Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Disco Ball's a Globe - pt. 12

If there is one thing that fuels the Your Heart Out adventure it’s making unexpected but entirely perfect connections. So, for example, watching a series of enchanting videos of Nazia and Zoheb Hassan on YouTube which had been posted by someone involved in their making, it suddenly occurred to me that this was the same person who’d put up the startlingly wonderful promo video of The Mo-dettes’ White Mice which had been made in the basement of my old alma mater the London College of Printing back in 1979. These clips it turned out had been shared by David Rose, who with his wife Kathy has been involved with the making of many a pop video.

There is a certain perfection to there being an explicit link between The Mo-Dettes and Nazia Hassan. Nazia’s Disco Deewane and The Mo-Dettes’ White Mice are immaculate examples of disco inspired pop confectionary. White Mice had an incredible impact on my world, and Disco Deewane had rather more of an impact around the world, but they are both irresistible and great examples of how elements of disco music were absorbed and used in different ways.

Musically, the driving force behind Disco Deewane was Biddu, the great pop alchemist, and it must have been a sweet irony for him to enjoy a new wave of success with that record in south east Asia having left India penniless many years before to seek his fortune in the London pop world. Biddu’s genius is rooted in working in very prescribed, often proscribed, areas of music, creating art out of froth. Many of his early recordings, for example, at the start of the ‘70s were unashamedly ultra-poppy bubblegum soul sides which found favour among the less snobbish Northern Soul fans. His discography is littered with lost classics from that time, like Melting Pot's Girl I'm Getting Hip, and cuts by acts he’d later have great success with, like Jimmy James’ A Man Like Me and Carl Douglas’ Somebody Stop This Madness.

During the disco era the determined populist Biddu hit on a winning formula, and recordings with Tina Charles and his own orchestral disco excursions were huge successes. Biddu was smart enough to surround himself with people who could make his schemes come to life, like the fantastic arranger Gerry Shury who was featured in The Enormity of Small Things, an earlier edition of YHO. When Gerry tragically died in a car crash, things began to unravel for Biddu and his stable. So it was fate intervening that gave him the chance to try a new market by contributing to the soundtrack of a Bollywood film, Qurbani, in 1979. Rather brilliantly he transposed his own unique disco formula with the 15-year-old Pakistan born Nazia Hassan singing with him in London taking on the Tina Charles role singing the lovely Aap Jaisa Koi. Together they struck gold.

Biddu went on to work further with Nazia and her brother Zoheb in the ‘80s. I don’t know if the presence of Zoheb softened the impact of Nazia as a controversially independent, smart and natural teenager, but the image of the two together was rather Mac & Katie Kissoon-like (a huge compliment in my book). The delightful 1981 Disco Deewane LP was an extraordinary success, particularly in India. The fact that it was a couple of young Pakistan-born Londoners turning things upside down just makes it all the more wonderfully strange. There’s a lovely passage about Nazia shattering stereotypes in the 1984 (Sue Steward/Sheryl Garrett) Signed Sealed And Delivered book on women in pop, which is highly recommended.

Beyond south east Asia Disco Deewane was a massive hit intriguingly in places such as Brazil, the West Indies and Russia. The old Soviet Union seems to have had a massive appetite for Bollywood extravaganzas, and there was a trend for some of these to be dubbed into Russian, like the evergreen 1982 blockbuster Disco Dancer. This film has a soundtrack by the Bollywood disco king Bappi Lahiri, and one of its hit songs, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja, had a new lease of life recently when MIA adapted it. The song itself originally borrowed heavily from Ottawan’s T’Es OK, which was a bit of a feature of Bappi’s work, it seems. Even the gorgeous Come Closer sung by Salma Agha, from the soundtrack of Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki, has strong suggestions of Imagination’s Body Talk.

Much of what I know about Bollywood sounds has been gleaned from the superb site Music From The Third Floor, which is overseen by PC, a man of immaculate and very varied taste who has also designed the striking covers for the various YHO mixtapes. I always approve enormously of any project that is adhered to doggedly, and there is a lot to explore among the rare and out-of-print titles on the site. The impact of MFTTF has resonated around the world from its base in Norway, and there has even been a radio show in Alaska that draws on the project’s archives. Some of the commentary on the site is as entertaining as the music, and it’s fascinating to observe how Bollywood sounds have flitted in and out of fashion in recent times, causing the value of certain titles to fluctuate wildly.

Not all of Bappi Lahiri’s soundtracks get the MFTTF seal of approval, and PC is keen to draw our attention to his work before Disco Dancer. One that caught my attention was the soundtrack for College Girl, which opens with an incredible mod rave-up incorporating In a Gadda da Vida and Wild Thing that leads into the ‘tropical’ flavoured College Girl ‘I Love You’ with its Moroder/Summer references and synth motif. It’s odd hearing that now in the context of the Charanjit Singh record, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, which created a frenzy in 2010 when it was salvaged by the Bombay Connection label, which was great as it’s an amazing record and it was great to see the label itself active again as its earlier collections are essential. The Charanjit Singh record provoked lots of animated web chat about its use of Roland synths, 808s and 303s. As time has passed the pendulum has begun to swing another way, leading to sniffy commentators declaring that it’s interesting the record exists, of course, but it’s not significant as it didn’t actually lead to anything directly related to acid house. Tsk.

One thing the reissue did lead to was a flurry of interest in whether there were other Indian recordings of a similar nature, and almost inevitably Biddu’s glorious 1982 recording of Boom Boom with Nazia Hassan has been cited. It’s striking that some people were clearly coming at this from an angle where they suddenly knew more about Charanjit Singh than Biddu, which is fair enough. Recorded in London, Boom Boom was the highlight of Nazia and Zohar’s second LP, which was to be the soundtrack of the Bollywood film Star. Given Biddu’s populist tendencies it would be inevitable he’d try a Munich disco thing with Nazia. But back in 1978 he’d been mixing sitars, synths and Munich disco propulsion together on the delightfully rum Futuristic Journey LP. And then there’s his heavily electronic production on Captain Zorro’s disco version of the theme from Phantasm, and my particular favourite the exceptional 1979 single, Voodoo Man.


  1. You probably noticed there's also a different, more traditional promo video type clip of Disco Deewane on YouTube... I deliberately chose the same one you opted for as well, I really love its unpretentious youthfulness and how much Nazia and Zoheb seem to be enjoying themselves; how happy they look.

  2. Yes, that's exactly it. I know the other video, but this is something special.