Bollywood embraces new-age global sound in Hindi playback music.

This is a time of flux in Bollywood music. The popular bastion of male playback singing is slowly crumbling and a new sound of music is emerging.

We analysed the Himesh Reshammiya phenomenon (e+, September 7), but even the super success of songs like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's Man Ki Lagan, Kunal Ganjawalla's Bheege Honth Tere, Kailash Kher's Allah Ke Bande Hans De, Adnan Sami's Meter Down, Zubin Garg's Yaa Ali Raham Ali, Atif Aslam's Aadat, James's Bheega Bheega and KK's Kya Mujhe Pyar Hai in recent times cannot be taken as some random, isolated selections by the audience. It is, in fact, a definite pointer towards changing tastes and trends in Indian popular music. Suddenly the conventionally accepted "perfect" voices are losing out to unconventional, "imperfect" voices.

Macho, melodious and musical - these three Ms have traditionally defined the qualities of an ideal leading man's voice in Hindi film music for last 50 years. True, there were exceptions right from the beginning of these norms. Mukesh's nasal voice, Hemant Kumar's heavy bass voice, Talat Mahmood's tremulous voice and Manna Dey's classically- trained open throated voice were variations of the set pattern.

But none of these great singers really managed to create a successful vocal prototype, which would be followed by future generation of singers. (Manhar Udhas and Nitin Mukesh following in Mukesh's footsteps was a short-lived phenomenon, not extending beyond a few years.)

Two model male voices

Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar were the only two real model male voices whose styles were later copied by dozens of playback singers. A typical ideal male lead playback should either sound like Rafi or Kishore - that practically became the norm over the years.

Rafi's mellow, melodious virtuosity had carried the day in the 1950s and 1960s and Kumar's heavier, macho style ruled the roost in the 1970s and 1980s. After the two legends departed in the ‘80s, for next 15 years, almost every new singer came into the fray following their styles.

If singers such as Mahendra Kapoor, Anwar, Shabbir Kumar, Mohammad Aziz, Suresh Wadkar and Sonu Nigam all took their first steps in film-music trying to vocally match the Rafi standards, then crooners such as Amit Kumar, Abhijeet, Kumar Sanu, Babul Supriyo and Shaan tried their best to sound like Kishore Kumar.

Many of these singers might have evolved their own vocal identities later but their original school of singing remained well-apparent to music-lovers. The audience readily accepted these similar sounding singers. The composers were also comfortable setting tunes for these set-pattern voices.

Again there were exceptions. The occasional successes of a deep bass-voiced Bhupendra (Dil Dhoondhata Hai), a high- pitched nasal-voiced Narendra Chanchal (Main Benaam Ho Gaya), a robust folksy styled Jaspal Singh (Geet Gaata Chal) and a gruff husky-toned Rahul Dev Burman (Mehbooba O Mehbooba) were mainly in the non-hero-songs category. In those decades, South Indian singers Yesudas and S.P. Balasubramaniam and a refreshingly unique voice Udit Narayan emerged as perhaps the only original-sounding ‘hero's voices' which were unaffected by the conventional Rafi- Kishore influence.

The entry of A.R. Rahman's new techno-savvy music and the short-lived Indipop phenomenon were two events that started the inevitable change of guard in the mid-'90s. The robust, high-pitched singing of Sukhvinder Singh (Chhainya Chhainya) and A.R.Rahman himself (Dil Se Re) found immediate appreciation, but the frequency in which such different voices were heard was still limited.

With the Indipop revolution, every Tom, Dick and Harry started releasing their own music albums, and that opened the floodgates for new voices. Once these winds of change started to blow, they continued working up a real storm.

Lenient audiences

Now the generation- X audience seemed to want a change in the set patterns and thus we started seeing (or rather hearing!) voices much different in timbre and texture compared to traditionally popular leading voices.

These days, singers come into the fray with practically no musical training, sometimes not even having the know-how of basic notes and rhythm coordination. Advanced recording techniques and catchy orchestration are there to do half their work. Of the original three Ms, melody and musicality have almost become obsolete qualities, just the macho masculinity with a distinct style is often enough to succeed.

The audiences have become much more lenient. Somehow these unconventional voices - many of them with apparent musical flaws - have been accepted and appreciated wholeheartedly. Today the prototype perfect voice with a link to the past is a dying concept - the contemporary singing voice just needs to have a different, interesting sound.

That's why high-pitched voices like KK, Kunal Ganjawalla, Atif Aslam, Ali Azmat, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Zubin Garg and Kailash Kher and those of heavy-bass voices like Adnan Sami and James are ruling the charts.

Bollywood music is becoming an intriguing mix of unconventional Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi voices.

These are the creators of the new-age global sound in Hindi playback music. Reshammiya has already cashed in on this phenomenon, but don't be surprised if tomorrow you find these unusual voices taking over from the remaining conventional voices such as Sonu Nigam and Shaan!