The Bombay Playlist: Songs by international bands inspired by the Maximum City

The Bombay Playlist: Songs by international bands inspired by the Maximum City
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I worked my way through University working part time in a variety of odd jobs.  After working as busboy (table cleaner), bartender, taxi driver, house painter, custodian (in American English that means the person who cleans up offices after hours), fast order chef, carnival operator, baker and waiter in a trendy Indian restaurant along the Mississippi waterfront in Minneapolis, I landed my ideal role: parking lot attendant.

This was a prized capture for a number of reasons. Though I had to get up early, the lots were usually full by 8.30 in the morning. That meant three solid hours of paid study time as every 15 minutes or so a car left and I allowed another to enter. Thanks to labour organisation, the pay was well above the minimum wage of the day and the work itself could be done by anyone with the intellectual capacity of an ant.  As far as jobs go, it was nearly perfect.

At one particular parking lot I extracted another minor pleasure.  Various colleagues, had over the years begun a list of  suggested “band names” to which I and others contributed.  Every time I was assigned to that particular lot I revelled in reviewing the scrawled list and adding another name or two to it.  My best contribution was “Yasser and the Gaza High Steppers”. (For a contemporary version of this list check out any of a number of band name generators on line.)

This is a rather long-winded way to introduce this week’s Sunday Sounds collection: songs by groups with Bombay in their name.   The appropriation of names from Indian places into rock n roll bands is simply (if you want to look at that way) an extension of the Orientalist practice of tapping into the exotic mysterious and dark  “East”. A form of cultural plunder.

Or it could be that some of the names are just so perfectly fit-for-purpose.  Case in point, Bombay. The great Indian city’s two-syllabled name is punchy, sharp, short and works essentially because of its sonic tones.  Bom. Bay. Sort of like a drum intro or the snapped reverb of slap bass.  It is as playful as an infant’s gurgle and as threatening as a blitzkrieg.

Grandmaster Flash had a song called New York New York, which has been much quoted over the years. I can’t help but thinking that in addition to its sonic qualities Bombay also is so favoured as a band name because it, like Flash’s Big Apple, is simply a place where anything goes.

Bombay Bombay
Big city of dreams
And everything in Bombay
ain’t always what it seems.

Here is an international selection of bands who are inspired in some way or another by that wild diversity of India’s number one metro.

The Bombay Royale (Australia)
Wild Stallion Mountain
Melbourne’s favourite Bollywood revue cabaret collective cranks up the craziness a couple of notches with this brilliant pastiche of cowboy movies and Hindustani love-angst. Blending light, colour, rhythm, rhinestone cowboys and dancing equines, the Royales dish up a deliciously delightful dish of desi disco as weird as it is exhilarating.

Bombay Dub Orchestra (UK)
Monsoon Malabar
In the same way that the English Horn is neither English nor a horn, the men behind Bombay Dub Orchestra are not from Bombay and do not really produce dub music.   Rather they effectively draw on the name recognition of one of the world’s most famous cities to prick your attention.  In this trancey track Gary Hughes and Andrew Mackay demonstrate their modus operandi of grafting sounds and beats from India with those of other off-the-beaten-track places to create atmospheres of swirling tones and hypnotic chilled loops.

Black Bombay (Italy)
Rice Field Chant
La pilaa de saqiyaa
paimaanaa paimaane ke baad

So sings an unidentified female voice to open this lilting track by an enigmatic electronic outfit called Black Bombay.  Internet searches don’t reveal much other than the record label which produced their only album is based in Italy. Indeed, I would bet that there is no band here at all but rather the work of a single DJ.  Ah…those mysteries of the Orient! Whoever they are and wherever they hail from, this music has a very contemporary feel. Some call it trip hop, others chill out.  As for me, I love the Indian jumbo on the album cover!

Black Bombaim (Portugal)
About as far across the musical universe as you can get comes another Black Bombay, though this time using the Portuguese original  “Bombaim” (good bay).  There is nothing chilled out about this threesome’s music. Black Bombaim seems to channel those dark alleys of the city where gangsters and those who want to remain invisible live. Their heavy droning sound captures the frenetic unrelenting throbbing of a giant megacity well, though like an hour in peak hour traffic it is nice to find relief.

Bombay Bicycle Club (UK)
Always Like This
Eventually it would have to happen. An English pop group looks to the national cuisine for inspiration. Lifting their name from a chain of Indian eateries, this BBC is no stranger to the charts and fan clubs.  A much hyped and much admired group that produces an upbeat brand of guitar driven pop, BBC started out when its members were still in secondary school.  In 2013 after some travels in India by chief  Bicyclist Jack Steadman, they released so long see you tomorrow (perhaps a reference to phirmilenge?) with songs that contained obscure writing credits to RD Burman and Hemant Kumar.  This is one such.