James Brown’s trombonist Fred Wesley famously said ‘Disco music is funk with a bow-tie’ - a witty observation but much too modest for Bollywood. In typically high-voltage fashion, disco done Indian style adds so much more: metallic flares, dazzling over-sized mirror-balls, smoke machines galore and more Technicolor flashing dance floors than you could shake a rhinestone encrusted stick at.
Disco originally steamed up from the hot and hectic streets of 1970s New York. Embracing decadence and presenting a new souped-up beat-driven sound, disco (like punk) can be seen as a reaction to the placid, perennially positive hippy vibes of the 1960s. The UK, its ears already opened to American dancefloor sounds via Northern Soul, had its first disco number one in 1974 with George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’. Soon, imported cassettes and vinyl worked their way into the hands of Indian film composers such as Bappi Lahiri, R.D. Burman and Biddu Appaiah.
While ‘Chand Mera Dil Chandni Ho Tum’, a dramatic ballad from the 1977 film Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin, is an early example of the influence of disco on Bollywood, by the 1980s high energy bass-lines, peppy vocals and luscious strings had taken over. The fun-loving magpie mentality of Indian film, both visually and musically, meant composers were more than happy to cherry-pick their favourite disco sounds and work them into their songs. On ‘Boom Boom’, sung by the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan, producer Biddu lifts Giorgio Moroder’s pulsating bass line straight from the Donna Summer hit ‘I Feel Love’, while the aptly named 1982 blockbuster Disco Dancer is a classic rags-to-riches story with a soundtrack that references dancefloor artists as diverse as Ottawan and The Buggles.
The vocals of legendary Bengali playback singer Kishore Kumar epitomised the Bollywood sound’ throughout the 1970s. Renowned for his distinctive style of yodelling, his forays into disco heard here reflect his versatile vocal ability.
Other treasures abound on The Rough Guide To Bollywood Disco, including such classics of the genre as ‘Hari Om Hari’ and ‘I Am A Disco Dancer’. Today, Bollywood disco lives on via modern interpretations and vintage appreciations. The cult club night ‘Bollywood Disco’ in New York is ever popular – their DJs instruct American youth in the long-lasting influence of the genre while their website explains how even contemporary hip-hop producers such as Timbaland have worked titillating morsels from the Bollywood back catalogue into their sound.
Now it’s time to let loose those dancing shoes and boogie down to Bollywood’s glittering disco heyday.