The music of AH Rahman is tremendously popular in India, where a Rahman soundtrack can add considerable box-office appeal to the Bollywood vehicle it graces. He has worked with Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Rahman’s work has also found a ready audience in the London-centred Asian Underground scene, where it can be heard as an influence on artists such as State of Bengal, who produced a memorable version of Rahman’s “Behind My Elephant” with the National Cinema Orchestra. It is fitting, then, that Rahman’s music is the foundation for the new album Rahmania by the Bollywood Brass Band, a London-based group who spontaneously morphed (according to the liner notes) from the world music street band Crocodile Style into an Indian wedding brass band during “a long Diwali procession down the length of Ealing Road through partying crowds.”
The idea of arranging Rahman’s lyrics and string-heavy instrumentations for a brass band might strike fear into some hearts, but for the most part it works, as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The album shifts between lively, full-on rave ups — like “Kehta Hai Mera Dil” and standout track “Rangeela Medley” — and less successful stabs at ballads like “Ek Tu Hi Bharosa.” While welcome as a change of pace, the slower songs lack opportunities for the dynamic interweaving of musical patterns that showcase the most interesting aspects of this experiment.
The more uptempo cuts offer the chance to transcend the novelty nature of the project by creating a groove that defies categorization. The band’s efforts to do so are notably successful on the album’s opening cut, “Mere Yaara Dildara,” rich with joyful playing and a heady, stop-start groove. At other points, like “Injarango,” the unconventional instrumentation and the band’s world-music roots push the sound as much towards a Tito Puente-style Latin Jazz as anything from the Sub-Continent. Other moments have an almost-Klezmer sense of playfulness and momentum, perhaps as a result of the walking tuba bassline and its interplay with soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes. And there is definitely a bit of reggae going on in the mix. Certain cuts even incorporate all these diverse elements into a playful vibe that must be great when seen in live performance, and retains much of its kinetic energy when put to tape, thanks to lively arrangements and accomplished playing.
The midtempo “Kismat Se Tum Hum Ko Mile” benefits from an interesting combination of bagpipes, flute, and synth, all supported by a bass-bin rattling tuba and solid drumming. The song’s remix by Transglobal Underground incorporates a driving beat and tasteful sampling of the original track, developing along a similar trajectory to the original, but amping up the drums and synth squeaks to good effect. Rangeela’s Non-Stop Go-Go Lounge remix of the “Rangeela Medley” is less successful – it veers dangerously close to car commercial music, and bears only the most superficial resemblance to the track’s Indian roots, despite a few token tabla and chime sounds in an effort to sound a bit less like a dated trip-hop groove. Those looking for an update on Asian London’s great remixes of the late 90s, as heard on the Anokha compilation, Sounds of the Asian Underground, Vols 1 & 2, will have to keep looking.
In fact, all the remixes, even the Transglobal Underground’s, belong to that “one world groove” genre where everything unique about the music is subsumed to the big bass and drum sounds needed for it to play well in nightclubs from San Francisco to Seoul, ensuring that the last vestiges of an underground scene are co-opted to a seamless, oil-slick-shiny aesthetic. Accordingly, Larry Whelan’s aptly titled Groove Road remix of “Ishq Bina Ishq Bina” cherrypicks the source track for instrumental flourishes to complement the predictable surging drum patterns, resulting in a sterile sound that gives the illusion of taking risks while playing to the crowd. The real fireworks on Rahmania are heard on the Bollywood Brass Band’s own cuts.
(Emergency Exit Arts, 2003)