Monday, June 27, 2005

Last Week's Quiz, explained

Thanks to everyone who tried my little quiz last week. The following long post is where I explain both the questions and the answers -- to the baffled as well as the cognoscenti.

Question 1: “Flight IC 408” was a breakthrough hit in the Asian Underground/drum n bass club scene in the late 1990s. At which Indian airport are you most likely to hear the announcement sampled in the song?


There are two reasons the answer is Delhi. First, it has to be in India because of the way the announcement is being made “Passengers are requested to proceed to the aircraft.” This is only said in Indian airports. The accent is also a bit of a giveaway, but I suppose there are enough immigrants from South Asia in England that it's not decisive. Secondly, it's “Flight IC 408 to Calcutta,” so it can't be Calcutta.

I heard very similar announcements being made at the domestic airport at Delhi the last time I was there (on my way from Bombay to Lei, Ladakh). My guess is, the story of the song for State of Bengal is something like this: you're a Bengali on your way from England to Calcutta, and you just heard the announcement. Though you'd already been in India for a few hours, it's the announcement that sets the chain of memories and emotions moving for you -– you're in India! A curious kind of hyper-nostalgic, jet-lagged euphoria ensues.

(Well, in the song at least. It's equally possible, after being in transit for 24 hours -- and awake for 36 -- that all you want to hear is the chorus from the My Chemical Romance song: "So long and good night/ so long and good night" ...)

Question 2. Panjabi MC's “Mundian to Bach Ke” used a sample from a popular 1980s TV show called “Knight Rider.” But a very similar sounding hip hop song was released by the rapper Busta Rhymes in 1997:

Hit em high
Do my thing
Turn it up/fire it up
It's a party

Basically, this is just nitpick trivia. But it's interesting that both Timbaland and Busta Rhymes did hip hop Knight Rider tracks before Panjabi MC came up with his. This isn't to take anything away from the brilliance of the PMC track, which is still the benchmark Bhangra/hip hop number (though if you're not tired of it by now there must be something wrong with you). Even the most original hip hop artists routinely borrow, copy, and steal from others. Most of the time it doesn't lead to anything -- but every so often the reworking of known elements produces something greater than the sum of its parts.

Another interesting bit of trivia: it's a playful song directed to young women ("muthiar") making their first appearance on the social scene -- hence, "Mundian to bach ke"/Beware of the Boys. It was odd, then, that when Jay-Z used Panjabi MC's version of "Knight Rider" two years ago, the great 'Hova' used it as a venue to make a political statement about the Iraq War.

Question 3. Aside from producing thumping Brit-Asian hip hop tracks like “Nachna Tere Naal” and “Hum Tum,” Rishi Rich has been a pioneer in which British dance phenomenon?

Drum n bass
2 step

By the late 1990s, the British Jungle/drum n bass scene was beginning to decline. On a trip there in 2000 I asked one Brit-Asian dude I knew about it, and he said, "well, there's only so many ways you can vary the bassline before it all starts to sound the same." At the time I disagreed, but it wasn't long before my I too got bored of my LTJ Bukem and Metalheadz CDs.

The next big fad, variously referred to as 2Step, UK Garage, or Speed Garage -- started in the late 90s, and seemed to be huge in England in 2000. The myth is that 2Step was invented when club Djs started playing American R&B records at double time (140-160 RPM), and went from there. (The Wikipedia entry for 2Step tells a different story.) Big British 2Step stars are Artful Dodger, Craig David, So Solid Crew, and MJ Cole.

Along with virtually every other British pop fad, this one too had its own Asian/Punjabi underground version. Before he started doing tracks with the current wave of Brit-Asian R&B (especially the potent Jay Sean in English / Juggy D in Punjabi thing), Rishi Rich rapped on a number of Asian 2-step CDs, including some of the early Pure Garage CDs, and Garage Vybes (produced by Khiza). The work is pretty good. There are also a couple of 2-step type tracks on Rishi Rich's 2004 solo CD, Rishi Rich: The Best (released in India only).

In my occasional experiences DJing Indian music in clubs, parties, and the odd wedding, I've noticed that people over here don't really get into the 2Step sound. Maybe it's too smooth and 'cool' for the desi dance floor? Or maybe it's just an American thing: despite its catchy, poppy sound, 2Step never really became a mainstream phenomenon here. (The exceptions are Daniel Bedingfield's hit "Gotta Get Through This," and NSYNC's "Pop," both of which used 2Step beats.) Lately, Americans seem to like it rough -- hence the popularity of "crunk" (not to be confused with Krumping) and Reggaeton.

And what's 'in' in terms of Desi music now? I don't claim to know. One speculation I have is that the 2Step sound is morphing into a broader "Asian R&B" sound, which includes Rishi Rich, but also Jay Sean and Raghav, as well as newer people like Dakota. It's a mix of English lyrics and Hindi or Punjabi lyrics, kept simple to be accessible to second and third generationers who don't know much of the 'bhasha.' It is also likely to appeal to non-Indians, who don't know the language at all -- hence the British chart success of Jay Sean and Raghav. Along these lines, one of the best commercial-ish CDs I've picked up thus far this year is called Essential Asian R&B, on the Outcaste label. (The evolution of Outcaste might be a good mirror for the story I'm telling about the ins and outs of musical fashion. Compare the compilations they're putting out now to what they were doing 5-7 years ago...)

Question 4. Who killed Bhangra?

State of Bengal
Asian Dub Foundation
Tabla Beat Science
TJ Rehmi

There is a track called “Who Killed Bhangra” by TJ Rehmi. You can find it on the Qilaash compilation and the Indestructible Asian Beats comilation, maybe others. As an attempt at fusing drum n bass and Bhangra it's admittedly only partially successful. But it is interesting to me because of the way it refers to the tension between the Drum n Bass (Asian Underground) scene and the Bhangra scene, both in North America and the UK.

