Many of today’s top artists have drawn inspiration from India and several of the songs currently in our charts are chocked full of Indian connotations. The film, fashion and music industries have all had an impact on some of our most reputable songwriters, bands and artists. The sitar, an Indian instrument similar to the guitar, has been used in a variety of songs including The Rolling Stones’ ‘paint it black’ and The Monkees’ debut album ‘This Just Doesn’t Seem to be my Day’.
You may be surprised at the following list of names inspired by Indian traditions and culture.
One of the biggest names in the industry and the most influential saxophonist in any musical genre, Coltrane is a name you immediately associate with jazz music. However, Indian music and spirituality was a main interest for John Coltrane in his later years and was evident in many of his jazz records. Coltrane’s study of Indian music led him to believe that certain sounds and scales could produce specific emotional meanings. This was incorporated into his jazz music and influenced several other artists such as John McLaughlin and Jan Garbarek to do the same thing.
The Beatles are one of the biggest and most successful bands of all time and India was a massive factor in some of their songs. The clothes they wore, their facial hair, their interest in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and their spiritualism was all inspired by Indian culture and fashion. Many of their songs contained Indian instruments such as the tabla, sitar, tanpura, sarangi, dholak, harmonium and pakhavaj. In the popular song ‘I am the walrus’ released in 1967, the band sing:
“Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna”
And John Lennon later released a song called ‘India, India’.
There obsession with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was reinforced when they attended a lecture by him at the London Hilton and later attended a 10 day series of seminars in Wales. George Harrison was also particularly inspired by Indian artist Ravi Shankar, he said “I went and bought a Ravi record; I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can’t explain”.
Cornershop’s name itself derives from the stereotype of British Asians owning street corner shops. They are a British indie band that was most prevalent in the 1990’s and better known for their single ‘Brimful of Asha’. Band members include Tjinder Singh (singer/songwriter and co-founder of the group), his brother Avtar Singh (bass guitar and vocals), David Chambers (drums) and Ben Ayres (guitar, keyboard and tanpura).
Their hit single ‘Brimful of Asha’ is predominantly based around the Indian movie industry. The lyrics used in the song are all clever connotations to Indian culture including
“There’s dancing behind those movie scenes, behind those movie screens – saddi rani”
Saddi rani means ‘our queen’ in Punjabi. Then the following lyrics:
“She’s the one that keeps the dream alive, from the morning, past the evening, till the end of the light”
This describes the way a queen acts in a Punjabi context.
“Brimful of Asha on the forty five, well it’s a Brimful of Asha on the forty five”.
The term Asha refers to Asha Bhosle, born in 1933, she is one of the most famous Indian singers who has sang in over a thousand Bollywood movies. The name ‘Asha’ also means hope in Hindi.
Mathangi Maya Arulpragasm, (better known as M.I.A) is a British-tamil artist that was born in Sri Lanka and moved to the UK in 1986. One of the most well-known Bollywood songs from the past 40 years ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Aaja’ heard in Bollywood film ‘Disco Dancer’ released in 1982, was resurrected by M.I.A in 2007. She explained that ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Aaja’ was a song she used to dance to when she was a child and a huge inspiration to her music today. Interestingly the original Jimmy song was more successful than M.I.A’s 2007 remake.
I know, not one of the most influential singers of the decade however she has taken inspiration from Indian culture. Her single ‘Come and get it’ was full of Indian references. The song starts with singing in Punjabi and the dance video could be transformed into an Indian Bollywood film. There was a lot of controversy when she debuted the single at the MTV Music Awards wearing a bindi and performing a traditional Indian style dance. This angered Hindu leaders accusing her of cultural appropriation, as the bindi is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance.