The musical journey we embark upon this week begins in the early 1950s. The son of a Kutchi merchant in Mumbai is trying to make his way in the shafaarish-based world of the film studios. He is getting a few nibbles and even a couple of credits as a junior musical director on some films, but he knows he needs a special calling card if he’s ever going to realise his dream of hitting the Big Time.
He doesn’t have the door-opening track record but he does have ideas. But no one who is anyone has the time to entertain them.

What to do? What do I have that no one else does?

Then it dawns on him! “My father! I have my father. He’s a businessman with connections overseas. He has access to the technology and modernity of the West, something very few others have.” In 1952, the young man arranged through his father’s connections the importation of a strange instrument called the Clavioline. This was something utterly new, an electronic keyboard invented only four or five years earlier in France and even there, still barely known.

The young man, Kalyanji Virji Shah, introduced the Space Age sound of this early synthesizer in a minor film, Nag Panchami, in 1953. Though the film fared poorly Kalyanji’s calling card had worked a treat. He was recommended to Hemant Kumar, who in turn hooked him up with musical director Ravi to create a similar sonic atmosphere for his film Nagin the following year. The following clip known simply as Been Music from that film is some of what the young man came up with.

Been Music Nagin (1954)

A case could be made for this sequence, in which the Clavoline fills in for the traditional snake charmer’s been, being one of the most influential in modern Indian cinema. This strange new instrument which Kalyanji managed to make sound as familiar as the Indian dust shot Nagin to superhit status and in the process hugely advanced the careers of Hemant Kumar and Ravi (and himself). Ever since, whenever a scene requires a been the traditional instrument has been bypassed in favor of this electronic tone; this little sequence did in fact create space in the Indian audience’s mind for what would soon be a rush of rock n’ roll modern sounds from the West.

Kalyanji was eventually joined by his brother Anandji and together they went on to not only hit but completely define the Big Time of Hindi filmi music. Others clamoured to get their hands on the Clavoline (which Kalyanji rented out to special friends for up to Rs 350 a go!) but for a long time the sound of space-age belonged to the boy from Kutch. And over the years the genius of the two brothers has been recognised by artists not just in contemporary Bollywood but around the world. Let’s check out some of those unlikely places!

Ae Naujawan Hai Sab Apradh (1972)

Refresh your mind with this Asha/Helen item number from Feroz Khan’s 1972 film Apradh.

Then listen to this 2005 Grammy-winning track.

Don’t Funk With My Heart
The Blackeyed Peas

Basically a straight lift of pace, atmosphere, rhythm and melody, not to mention the amazing drum track which is lifted from another Kalyanji-Anandji hit, this time from Don: Yeh Mera Dil.

That 1978 mega-hit starring Amitabh has been a gold mine of funk for mix masters and DJs. DJ Shadow and Dan the Automator are two American DJs and hip-hop producers who have fallen under the spell of golden age Hindi cinema. Through a couple of albums entitled Bombay the Hard Way, they have revamped some of the classic tracks of the great music directors for an American club audience.

Don Theme Music
DJ Shadow and Dan the Automator

A subtle but heartfelt reinterpretation of the theme to the film, whose high point comes when the Big B channels Clark Cable in Gone with the Wind and dismisses Helen with ‘Some other time, baby’.

Pal Bhar Ke Liye
The Simpsons/Kishore Kumar

When you are sampled by Homer and Marge, well you’ve pretty much hit the pinnacle of popular acclaim. This clip reimagines the Kalyanji-Anandji hit from Johnny Mera Naam.

Twist Love Aaj Kal
Neeraj Sridhar

We come full circle with Been Music reemerging in the 2009 ultra-contemporary dance scene from Love Aaj Kal.