In 1998, the compilation Bombay the Hard Way brought together soundtrack pieces from the ‘70s heyday of India’s “Bollywood” film industry. Bollywood produces many times more movies than our own studio system, and twenty-odd years ago it was incorporating the more outrageous styles of already over-the-top Western genres like James Bond and Blaxploitation films. Much of the music created for these so-called “Brownsploitation” adventures was done by the brothers Kalyanji and Anandji Shah, who melded funk rhythms with the Far Eastern trappings of Indian music into a genre-bending kick. On Bombay, the disc’s compiler, Bay Area-based producer Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and friends like Josh Davis (DJ Shadow) tinkered with the tracks by splicing hip-hop beats and loops with the secret-agent-man music of the original composers.
The same recipe applies to the next installment in the series, Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo, although this time there’s a bit more spice in the curry: The disc leaps forward into the electro-‘80s, when Bollywood soundtracks moved on from funk to the kind of drum machine-driven, synthesizer heavy sound found on shows like “Miami Vice”. More importantly, most of the tracks here began as short, scene-long snippets of music that have been augmented into full-length songs by an impressive roster of DJ/producers, including Ursula 1000, Kid Koala, Mix Master Mike, and Dynamite D. There are lots of fusion albums available (such as 1997’s groundbreaking Anokha: Soundz from the Asian Underground, which skillfully joined Indian music with Western electronic beats), but Electric Vindaloo brings a turntablist’s cut-and-scratch aesthetic to the sound by moving away from the anonymous breakbeats-plus-sitars of much Indialectronica.
As on Bombay the Hard Way, the Shah brothers, Kalyanji and Anandji, were the original composers of the short pieces used here as source material. If nothing else, Vindaloo proves the strength and vision of their music; the handful of “[un]altered” songs on the disc sound just as forward-thinking as any of the heavily-worked on new tracks. Bits of sampled movie dialogue open the album before Ursula 1000 take over with “Ram Balram”, which hits an immediate groove before applying several layers of sound onto the impulsive rhythm track. One of the Shahs’ original compositions, “Theme from ‘Twin Sheiks’”, is enchanting, while their other work here ranges from hypnotically symphonic to cheesy fun. Mix Master Mike rips it up over a thudding bass line on “Hydrolik Carpet Ride”; “Mr. Natwarlal”, from DJ Me DJ You, slows the beat down and throws in a funky bass, strings, and a cemetery organ. The title track comes courtesy of Steinski, whose recipe for “Electric Vindaloo” plays with vocal samples and a strolling beat.
Pun-laden titles—“Sexy Mother Fakir”, “T.J. Hookah”, “Chakra Khan”—risk cultural condescension in a way that the music avoids not by sanctifying its source material, but by respecting the spirit of the Indian musicians and using the core of their work as a launching pad for further exploration. The best example, Vindaloo‘s high point, comes early: Kid Koala and Dynamite D’s “Third World Lover” builds steadily around a haunting, repeating melody, using silence and subtraction along with looped beats. The song’s elements—a few spare, effective samples; sound effects; sitar; scratches—are crisply woven into a complex pattern that becomes more compelling with each listen. Finger cymbals and warped effects swirl into a convincingly unified whole, exhibiting an ideal fusion that the rest of the album never quite reaches. In the trying, though, Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo proves that not all globalization is a bad thing.
// Notes from the Road
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