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Vaisakh E Hari
Vaisakh E Hari

MUSIC

Why I 'hate' the Indian rendition of 'Sweet Child of Mine'

Baiju-dharmajan Baiju Dharmajan(left) and Girish Pradhan who performed the 'Sweet Indian Child of Mine' | Photo courtesy Facebook

On a chilly September night, I awoke to the sound of my phone buzzing by the bedside stand—that loud, insistent ring of a machine in its death bed. "Attend the phone," a groggy voice commanded from the other side of my bed (the voice belongs to my long-suffering, super-platonic, male roommate. Shocker, right?). The faithful friend that I was, it took me just a little more than six tries to decipher the voice at other end—a formerly inseparable childhood friend of mine, who had drifted apart over the years. In minutes, we were all caught up, having exhausted all possible masculine topics like the pointlessness of life, job and relationships (or the sheer lack of it). "Hey," he exclaimed, "did you hear that 'Sweet Child of Mine' cover by those two Indian musicians?"

"Oh, you mean Baiju Dharmajan and Girish Pradhan?"

"Yes, something like that."

"The track was mind-boggling. It is so hard to believe that musicians of such calibre are still alive in India. For one thing, they bettered a classic that has been around before you or I were even born. Imbuing that classic western masterpiece with Carnatic elements, an exceptionally difficult feat, was nothing short of a masterstroke. And those soaring vocals by Girish, phew, phenomenal. They have received rave reviews from publications like Classic Rock magazine. I tell you, I have heard countless covers of the song, be it folksy blue grass (Gipsy Danger), jazz version (Postmodern Jukebox feat Miche Braden) that held together surprisingly well and gothic rock-metal versions that strips the song of its original schizophrenic angst, lending itself to virile interpretations. But, boy oh boy, this Baiju-Girish cover is an entirely different animal. A near-perfect blend of the east and the west," I raved.

"Who are these guys anyway? I have heard the guitarist's name in passing, but is the first time I am hearing of the vocalist."

"Baiju, aka the God of Six Strings,was the lead guitarist of the band Motherjane. He is one of the most sought-after musicians in the country right now, not least because of his unique ability to fuse western scales with subtle carnatic inflections. Check out his latest cover of the Malayalam evergreen hit Mohamon electric guitar, and—one of my personal favourites—his opening riff for the The Down Troddence (TDT) song The Forgotten Martyrs. Girish Pradhan is the lead vocalist of the Sikkim-based hard rock band Girish and the Chronicles (GATC). In my opinion, he is up there with any of the top rock frontmen in the world. He performs like he made a pact with the devil—no one man should be able to sing like Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) and Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), and still have enough talent left over to do a Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) on his guitar."

"Listen, listen," he said with a touch of impatience. "Did you notice the number of views the video received on YouTube? It is over 1,80,000. It is insert profanity unbelievable. And it's not just them. Tushar Lall became an overnight sensation by releasing Indianised covers of TV show theme songs like Sherlock and Game of Thrones. I sense a real opportunity here. I have called up the rest of the gang for a band reunion . You up for it?" he asked.

Silence.

"Well?"

A little explanation is in order here. Prominent among our list of countless misadventures was a musical project, a rock band to be precise, that we embarked upon in our teenage years. We were a four-piece outfit—percussion, rhythm guitar, vocals and a bass. Talent—the complete lack of it—defined our outfit. The drummer, who was on his best time when he made it to an 8 o' clock band practice at 9.30, proudly anointed himself Keith Moon. The abysmal guitarist (myself), who was inducted after painstakingly learning to play a few jarring notes of Simon and Garfunkel classics on a rickety instrument that cost at most Rs 2,000 in its glory days, was thrust with the responsibility of being the Izzy Stradlin of the group. The vocalist (on the phone), gifted with a quarter-of-an-octave range and the ability to churn out complex rhymes to the likes of hat-cat and mouse-blouse, humbly accepted the role of the principal singer-songwriter- a la Kurt Cobain. The bassist, as in any stereotypical teenage band, would be the butt of our (the realmusicians) cruel, unoriginal jokes. (The bassist couldn't get through the front door. Why? He couldn’t find the key and didn’t know when to come in).

The next morning, I felt like a veritable Scrooge haunted by the Ghost of his Failures Past. I knew, with a sense of impending doom, what the future held in store. Every talentless hack, like yours truly, would join in the gold rush; only this time, our sole purpose (intentionally or unintentionally) would be to deface priceless musical masterpieces. However, nouveau musicians were the least of our worry. If the YouTube numbers from the past are any indication, each such video would be viewed by 40, down-voted by 30 and the comment box scribbled all over with abuses hurtful enough to shame a Taher Shah into permanent retirement. You see, nature always has a way of balancing itself out. No, it is the bling generation that should scare us all. Never heard of them? The new species of self-proclaimed rockstars in India (characterised by their affinity to oversized shades and, as the name suggests, decadence as the source of their limited musical talent). A certain popular rapper recently called Eminem boring—that he could not connect with the latter's lyrics. Another one with a cult-following crafts lyrics along the lines of 'Water is blue'. Trust me, it does not get better. What if they decided to jump on the bandwagon, boosting their already skyrocketing popularity with a 'Lungi Dance' version of Radiohead's 'Creep'. How would a classic like the 'November Rain' end up in their very untalented hands? Give these artists a painting like Edvard Munch's 'Scream' and they would 'Indianise' it by adding a cow to block up the traffic behind the agitated man. Even that would be testing the limits of their subtlety and nuance.

I, for one, have no interest in listening to a rap version of 'Welcome to the Jungle'. But, that might just be what the future has in store for us. I regret it already—my answer late on that September night: “Let us do this.”

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