Conversations about music with my dad have undeniably shaped the way I consume music. An incessant analyser, some of my fondest musical memories revolve around excitedly waiting for my father to come back from work, pour himself a drink and make his way to his "den" — where we could sit for hours, exchanging and dissecting music. Sounds from my father's youth, or the new releases me and my brother were eagerly taking in were treated with equal aplomb, it became a tradition. One that started from when I was eight-years-old and still continues now.
A regular theme of these exchanges was the use of sampling. As a small child growing up in India, with a limited understanding of production processes — it was baffling to hear familiar snippets from Bollywood music used in Western pop. Why were the taste-making artists of European and US pop lending from the "uncool" music my father was showing me in the den? And had Dr. Dre "copied" Lata Mangeshkar’s Thoda Resham Lagta Hai on Addictive?
“There have been very prominent instances of how, whether you call it Hollywood, whether you call it ‘western music,’ people have always picked up certain things from India but it hardly got acknowledged,” says my dad.
Truth Hurts getting sued for $500 million by Indian composer Bappi Lahiri for the use of a sample on 'Addictive' ft. Rakim was pivotal for South Asian artists to get the credit they deserved — a Bollywood musician successfully defending themselves against this newfangled form of cultural imperialism and an acknowledgement of the wide-spanning contribution of Indian music to the mainstream sphere.
However, there are two sides, My dad insists that Bollywood has done its fair share of "borrowing" sounds from Western music: “The thing is I think a large part of copying has been done by Bollywood. Indian music directors right from the beginning whether it was Shankar Jaikishan, Op Nayyar, R.D Burman or Bappi Lahiri. I would say it is 80% lifted by Indians and 20% the other way around.”
Bollywood presents an interesting contradiction. While it consciously mimics from Hollywood norms, it in return mines Indian culture for affirmation through nationalism and cultural tradition. It could be a snippet taken from an ABBA track, but with a sitar in the place of an electric guitar. It could be taking a Rolling Stones classic and swapping out an extended drum solo for tablas. The lack of accountability and credit has been an ongoing battle in the realms of copyright in India — whether it’s borrowing, sampling, lifting or merely being inspired by something, according to my Dad, “It's been an age old tale where music directors have ended up saying so who copied whom? And who is the original? How do you get to the bottom of it?”
While it may feel like we are entering a dangerous period in time where the definition of art is shifting. Music is becoming less original to become more popular. My dad agrees, “People want an immediate audience. Musicians and singers want immediate attraction. Instant gratification, followers and instant everything. So they do everything and anything within their rights to make it attractive. How many people will go into the process of research to find out if it was copied? Besides us of course.”
Though as someone from the next generation, I would argue there is a glimmer of hope. As electronic music and the art of production has blossomed, so has the understanding of what sampling is and how they function. Sampling isn't necessarily a "lazy attempt to poach listeners", but instead they can be a way to insert beloved reference and familiarity — and in the example of music from India, a way to connect the dots between disparate global music scenes. Samples from Bollywood gave the West some of the biggest hits in hip hop or pop, whether it’s Jay Z or Britney Spears. As long as the source material is given due credit, what's not to love?
Sampling is a complex process to address, a copyright nightmare for many and a great source of inspiration for others. For me, it has sparked curiosity around the art of music making, and has led to a never ending bonding point for my dad and I.
So, as a result of the culmination of endless hours in the den, my dad and I have compiled a list of music that you may never have realised samples Bollywood — with tracks from Four Tet, The Prodigy, Caribou, Madlib, and more. Check it out below.
FOUR TET 'MORNINGSIDE' (SAMPLES LATA MANGESHKAR 'MAIN TERI CHHOTI BAHNA HOON')
The 20-minute long dreamy soundscape is a subtle nod to Four Tet's heritage with remnants of Indian classical music woven throughout track. Within a minute, famous Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar's melancholic voice echoes through the foreground as complex drum patterns take control of the track.
FLYING LOTUS 'GNG BNG' (SAMPLES S. P. BALASUBRAHMANYAM'S 'INDIRALOGATHU SUNDARI')
A master of his craft, finding this obscure gem mustn't have been easy for the American producer. S. P. Balasubrahmanyam's 'Indiralogathu Sundari' can be heard within the first ten seconds of the track - with the iconic sitar riff you have no doubt heard if you grew up in a South Asian household.
MADLIB 'MORE RICE' (SAMPLES KISHORE KUMAR 'DE DE PYAR DE')
In classic Madlib manner, Kishore Kumar's voice introduces the track before a choppy transition leads to a collage of harps, strings and sitar on top of some bassy bass. It was the easiest find for my Dad, a die-hard Kishore Kumar fan.
CARIBOU 'ODESSA' (SAMPLES R.D BURMAN 'ARE DIL SE DIL MILE')
On this track, Caribou picks up the best part of R.D Burman's signature disco melody - a chorus of high-pitched ladies backed with string sections breaks. A personal favourite of mine.
PRODIGY 'REAL POWER IS PEOPLE' (SAMPLES ASHA BHOSLE, KALYANJI-ANANDJI 'YEH MERA DIL YAAR KA DIWANA')
This is not the first time this song has been sampled. From the Bollywood blockbuster 'Don' (our version of James Bond), Prodigy do in fact pick the most well-known bit of the song, the guitar interlude but reversed on loop. It's hard to miss if you're a Bollywood film buff.
You can listen to the rest of the playlist here: