ARR has loads of talent but even he had to work his ass off (and meet the 10,000-hour rule somewhere along the way) to achieve success.

Nice Guy

ARR has endeared himself to his fans not just because of his music but also because he comes across as a nice guy – humble, honest and spiritual. This comes across several times throughout the book. My favorites:

  • The first page of the book has this written in Tamil script – “Ella pukazhum iraivanukke” meaning “All praises to God”. He used this phrase while accepting the Oscar Awards for Slumdog Millionnaire
  • This Q&A

NMK: What do people say about your voice?

ARR: What do people say about my voice? It sounds like me of course. [laughs] I suppose they find character in the voice.

Collector’s Item

The book also happens to pretty cool collector’s item with the score sheet for “The Bombay Theme” and a CD of Rahman compositions that you will not find anywhere else.


A good read for any music lover and a must-buy for ARR fans.



High Fidelity – A Movie/Book Review

You are probably not a music geek if you haven’t seen (the movie) or read (the book) High Fidelity. You are definitely not a music geek if you have seen or read High Fidelity and not enjoyed it.

High Fidelity is the story of a single, insecure and rather pathetic man in his mid-30s who finds true love after many failed attempts, loses it and eventually regains it. The music connection? He owns a record store, has a massive record collection, makes all kinds of song lists (The Top 5 Death Songs) and spends hours making compilation tapes. He has two equally geeky employees (one of them brilliantly played by Jack Black in the movie). The three of them are music snobs and look down on anyone who does not have good taste in music. In fact, they drive out potential customers because they have bad taste in music:

Barry’s Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.

Barry: Yea we have it.

Barry’s Customer: Great, Great, can I have it?

Barry: No, no, you can’t.

Barry’s Customer: Why not?

Barry: Well, it’s sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.

Pick up the movie/book if you are looking for something funny, relaxing and entertaining.