Emily posted a link to a really interesting article about how the Gully Boy soundtrack was put together by multiple musicians with every song different (article here). That got me to listen to the soundtrack and go “wow, every song IS different!” And that got me to want to write this post, where I go into the musicians behind each song.
- Asli Hip-Hop by Spitfire sung by Ranveer, with back-up from D’EVIL, Nexus, Rahul Raahi, Emiway, D-cypher, BeatRAW and Big Sid. D-cypher and BeatRAW provide the beatboxing.
I can’t find any background on the singers, which is the point. This is the song that brings together all the up and coming artists, the ones who haven’t had profiles written on them yet or music contracts. And that’s what it sounds like too, with beatboxing and no instruments, and a mixture of voices at the opening, it feels like something you could hear on a street corner, not in a recording studio.
2. Mere Gully Mein by Divine and Naezy, sung by Ranveer
Naezy and Divine were the first Bombay rappers to really break through to the mainstream. Naezy grew up in Kurla, a far out Bombay suburb with a car factory, a dairy, and a bus depot. He found hip-hop at 13 from American musicians, and then at 22 made his break out youtube video “Aafat” and become an icon for young Indians who started dreaming of becoming rappers themselves. He worked with Divine on making the original “Mere Gully Mein” song that brought Bombay hip-hop to mainstream notice. Divine grew up in Andheri, another lower income working far out neighborhood of Bombay. Like Neazy, he went to college, one of the small decent but not famous schools (Neazy went to Khalsa college, Akshay Kumar went there too!). Both of them were first noticed thanks to cheap cell phone and tablet made videos posted on youtube, followed by profiles by youtube news sources, a growing youth following, and finally the mainstream finding them. They are part of a new kind of artistic journey, the ones who teach themselves, promote themselves, and are successful because the people respond to them, and then find backers. And the backers are part of a new generation as well, online driven media, new music promoters looking for new kinds of audiences, like the portal 101India.com who did a series on Indian hip-hop or OML (Only Much Louder), a talent and event company looking for alternative musicians that signed Naezy. Here’s Naezy’s break-out video, “Aafat”:
3/4. Doori Poem/Doori by Javed Akhtar, Rishi Rich, and Divine, sung by Ranveer Sing
This one is a fascinating mixture of artists! Javed Akhtar is a classically trained Urdu poet who grew up middle-class and orphaned (his mother died when he was a young boy) before moving to Bombay and slowly making it as a famous scriptwriter and then lyricist thanks to the beauty of his words. It can be hard to remember now, when he is The Javed Akhtar, but back in the day he had a journey not unlike these young men. Arriving in Bombay with nothing but his own talent and being such a shining star that his talent won out.
And then there is Rishi Rich! I got all sentimental when I saw his name, because I knew him from back when I was in college. He is a British Indian rapper, and helped found the British Indian rap scene. For a while, it was from Britain that India was getting it’s music, not local (there is a nod to this in Udta Punjab where it is acknowledged that Shahid Kapoor’s rapper character grew up and learned to rap in Manchester, not India). Rishi Rich made it big around 2003, the same year he was brought over to India to do a rap for Boom and then Hum-Tum. He worked with Jay Sean and Juggy D in “The Rishi Rich Project”, then they broke up and went on to their own successful solo careers and Rishi Rich founded “Rishi Rich Productions” and started mentoring other artists. He is 42 this year, has been wealthy and famous and successful as a rapper since he was 29. Kind of an in between on this song, from Javed Akhtar at 74 and Divine at 22.
Most of all, this is an amazing combination of artistic background. Javed Akhtar is a third generation (at least) classically trained Urdu poet. Rishi Rich is from England, coming from a Punjabi/British rap background. And then there is Divine, the young angry Bombay kid who taught himself to rap from listening to American musicians.
5. Train Song by Javed Akhtar, Karsh Kale, Gaurav Rane, Tapan Raj, Raghu Dixit
Javed Akhtar again, helping out with the lyrics. The man is a legend, and one of the best lyricists working, but he is also an artist who is willing to stretch and, of course, the father of the director of this movie.
This is a different kind of artist that is coming together here. In the early 2000s, a fusion kind of music started growing, classical Indian instruments and classically trained musicians, branching out and mixing together with electronica and funk and folk and all kinds of things. It wasn’t protest music, and it was made by and for the upper classes. You need a certain level of money and background to afford classical instruments and training, unlike hip-hop which costs nothing. And this music was popular more among the upper middle-class bars in Bombay, and the professional NRI community. It’s an exciting combination of artists from this sort of fusion community, and they are still musicians that are rare to appear on a film soundtrack, a little too off-beat for Hindi film.
6/16. Jingostan/Jingostan Beatbox by Dub Sharma
Dub Sharma is interesting! He broke out in 2016 with a very political song, “Azadi”. It got more play on “BBC Asian” than the Indian radio. And he is aggressively openly articulately political. As is this song, which brings together real slogans from various riots/pogroms in India’s history and ties them to the chorus “Jingostan Zindabad”, a bastardization of the slogan “Hindustan Zindabad”. I’ll talk more about Dub Sharma when I get to his “Azadi”.
