Various The Music of Bollywood

The Music of Bollywood isn’t the first compilation to introduce Indian soundtrack culture to non-Hindi ears, but it is the most comprehensive one so far. The vaults of Universal Music India have been mined for this box set, covering the label’s 32-year history with the genre. The compilers could have divided its three discs according to decade (as most collections tend to do), but instead they’ve ordered the track listing in a way that’s similar to the narrative development of the average masala film from this era. Disc one starts flamboyantly with the pumping sounds of desi-disco and other East-West fusions. The polyphony of Hindustani melodies, Bombay string sections and a frenzy of jazz-funk-rock instrumentation keeps the listener on tilt, as do the frivolity of giggles, gasps and other hyperbolic noises interruptively produced by star vocalists Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar. Without the visual element of the characters or the choreography, the arrangements sound senseless, but that’s part of the fun. Things become more tabla-driven and therefore traditional on disc two, leading up to the emotional heights of disc three with its selection of seriously romantic ballads. Although there’s an argument that the lack of experimental sounds make the latter meaningless for those who don’t know the language, the alliterative musicality of rhymes like Lata Mangeshkar’s "Kisse kisse ko bataon/Aise kaise ko sanam” in "Apni Prem Kahaniya” need no translation. Funky or folky, it’s all good and furthermore amazing to see how the composers (R.D Burman, Kalyanji Anandji, A.R. Rahman, etc.) are savvy enough to perform in these various multilingual, musical modes. The liner notes look more like an Indian wedding catalogue, with its portrait-shots of a very attractive female in a number of gorgeous outfits, but the text is worth checking, particularly for its brief synopsis of Indian film history and accompanying samples of ’70s/’80s album art. (Universal)