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The rise and fall of Indipop

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Indipop. There’s no theory on how the term or genre originated.

Music industry people, retailers and music journalists have different stories.

The fact is the term became famous in 1995. A fad. Fashionable too, as music videos were a rage. Channel V promoted them, and the following year MTV caught up as a full-fledged channel.

Alisha Chinai was top of the Indian pops. Her album Made In India was a huge seller. 30 million units that phase. 50 plus today and still selling.

Chinai is nostalgic. She reminisces, “Made In India was an iconic pathbreaker in Indipop. People identified with both song and video, which also featured Milind Soman. People related to its patriotic and nationalist tendencies. Working with composer Biddu was a great experience.”

Alisha Chinai

Things weren’t new. The genre had already seen successful albums by Thanda Thanda Pani Baba Sehgal, Paree Suneeta Rao and Johnny Joker Shweta Shetty.

Popular songs, yes. But still new to be classified as a genre. That too Indipop. An alternative to Hindi film music before the term Bollywood was popularly coined.

Things flowed. Magnasound was the record label which started it. Shashi Gopal at the helm and Atul Churamani handling artistes and repertoire (A&R). Riding on the wave, they introduced an unknown Punjabi singer named Daler Mehndi.

The album was Bolo Ta Ra Ra. Sold like hot cakes in north India. Mehndi recalls, “We took our Punjabi and bhangra roots and took it to another level. Not mainstream Bollywood had the pop flavour. Live performances were important. We made people dance like there’s no tomorrow.”

Daler Mehndi

Soon, Magnasound released the Colonial Cousins self-titled debut, featuring Hariharan and Lesle Lewis. The songs Sa Ni Dha Pa, Krishna and Indian Rain became a rage. They also did an MTV Unplugged show and album.

Things followed. Besides Magnasound, BMG-Crescendo and Saregama HMV followed the act. Sony Music, T-Series, Tips, Venus Records and Times Music joined the bandwagon. Crescendo released Mehnaz, Anaida, Silk Route and the hugely popular Lucky Ali on the album Sunoh. Saregama launched Sunidhi Chauhan on Aira Gaira Nattu Khaira when she was 14. Sony did the non-film album Vande Mataram with A.R. Rahman and the Sultan Khan-Chitra album Piya Basanti. Archies Music put out Euphoria’s Dhoom Pichuk. Bands like Aryans and Agosh flourished.

Biddu was in demand as a composer and Ken Ghosh as a video director. Others joined the bandwagon. Everything popular non-film was called Indipop. The years 1995-98. The legendary Asha Bhosle released a pop album too.

What led to the Indipop craze? Churamani, now managing director at Turnkey Music & Publishing, attributes it to two factors. He says, “First, MTV and Channel V promoted trendy music videos, which the record labels invested in. Two, many singers had this westernised approach which worked as an alternative to film music.”

Atul Churamani

Suddenly, Remo Fernandes’ Munni and Altaf Raja’s qawwali-rickshaw-pop hit Tum To Thehre Pardesi took over, the latter outselling Chinai. Sonu Nigam, a popular TV music show host, chipped in with Deewana.

The phase lasted until the late 1990s. Suddenly things went wrong. There were too many cooks spoiling the broth. Anybody with six pack abs or a belly button tried their luck, whether they could sing or not. Remixes took over original songs. We even had our desi Spice Girls version called Viva.

Explains Churamani,

“The music channels, under revenue pressure, gave more preference to Bollywood than Indipop videos. Secondly, many pop singers moved into the film genre.”

There were exceptions, of course. The Asha Bhosle-Adnan Sami album Kabhi To Nazar Milao, Shaan’s Tanha Dil and Kailash Kher’s Kailasa were big sellers. But overall, Indipop was on a decline.

In the end, however, the 1990s marked a special phase in popular Indian music. On that note, have a re-listen of Rao’s Paree, Sehgal’s Thanda Thanda Pani, Chinai’s Made In India, Mehndi’s Ho Jaayegi Balle Balle, Colonial Cousins’ Krishna and Ali’s O Sanam. It’s a nostalgia ride.  Mohabbat ki kasam hmmm.. Mmmm’

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Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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