7. “Sher Aaya Sher” by Divine
The first song on the soundtrack that is sung by Divine, not just written by him. It has a close relationship to Divine’s previous hit “Jungli Sher” in the name, “sher” meaning tiger or lion. It’s a great image, a powerful jungle cat, native to India, moving through the slums around Bombay.
8. “Jahaan Tu Chala” by Jasleen Royal and Arjun Chandy
Now, this is a fascinating collaboration! Again, artists outside of the rap scene, both of them singer/songwriters. Arjun Chandy is American, with a background in Carnatic music from his family and choral and jazz music from his school background. He became a professional singer and then in 2013 was called to India by AR Rahman who wanted to put together a singing group. He put in his time doing backing vocals, supervising the chorus, and then got a chance to sing the title song from “Sarvam Thaala Mayam” just now. And now this song.
And then there is Jasleen Royal. Born in Ludhiana, then moved to Delhi. She is self-taught and got her big break when she was a contestant on “India’s Got Talent”. She moved to Bombay and started trying to make it as a singer and composer, getting jobs making little songs for MTV and getting a single. And then she got her big break from Sonam Kapoor, when she was brought in to sing and write “Preet” from Khoobsurat. She is now working regularly in Hindi film, she did the entire soundtrack for Hichki, and a song for Dear Zindagi, one song for Veere Di Wedding, and so on and so forth. This song brings in a beautiful voice sound, and a beautiful female sound. Jasleen Royal always does that, her music speaks to the young woman trying to find herself.
9. Azadi by Divine and Dub Sharma
This is the song I was excited about! All you have to know to understand it is that “Azadi” means “Freedom”. It’s from 2016 and became an underground hit, and Dub Sharma wrote a beautiful articulate post about it that I stumbled across. I can’t find any interviews with him or anything else, but this is far better than anything I could hope for from an interview: https://medium.com/@dubsharma_40806/i-hope-my-song-dies-d51273ffa546
Here’s a sample of what he had to say about this song:
no artist would want you to forget about their song but i hope we enjoy ‘true freedom’ someday and forget about this song. then maybe clean the dust off this track and play it to remember that one time in 2016 when we went through shit.
10. Kab Se Kab Tak by Ankur Tiwari, Karsh Kale, and Kaam Bhaari sung by Ranveer
Another song from the classical fusion artists. But something different here, there is a rap break in the middle from Ranveer. So it is fusion on fusion, folk/classical/jazz, with rap on top of it from Kaam Bhaari.
11. Kaam Bhaari by Ankur Tiwari and Kaam Bhaari
Kaam Bhari is a 19 year old kid who helped Ranveer prepare for the movie, and wrote some of the lyrics. He’s probably the youngest of the rap street team, and doesn’t have the success behind him of the others. I may be reading into this, but I think it is sweet that they gave him his own song with his name in the title to raise his profile. They also gave him a little introductory video on the Excel Entertainment channel.
12. Ek Hee Raasta by Rishi Rich and Javed Akhtar, sung by Ranveer Singh
Now, this is familiar. Javed has written a poem, and Rishi Rish set it to music. It’s familiar, but I always enjoy it. And it is also kind of meaningful in this context. A reminder that spoken word poetry has always been part of Indian film, just that it used to be angry Urdu classical poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, and now it is Bombay rappers.
13. Apna Time Aayega by Dub Sharma, Divine, and Ankur Tiwari
This is an interesting song to me, because it has the fire of Dub Sharma, but with the political message just a little bit softened. It’s the song that is being promoted as the big centerpiece of the film, a message of “it is the time of the lower classes, We Rise”. But that’s not quite as harsh as “Jingostan” or “Azadi”, the songs that are on the soundtrack but don’t get a video and don’t get promoted.
14. Jeene Mein Aaye Maza by Ankur Tewari
Ankur Tewari has been around for a long time, is a successful singer/songwriter with a band, a western style band with drums and guitar, not the classical fusion style. He just wrote the music for Chef last year, and makes a good living with his music. He’s not an angry young rapper, but he also isn’t quite the usual film musician.
15. Har Gham Mein Khushi Hai by Ace and IshQ Bector
An underground hit from 2015 being dusted off and shined up for a film soundtrack. Ace/Mumbai’s Finest is the founding father of rap in Bombay, from all the way back in 2006, doing rap battles on Orkut with audio files, not even knowing about youtube. He also admits that they didn’t really know what they were doing or why, they were just rapping. Their sound is less political than the groups that came after them, although still political because of the reality it reveals, blending languages from everyone who is part of the crew just as the population of the Bombay streets blends all of India.
17. Goriye by Bhinder Khanpuri, Arjun, Blitz, Desi Ma, Prem, and Hardeep
This is a very interesting song. Kind of a throwback to 90s rap/hip-hop sound, and made by international artists. Desi Ma is Canadian, from Winnipeg, and has been a successful rapper/performer since 2001. Hardeep is a multi-format artist, visual and music, from Glasgow. It mixes together sounds from everywhere into a glorious pointlessness. While the other songs are about anger and revolution and so on, this is simply about an awesome girl being awesome.
18. India 91 by MC Altaf, MC TodFod, 100 RBH, Maharya, Noxious D, MC Mawali
91 is India’s country code for international calls. Identifying the song that brings together all these artists as “India 91” is declaring that they are all part of the same community, the same area. Even more, using the international calling code is tying in the international artists to the same community.