For awhile, it seemed like Asian Underground would replace Bhangra. In the late 1990s Asian Underground was getting a lot of mainstream interest and critical approval, though it always seemed to be just on the edge of commercial viability or mainstream success. The Asian “Underground” seemed, ironically, to be a ticket out of the underground for Brit-Asian artists. Talvin Singh won big prizes for his CD OK, which was, at best, not such a great album (just... ok), though it did exemplify a particular enthusiasm for globalization that seemed to be in the air in the late 1990s.

But after around 2000, Asian Underground stopped being so hip, and many of the artists from the late 1990s fell off the radar, or tried some other things. Talvin Singh, for instance, did a classical CD called Vira with Rakesh Chaurasia (son of Hariprasad) on flute.

Meanwhile, Bhangra didn't die. Throughout the boom and bust of "Asian Underground" the Bhangra scene remained quite active, if a bit underground/gray market in England and North America. Bhangra also began to take on a new centrality in India itself, with the emergence of a national market for 'Punjabi pop' in the late 1990s.

Artists like Harbhajan Mann, Manmohan Waris, Sukshinder Shinda, Punjabi Hit Squad, Punjabi Outlawz, RDB, Kam Dillon, Jazzy B, and A.S. Kang have been doing Punjabi tracks with hip-hop influenced producers in England (and increasingly, in Punjab itself), and have kept things moving forward. Many of them are great, charismatic performers (though none have quite the comedic elan of the superstar Daler Mehndi). They also continue to sing in Punjabi -- keeping it real. Koi shak?

Bobby Friction and Nihal solve the problem of the Bhangra/Asian Underground split by putting it all together on their weekly radio show on BBC1. You hear a mix of hip hop/Bhangra (DJ Sanj, Punjabi Hit Squad), Asian Underground (Dhol Foundation, HardKaur), as well as the newer "R&B" sound.

So -- no one killed Bhangra.

Question 5 Black Star Liner: “Supafly and __________”


Black Star Liner is strongly associated with the Asian Underground movement. But most of their (well, his) tracks have more of a dub/reggae sensibility than drum n bass. It's basically stoner music. "Supafly and Bindi" the title of one of my favorite tracks off the CD Bengali Bantam Youth Experience.

Question 6. That sound you hear at the beginning of Panjabi MC's “Dhol Jageero Da” is:

'Busting a cap'
'Sparking a philly'
Malt liquor being spilled on the ground in honor of fallen comrades
'Knocking da boots'

All four of these are hip hop cliches. I'm not going to define them because several are definitely not 'PG' allusions (figure it out yourself! or just, act like you know). Anyway, I definitely hear the opening of this song -– one of the biggest Bhangra club/wedding hits of the past three years –- as 'sparking a philly'

Question 7. The bar next to the Sikh Gurdwara in Southall, UK is called:

Jalandhar Blues
GT Road Bar
Southall Panjabi Pub
Glassy Junction

Ok, this is a travel/tourism question, not so much a music question. But along with East London and Birmingham, Southall is one of the main centers of Desi music and style in the UK, so it's probably fair. It's an interesting pub to check out, though I would discourage you from going there after visiting the Gurdwara! (Or if you do, just have coke, ok?)

Incidentally, the anthropologist Brian Axel has a memorable chapter on the goings on at this pub during the Khalistan years (1984-1995 or so) in his book The Nation's Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh "Diaspora". Here's an interesting paragraph:

Consider glassy. The word has multiple significances and is a pun. As the manager put it: 'Many, many years ago when lots of Asians came to England. . . they all wanted to go for a drink, and they would say to their mates: Let's go for a gilassy.' In British English, glassy is an adjective used to refer, for instance, to a kind of look, glassy eyed, that implies drunkenness or childlike incredulity. . . .Glass also refers to a quantity of beer and the beer's container, particularly a half pint. . . . In colloquial Punjabi, the word gilassy, and English loanword, signifies a specific history of translation and transfiguration, transposing categories of Sikh and English practices of consumption.

Axel gives the same treatment to "Junction": the pub is also near the Southall train station, and sits on the site of the former "Railway Tavern." But I'll stop there (I might get into Axel's book at some point in a future post.)

Question 8. Bally Sagoo started a record label called


Though Bally Sagoo hasn't put out many really decent records in the past few years, he continues to flood the market with product. I hope it's selling, because otherwise it must be awfully tiring to release so much crap.

However, on his personal label, he's put out work by other artists, who seem like they might have some promise if they can find their own voices and develop artistically. Gunjan has promise as a singer, and so does Kenz (a producer). But so far I haven't been blown away by anything they've done.

(Gunjan has some good tracks on the recent CD by Thievery Corporation, The Cosmic Game, including a catchy lounge remake of "Satyam Shivam Sundaram." See a link to a video of her doing the track at Sepia Mutiny)

All in all, the 32 people who finished the quiz got surprisingly low scores.


I haven't calculated a mean or a standard deviation, but a quick glance tells us all we need to know: more than 50% of the people who completed the quiz got less than 50% of the answers right. That's not counting all the people who may have started the quiz and given up after two questions, realizing they were out of their league. (I have no way of counting those people, and does not give hitcounts)

The two people who got 100% scores are cyber-personalities I'm not familiar with: "Raghav" and "Bono."

So this was, if I may say so myself, a damn hard quiz.


Ms. World said...

Thanks for the Desi music education! I couldn`t answer one question on your quiz.

12:40 AM  

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