November 15, 2023
Our 10 essential series sees VF and friends of VF dive into our favourite labels, artists, genres, and scenes to pick 10 essential albums, EPs or tracks for any collection.
Following the release of their latest album, Head of Pomegranate, Karthik Poduval of Bahrain-raised, London-based rock quartet Flamingods, pulls from his expansive vinyl collection to select ten essential South Asian disco records–with a particular focus on the Indian subcontinent.
Babla & His Orchestra
Favourite song: “Babla Welcomes You”
I discovered this when I was with my dad in India and we were on a mission to find some spots to dig out old records. I went to this one store which was in an electronics district in Chennai, up a couple of windy staircases, toward a room with the shutter pulled down. When they opened it, it was piled up with records laid on top of each other, pretty much from floor to ceiling.
Needless to say, I was entertained for a while. I picked up this Babla record, not having heard of him, but soon found out that he was the younger brother of (very) famous film music duo Kalyanji & Anandji, and hails from Kundrodi in Gujarat.
Babla (and his wife and co-writer Kumari) started a bit of a disco revolution (coined chutney music) and was particularly popular with Indo-Caribbean communities in many countries. The feels are very different to what you’d normally find in stereotypically written disco-film music. I’ve picked up a few of his records since this one, and these ones always go off in the club!
Favourite song: “Poongate”
You can’t know Indian disco or electro disco without knowing the (aptly named) “maestro” Ilaiyaraaja. He’s written over a thousand records, scored countless films and really put Kollywood (Tamil film) music on the map. I actually found this Finders Keepers reissue in Waterloo Records in Austin when we were playing SXSW some years ago. So many good tracks on this, that it’s hard to pick one, but I always have this one in my record bag.
Sharon & Musarrat
Chal Disco Chal
Favourite song: “Chal Disco Chal”
This was found on another digging adventure back home in India. It was produced by English producer Peter Tosh, who actually worked with loads of Indian artists in the ’80s. What it lacks in Indian idiosyncrasies it makes up for in other ways, lots of great arpeggiators and bass breakdowns. You can really tell that it was written quite functionally to suit clubs too, unlike a lot of the others for film. They often do covers in Hindi as well, check out “Hot Stuff” and “Funkytown” if you’re ready for it!
Bappi Lahiri, S.P Balasubramaniam, Janaki
Favourite song: “Zanzibar Night”
I was poking my head into Flashback in Shoreditch for a little snoop and they’d recently acquired a very old collection of mostly Tamil stuff from an Indian family in the UK. This is a classic film with ’80s and ’90s Tamil superstar, Urvasi. Absolutely maxing out on the sass levels in this track and video.
D.C.S With Runa Laila
Favourite song: “Jadoo”
Runa Laila is from Bangladesh and then had a pretty big career in the Pakistani film industry. Her uncle was a very well-known Indian playback singer, Subir Sen. Though she is not technically from India, she did have a notable career in Indian film music and working with Indian producers such as Kalyanji & Anandji and Bappi Lahiri. This record goes in a lot of different directions, from rock to disco to reggae, but I’d say it channels the spirit of disco the most. Runa’s most known disco record is Runa Goes Disco, but I think this one is a little bit more left-field. She’s another artist similar to Sharon & Musarrat who was taken to be produced and recorded in the UK and pushed towards more contemporary UK sound at the time.
Favourite song: “Aaj Shanibar”
This record was conceived with Nazia Hassan as the inspiration–this was Rupa’s one and only record, which sadly never really got the recognition it deserved at the time. It was produced by the Grammy-winning fraternal duo Aashish and Pranesh Khan (collaborators of Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and more), who discovered Rupa at a university performance in Canada. Aaj Shanibar ended up hitting the Youtube Algorithm around 2016/17 and blowing up, giving Rupa the spotlight she’d never had. The track is sung mostly in Bengali, as Rupa is from West Bengal
The Devil is Loose
Favourite song: “Space Talk”
Asha Puthli is another unsung hero! Her music ranges from disco to jazz–she’s known for being a key ‘fusion’ artist, with this record having a real funky synthy disco vibe, not dissimilar to Brazilian disco records at the time. She moved to the UK in the ’60s, began gigging and got herself a deal with CBS in the early ’70s. She’s worked in music, film and fashion, and featured on a load of records. It’s amazing to see an artist signed to a major label who had the opportunity to cross so many genres and not get boxed in.
V. S Narasimhan, S. P Balasubramaniam
Favourite song: “Then Mazhayile”
This whole record is a masterpiece. S.P Balasubramaniam is another one of the composers/producers of the South Indian film industry (he’s written for Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema). I love the way that film scenes are woven into the tunes. It gives them such a different kind of spirit to club-functioning dance tracks. This record gives me a real Wild West feeling with a disco edge. My dog-eared sleeve says it all.
Kalyanji & Anandji + Biddu
Favourite song: “Laila O Laila”
Even though this record came out in the ’80s, many of these songs stayed on the airwaves and were referenced in other tracks throughout my childhood in the ’90s. “Laila O Laila” is a classic. The production on this record is really pushing into forward-thinking territory for the time, especially for a blockbuster hit starring Amitabh Bachchan! It’s a good first record if you’re foraying into Kalyanji & Anandji’s catalogue, as well as Biddu (who worked with Nazia Hassan).
Favourite song: “Aao Na”
Nazia Hassan was a Pakistani singer, songwriter and social activist. This record was used as the inspiration for so many disco records that came after. Her first major appearance was on a track in Qurbani (Aap Jaisa Koi). Her debut album, Disco Deewane was released the following year, when she was 16, and charted in 14 countries.
Nazia Hassan was a force of nature, using her position to promote social causes and help underprivileged areas in Pakistan. She joined the UN Security Council and UNICEF. She unfortunately died of lung cancer at the age of 35.