Tracing R.D. Burman's Enduring Influence On Homegrown Electronic Music

R.D. Burman
R.D. BurmanR.D. Burman

History repeats itself but with it culture does too. Electronic music has been around for a few decades now and the sounds that were novel in the beginning of this wave are now all too familiar. So much so that music producers are going back to analogue to search for and renew old sounds. In this timeless soup of musical trends that erases the chronology of the evolution of sound, let's look at an iconic musician that exhibited a futuristic vision in his compositions.

Born in the musical family of the legendary composer SD Burman and lyricist Meera Dev Burman, Rahul Dev Burman or affectionately called Pancham Da started composing tunes from the young age of 9, that his father used in films like Funtoosh and Pyaasa in the 50s. He started as a music assistant and quickly went on to become a music director composing musical scores for 331 films over the course of his career from the 60s to the 90s.

Pancham Da is titled the 'Music Scientist' and the 'King of Bollywood Music' for his contribution to the cultural phenomena that was Hindi cinema at the time. He was the bridge between generations and brought on a new era of refreshing sound which wasn't fully appreciated then because it wasn't understood. The term scientist was given to him for his ability to experiment with music and conceive sounds way ahead of their time that would remain relevant 50 years later. If we trace the footsteps of electronic music in India, it would lead us straight into RD Burman's songs that have the same rhythms and structures of old-school techno and trance that we have come to love.

The musician realised very early in his career that he did not have the voice of a playback singer for Hindi movies but that did not deter him to bend his vocal chords to suit the need and so, he made the gruffed voice modulation his trademark that flaunted his range and breath control. It was most popularly used in 'Mehbooba' from Sholay and the medley of 'Tum Kya Jano Mohabbat Kya Hai' from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin.

Listen to it below.

One of most used effects in electronic dance music is the flanger; a gradually changing short delay, which is also present in a lot of DJ systems and mixers today. On one of his trips to the United States, RD Burman found a flanger pedal that could be used with a guitar. At the time, his peers made fun of the distorted 'noises' it would create but the musician was fascinated by it and used it to compose the intro & riff for the track, 'Dhanno Ki Aankhon Mein' from Kitaab (1971)

Listen to it below.

Synth brass, four-on-the-floor beats, syncopated basslines, string sections, brass and horns, electric piano, synthesizers, and electric rhythm guitars are all the signature sounds of disco. The 80s have made a major comeback in both the pop songs and electronic music of today. But back when the disco wave was emerging in India, RD Burman experimented with breakbeats, synths and brass along with the iconic disco toms/lazer sound in the opening track of the 80's film, The Burning Train.

Listen to it below.

Pancham da could find music anywhere, from cups and saucers used in 'Chura Liya' and sandpaper & bamboo sticks in 'Hoga tumse pyara kaun' to blowing on beer bottles for 'Mehbooba'. In a time when Bollywood songs were dominated by strings and classical instruments, RD Burman brought the psychedelia, futurism and funk of electronic music to his tracks and gave them a cult status in music history. He was a non-conformist pioneer who embodied the very same mad scientist-spirit of creativity that music producers strive for today.

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