Najma

Forbidden Kiss: The Music of S.D. Burman

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A straight collaboration originally undertaken in 1994 between main man Chris Rael of postmodern psychedelic-Indian fusioneers Church of Betty and Anglo-Indian siren Najma Akhtar, Forbidden Kisses took over a year to complete, finally seeing release in 1996. Part of the reason for the lengthy time consumption is the complexity of the album, which is a tribute to pioneer Hindi cinema composer S.D. Burman, whose reputation, the liner notes point out, is roughly equivalent in South Asia to George Gershwin or Irving Berlin in the West. You really a get a feel for the Western cinematic influence on his music on "Piya Tu Ab to Aaja," and Rael wonderfully frames this aspect of the composition. The song literally interprets spy music from the 1960s (when it was written for the film Caravan), but you can hear a jumbled discourse of borrowed techniques, from the plangent reverb-guitar stylings of Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti western to salsa-fied counter-rhythms, and Rael further fleshes out the music with a worldbeat bassline. His additions to the music are awesome, spotting everything from exotic hand percussion and sitar to typical Western instruments (guitar, violin, keyboards) and splashes of horns at all the right moments, neither overloading nor underwhelming the music but rendering it mutable and wonderfully alive. "Aaj Ki Raat" is another noir opus but with the Church of Betty rhythm section turning in an electric Traffic-like groove to spur Akhtar's typically virtuoso singing. Her performances are wonderfully varied throughout the album. On "Piya Tose," one of the most famous Hindi film songs of all time (from Guide), she sounds dangerously coquettish, while on "Thandi Hawaon Ne" is passionate and energetic.

Although unlike anything else in either of their catalogs, Forbidden Kiss was arguably the strongest music both Akhtar and Rael had made up to this point in their musical lives.

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